Charles MacLean said, in my recent chat with him, that when he was editor of Whisky Magazine he interviewed many people in the trade. His last question to them would be along the lines of: “Apart from the whisky that you make or sell, what do you have the highest regard for?” The majority of people would reply: Johnnie Walker Black Label.
I have consumed Black Label previously; but I’ve never written about it here, with my thinking hat on, so thought it about time. What could possibly make it so well-respected by so many people? I recently reviewed and enjoyed the Blue Label, which is a different beast entirely, but how would Johnnie Walker Black Label compare?
Known as Black Label since 1909, this blended Scotch is comprised of about 40 whiskies, and each has been aged for least 12 years. It’s one of the big sellers in the Johnnie Walker stable, almost as ubiquitous as the Red Label, but considered a more premium whisky.
Colour: deep copper, burnished. On the nose: wow. That’s really something. Just a blissful harmony of sherry sweetness and peat smoke. Textbook dried fruits. Big box of raisins. Ever so slight woodiness.
In the mouth: blimey, absolutely nothing wrong with this at all. Elegant and huge mouthfeel, with gentle dates and prunes, perhaps a fig or two, and a nice bittersweet nutty note. A drizzle of honey. Sultanas. Throughout the whole thing is a really warming smoke – not a sweet peat, but a nice ashy smoke. This is a very nice balance, and that’s what makes the whisky. The complexity is subtle, and needs time, but instantly you get the contrast between all those sweet fruits and the smoke. It comes together so well.
If I didn’t know what the price of this was, I’d still say it was a very good whisky. What makes it a superb whisky, though, is the fact that you can get Johnnie Walker Black Label for between £25 and £30 a bottle. That’s just ridiculous. If you’re out in a bar wishing for single malts and all you see is Johnnie Walker Black Label, then don’t be disappointed. Rejoice in its craftsmanship and value for money.
I still prefer Blue Label though.