Red Label forming the cornerstone of this success. It is the best selling whisky in the world and contributes almost 10% of all worldwide whisky sales. This gives the staggering statistic that every one in ten bottles of whisky sold in the world is Johnnie Walker Red Label.
The brand is named after Johnnie Walker, a man who owned a small grocery shop in the Ayrshire town of Kilmarnock in Scotland in the 1820s. Back then, nearly all whisky sold commercially was a blend. Johnnie Walker learnt the skills required to create a commercially successful whisky and the rest is history, as they say. Other famous blended whiskies such as Bell's and Teacher's have similar background stories. In the early days his whisky was made for his local clients and was sold in small quantities.
The success of the brand really took off during Victorian times when it was heavily exported around the British Empire. As the Empire expanded, more people enjoyed the range and brand has never looked back. This is shown in the fact that Johnnie Walker whiskies were already exported to 120 countries before Coca Cola had even left America in the 1920s. The brand and the famous walking man logo are embedded in world culture and pioneered sports sponsorship in the 1960s by sponsoring a motor racing Grand Prix team and other major events, such as golf. The Johnnie Walker brand is currently owned by multi national drinks company Diageo.
The Double Black is produced in relatively small quantities and is primarily placed in to the American and travel retail markets. As a result, it is quite difficult to find regularly in the UK and we were pleased to get the chance to sample it at a recent Johnnie Walker event. It is bottled at 40% ABV and retails around the £35-40 mark. The Double Black keeps the 'signature' whiskies of the regular Black Label but contains a higher proportion of smoky whiskies in the blend. The other main difference is that it is aged in heavily charred casks.
Our tasting notes
The colour is a rich gold with a hint of amber. The nose has a lovely mix of sweet and soft smoky aromas. The sweetness manifests itself in the form of caramel, brown sugar, malty cereals, honey, vanilla and sultanas. The soft smokiness is never far away and has a delicate and earthy, almost moss-like, feel to it. There is also lovely notes of bitter orange zest and cinnamon bark present.
On the palate, this feels creamy and soft, and again has the definitive sweet and smoky elements in good quantities. The sweetness is initially very honey-like and is soon joined by some prominent malty cereal, grainy notes and the good combination of elements from the nose, particularly the caramel, dried fruits (especially those juicy sultanas again) and the bittersweet orange. This tends towards 'spiced orange' as the cinnamon note seems to increase with time. The smokiness seems a little more savoury than on the nose and has hints of the earthiness, but also some leather and tobacco leaf.
The finish is also very soft with sweet honey and cereal notes combining beautifully with the smokier, richer notes. Again the smokiness is gentle but of a savoury nature. There are also good pinches of cinnamon and nutmeg spice, plus a hint of salt. Lovely.
What's the verdict?
This whisky is excellent but not quite as heavy and smoky as expected, given the emphasis put on the extra smokiness and the heavily charred casking. It is very easy going and would be a great whisky to introduce someone to the smoky flavour without going too far over the top. In fact, it would be very easy to drink quite a lot of this, as it is so flavoursome and easy going. A lovely, well made blended whisky that offers good complexity and balance at an affordable price.