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Johnnie Walker Black Label Lowland and Speyside Origins

“When I was a boy, there was a mansion on the river I used to paddle by on my jon boat¹. Twinkly lights, violins and girls giggling about something. *long pause* It’s different inside.” – Conrad Hilton, Mad Men, Season 3 Episode 3.

For some context, this is the scene where Don Draper first meets Conrad Hilton, who was looking for bourbon behind an intended bar at some fancy clubhouse house. Don moves behind the bar to make rye Old Fashioneds for both of them. This prompts an exchange of their origin stories while they drink the rye Old Fashioneds Don made. This is one of my favorite scenes in, what I think is, one of the best-written shows ever. If you weren’t paying attention, that subtle line would fly over your head. I just love it when someone doesn’t speak a lot, but says so much.

I think what Connie meant by the quote is he didn’t get what he expected. I guess having a mansion with twinkly lights, music and girls became one of his reasons to strive to become the icon he became. Yet, upon getting to where he thought he wanted to be, he ended up being disappointed. It sounds like a quick tale of caution from an old man to someone younger to be wary of the fancy things. Just because it looks good from the outside, it doesn’t mean it’ll be as good or better from the inside.

These thoughts bring me back to my elementary and high school days. I didn’t really know myself then. So, I thought I wanted to be in with the cool crowd. I also remember the times I was eager to get old enough to drink with my older relatives. They always just seemed to have a good time drinking Johnnie Walker Black Label on the rocks when I was younger. Until I realized the next day the posturing wasn’t what I wanted. That drinking a lot of the same thing, that only others idolized, didn’t make it any better.

Using Johnnie Walker as an example was intentional. For a few years now, I’ve seen it as Connie’s mansion on the river. It’s a brand full of twinkly lights, music and people of your desired sex. Only, that mansion is packed full of people similar to sardines in a can and their backsides are facing you.

What kind of sensible person wants that?

Johnnie Walker’s Black Label Origin series recently became available in the Philippines. Which makes us one year behind the initial release. Yet, only the Lowland and Speyside blends are available here. We still officially don’t have allocations for the Highland and Islay blends. Apparently, these are also limited-edition releases. Limited edition JWs? What? The various press releases I’ve read don’t even say how many bottles were released per blend.

Johnnie Walker Black Label Speyside Origin is a blended malt bottled at 42% abv. It features single malts from Cardhu and Glendullan. These are aged in refill casks and ex-bourbon. While the Lowland Origin features whisky from Cameronbridge and Glenkinchie aged in ex-bourbon casks. Which makes this the only blend among the four. This is also bottled at 42% abv.

According to a Master of Malt blog post, they were available at travel retail RRP of £35 / $46 USD for a 1L bottle. With traveling at an all-time low, I guess Diageo decided to shift stocks to other markets. The RRP above is still accurate a year after as local online store Manila Wines sells them both for around $48 but only 750ml. Luckily, these were given to me by a bar as samples.

Johnnie Walker Black Label Lowland Origin – review

Bottled at 42% strength, this 100cl bottle is available from Master of Malt for £51.95, Amazon will also sell a bottle for £47.90.

Color: honey.

On the nose: It’s a bit hot with a semi-coarse texture. But they go away the longer the whisky sits in the glass. I get scents of honey, toffee, some sort of apple-flavoured candy with apricots and marzipan. At the end are lasting scents of butterscotch and caramel.

In the mouth: A bit of chocolate raisins and prunes which are coated by a pepperiness. There’s that caramelized apple flavor again, only the caramel is bolder and more layered.

Score: 5/10

Johnnie Walker Black Label Speyside Origin – review

Bottled at 42% strength, this 100cl bottle is available from Master of Malt for £51.95, it is also available via Amazon for £45.

Color: same as Lowland Origin.

On the nose: Tropical fruit notes with confectionery and a bit of heat. I get bold scents of peppers, cantaloupe, winter melon tea, toffee and barley tea. There are undertones of butterscotch, clementines, lemon peel, dried apricots and tobacco. At the end are more subtle but lasting scents of thyme and star fruit.

In the mouth: A layered wave of rushing star-fruits, peppers, cloves, tannins with butterscotch and honey to start. I get some sort of floral yet bitter note which makes me think of hibiscus tea and yellow bell peppers. At the end are more pepperiness followed by tastes of almond nuts, and cloves. There’s a quick flash of not unpleasant sulfur. Undertones of cloves, caramel, butterscotch and dried apricots appear at the end. A sneaky Milky Way chocolate bar-like flavor pops up the very end.

