You know the score. The holiday euphoria and sense of escape for a few days or even a week if you’re lucky, which seeps into every pore. Airport travel retail takes full advantage of the enthusiasm and sense of freedom by offering whiskies that may seem interesting or good value except they’re anything but.
Over the years you learn the hard way that the airport lounge is no longer the domain of treasures or value. It merely offers the intoxicating possibilities of celebrating your shedding of the shackles of daily life. Why not celebrate with a wee dram eh? Experience guides us and depending on your final destination the airport option is best left alone. The true value nowadays seems to be in the countries that you visit. I still find it amazing that you can visit the good old United States of American and pay less for a bottle than if you were standing in any Scottish shop or the distillery itself.
Perhaps the impending trade war with tit for tat taxes will address the issue. Matter of fact the whole issue of taxation of whisky is an article in its own right. For the record, I applaud the Scottish Government for bringing in a minimum alcohol pricing strategy and shame on the Scotch Whisky Association for tarnishing the image of this fine liquid we all love by engaging in political skulduggery. Assisted by the large corporations who happen to make most of the cider, vodka and other spirits that you see causing issues across our society.
Landing at our destination. The need for a whisky still exists. If you’re organised then the luggage will contain a Glencairn as a suitable vessel. Try as much as I leave these glasses dotted across various rental properties in Europe and beyond, I’ve yet to visit an establishment outside the UK that offers them as a standard glassware option. Please let’s not talk about tumblers.
A recent escape to Malta for a week brought about the scenario again. No I didn’t book it on the basis it had Malt in the name although it did cross my mind at the time. Safely navigating the whisky shelves I took a chance on the local shops offering better value Scotch. I’m many things but not a sadist, still the prospect of some obscure badly labelled finest Scotch whisky blend called Big Jim’s Freedom in a rose coloured bottle would be a compelling purchase. More often than not these trips to foreign climates showcase the popularity of Glen Grant and the Chivas 12 year old. There was a long lost friend in the form of a White Horse blended Scotch but sadly it has been in terminal decline since the 1980’s. Then something else caught my attention. Reaching for the phone I revisited MALT in Malta. Checking the various Johnnie Walker reviews we had in situ it seemed an opportunity had presented itself…
Wherever you go in life there are a few guarantees or things you can rely upon. A lack of Irn Bru outside of Scotland is certainly on the list as is the presence of the Glenfiddich 12 year old on every shelf alongside a release from Johnnie Walker and Alexandra stalking your every move. In this case, it was the Blenders’ Batch Red Rye Finish Blended Scotch Whisky – try saying that after a couple of drams. This being batch number 1 and bottle number RR2 586659 for the record. Priced at 19 Euros there was nothing to lose whatsoever. Prompting my better half to add the bottle to our random assortment of supplies the deed was done.
Returning back to the apartment the seal didn’t last too long. I actually needed a drink to digest the blurb on the rear of the packaging. This is an insight into our endless quest for new flavours. Ok, I’ve never associated Johnnie Walker with pushing boundaries but I’ll stick with it for now. Jim Beveridge the Master Blender for Johnnie Walker apparently has a fascination with the bold flavours of American whiskies. Right, so that’s vanilla, caramel and maybe more vanilla then? To lock down these characteristics the team ploughed through 50 experiments featuring 203 malt and grain whiskies. Mmm, this sounds like a Tormore4 weekend. Before hitting the jackpot with this release that comprises of just 4 whiskies. Oddly for the candid detail by Diageo standards they only name 2 of the distilleries. Cardhu is always a strong component of any Johnnie Walker and then we’re joined by the presence of the closed Port Dundas distillery. Cameronbridge will be in here guaranteed as they cannot give that stuff away.
Originally the concept was to go into more detail about the lost grain Port Dundas distillery that resided in Glasgow. Diageo didn’t treat it with much respect when then closed down the site and centralised its grain production at the behemoth Cameronbridge plant in Fife. There’s a sense of irony when the executioner uses the name of the fallen to add bling to a new concept. They didn’t care much for the distillery by giving it a range of its own until after the tombstone was erected, or could it be that anything closed is hotly chased? Tip of the day. Port Dundas aged and in a sherry cask is a wonderful thing.
The final whisky itself is bottled at 40% strength, is a No Age Statement and will feature lots of caramel colouring plus it’ll be chill filtered to within a CL of its life. Realistically these things don’t matter at the lower end of the blended Scotch market. They are staple features but that doesn’t mean we should not highlight their existence. The whisky was matured in first fill bourbon casks before being finished in rye casks for a period of up to 6 months. Time then to see if this puts the malt back into Malta.
Johnnie Walker Select Casks Rye Cask Finish – review
Colour: a golden caramel what else eh?
On the nose: it’s grain Jim, but not as we know it. A generous helping of orange peel and ginger root in here. Green bananas as well alongside toffee and alight nuttiness. A synthetic quality best summarised as vanilla essence, It’s ok, just but fairly limited and youthful. My main memory is toasted vanilla marshmallows over a barbeque. Adding water plus time reveals more of a buttery marzipan and almond quality.
In the mouth: I feel the need to hijack one of those giant satellite dishes that point towards the skies in the vain hope of finding me some flavours. Vanilla, sanded pine wood and more of the orange and ginger. It’s drinkable but barely. There’s a noticeable rawness to the alcohol which screams under matured grain across a roadside giant billboard in giant letters. Casks filled at a higher strength that haven’t been given the time to settle and mature. Instead, it feels like its fighting an ongoing battle with the finish being especially uncouth. Water improves the experience with marzipan, gasoline and a touch of rubber.
The alarm bells were ringing prior to even trying this whisky so it is disappointing that things haven’t turned out for the best. What we have essentially here is Diageo using up a surplus of stock under the guise of the Johnnie Walker brand. Just 4 distilleries mean a simplistic recipe compared to the standard Red. However, the appeal of the Johnnie Walker Red has diminished in recent times as the grain ratio increases to become the dominant force.
The Johnnie Walker Red is the entry level Scotch in the sizeable brand armada. So it needs to appeal to everyone and tiptoe alongside accessibility and hold the hand of benign. The only reason why you stick a blended Scotch into casks to finish it for a very short period is to hide the fundamental flaws and provide a twist. That’s what the Scotch Malt Whisky Society do and a flaw of the monthly outturn model. Except here the intriguing twist with more time may have given us a talking piece.