Score: 5/10

Conclusions

I’m pretty sure readers were expecting the score to be lower since the two subjects are from Johnnie Walker. But we are a fair bunch. I actually found these 2 enjoyable. I hope Diageo keeps these offerings around for much longer. I’d have given them both a 6 if the price were in the $30 range.

The Lowland Origin is sweeter and simpler. This makes me think this is better to enjoy when you’re having a lazy day and just want something simple and easy to drink. Smelling this makes me reminisce of going to some candy shops in LA where you get to pick what kind of confectioneries an apple is dunked in and what topping you add. Tasting this makes me think of eating a Snickers bar but the chocolate is dialed down.

This Speyside Origin has more layers and complexity to it. But with the complexity comes some off note and off-note flavor combinations like the heat, yellow bell peppers and cloves with the confectionaries. Otherwise, I enjoyed these too. I think this is something Gold Label fans would prefer if they’re not into the peat the regular Black Label gives off.

¹ according to Wikipedia a this is a flat-bottomed boat constructed of aluminum, fiberglass, or wood with one, two, or three bench seats.

Photographs kindly provided by Master of Malt. And there are commission links within this article for your convenience and to support Malt. And remember to shop around as you may find these releases locally.

CategoriesBlends
  1. Avatar
    Ben says:

    Nice article John, strange that you aren’t getting the other two releases, especially what you might think would be the more popular choices (unless that is the reasoning and therefore more difficulties in getting an allocation).

    Hope you dry and safe after the last month odd of typhoons that seemed to be drawn your way like flippers to a limited edition special release.

    1. John
      John says:

      Hi Ben,

      Thanks for the comment. I think your guess regarding allocation is why we don’t officially have it. Though I stopped guessing how Diageo thinks as the Philippines always gets the short end of the stick when it comes to new releases. For example, we don’t get much of the limited stuff here like Laga 8 or new limited ed Taliskers. But they’re suddenly pushing the new Mortlachs here.

      I am well and dry. Thanks for the concern.

      Cheers

  2. Avatar
    bifter says:

    Thanks for the article John, interesting read. Diageo are currently constructing a Johnnie Walker extravaganza in Princes Street, Edinburgh as part of their marketing revamp. The building used to be a department store and covers 8 levels so I guess they need something fresh to inaugurate it and some flagship displays to fill the space!

    The Green was previously (to my knowledge at least) the only blended malt JW has released and it’s OK, probably the best value proposition in the regular range so I’d be interested to try these. Is there much smoke in them though? Nothing in your notes suggests much of a peat kick.

    I’m a bit confused by the effort to highlight the regions but all under the Black Label branding. Speyside and the Lowlands, which you assess here, are not ordinarily associated with peat (bar Ardmore and a few that are dipping their toes these days – the AnCnocs are actually pretty good) so I’m not sure that really has much logic to it. If we’re honest, the terroir thing is a bit of a red herring (regions certainly, barley is perhaps another argument), one of the myths you think one would be keen to debunk if one were trying to encourage “people wanting to know more about Scotch”. And, of course, Campbeltown isn’t represented. To be honest I’m surprised Diageo hasn’t steamed in there with its investment programme. Despite the confused marketing though these sound worth a try, thanks again!

    1. John
      John says:

      Hi Bifter, thanks for the comment.

      I think you’re right about the Green Label. I think what Diageo wanted to do with these Black Label Origins is to break down the blend of the regular Black Label 12 per region.
      I’m pretty sure the peat ingredient in the Black Label is Caol Ila. So I’m quite curious what the Islay Origins would be like.

      I don’t think Diageo nor any of the big boys own a distillery in Campbelltown hence the lack of representation for the region.

      Cheers

  3. Avatar
    Kam Bhathal says:

    Hi John
    I have been a Black Label fan for many decades. However, recently, I had an adverse experience which forced me to switch from Johnnie Walker to Glenfiddich. I bought a 1.75L bottle of Black Label form a well known liquor store in Calgary. On consuming a couple of drinks I noticed a suspicious looking residue starting near the lid down to the body of the bottle. I sent pictures to Johnnie Walker customer service, asking for advice. They promised a response within 24 However, my repeated requests for clarification have gone unanswered. I am highly disappointed at this lack of response from JW. Myself and my drinking buddies have switched to Glenfiddich 12 years old, which I find much smoother and satisfying. So Long Johnnie Walker! RIP! Has anybody else had similar experience with Johnnie Walker customer service? Would be interesting to know. Perhaps they think they are too big to care!

    1. John
      John says:

      Hi Kam,

      I’d recommend posting the questions on Facebook whisky groups. You’re more likely to get an answer there. Hopefully that residue can go away just by shaking the bottle.

      Can’t answer for the customer service of JW but they are very big.

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