A few months ago, I was at the local liquor hole when I saw a bottle I had never seen before – Johnnie Walker Double Black Label. You heard that right, double-muthaf@#$in’-black! That’s, like, sexy times two. Not only is the label the most profane of colors, but doubly so? Please, I’d like to know more!
Not that I was ever a huge advocate for Walker’s Black Label, this one just sounded nice and had a neat, smoked charcoal bottle. But what makes it Double Black? The bottle? According to the website: “After hand-selecting a number of whiskies defined by hints of smoldering charcoal, crisp ash and burnt timber, we barreled our blend to mature in deep-charred old oak casks.” Well, I’m painfully curious and fiscally irresponsible, so Diageo got their claws into me for another $75 so I could try them together ($35 for the Black Label 12 and $45 for the Double Black).
Johnnie Walker – Black Label 12 year (40%)
Nose: Suffers from blended syndrome – no one flavor wants to take the lead. It’s a little earthy like celery, with honey funk, raisins, lemon, malted milk mix, and blackberries, all with a light and smooth peat. There are snowy minerally notes. The earthy and lemony aromas open up into tomatoes after a while. It gets sweeter and more floral if you warm it with your hand but there are some plain ole ethanol vapors in there, too. The peat is not very smoky; it leans more towards the mossy side.
Palate: Cumin is a classic Johnnie Black note. Dunkin’ Donuts coffee with hidden fruit and subtle vegetal peat without a lot of smoke. It’s got more lemon than the Double Black and the peat here is almost watery. Actually, it’s rather dilute over all. The finish has some traces of hot Talisker with a tiny bit of smoke.
My one complaint about this one has always been that it’s not really enough of anything for me. Having said that, the label’s ubiquity makes it a standby when I’m out at a bar that doesn’t have drinkable beer. It’s not awful by any means, just not very… well… anything, but that’s really the style of the blend. The Johnnie Walker label has always been more focused on appealing to the everyday drinker than the esoteric enthusiast.
Johnnie Walker – Double Black (40%)
Nose: Peat right away, the Islay presence is a lot stronger here. It’s a phenolic, fish and Band-Aid type peat. Zesty fresh ground pepper. Spaghetti-O’s! Beefy. Vinegary Memphis bbq sauce and the requisite cumin. Cranberries and apples. Toffee and morning cereal box. Though it is of a better, stronger peat, it is still on the milder side.
Palate: Spicier, fishier with more and smokier peat, though still on the lighter side. The change from watery, vegetal peat to smoky, briny peat is a welcome one. Malty and there’s some actual, linear flavor here that’s willing to step out in front of the other notes. Kasuri Methi and nutmeg. Spanish paprika and cumin-rich taco meat. Less lemon. Still a tiny bit blendy, but much better than Walker’s 12 year Black Label. The Double has a bit more of the Talisker spice in the finish as well.
Given the choice for ten bucks more, I would always choose Double Black over the Black Label 12. It’s an Islay styled Blended Scotch, where the regular Black 12 year is more of a national average Blended Scotch. The Double has more flavors to chase and packs a little more punch, without getting too far away from the classic Walker style of easy drinking Scotch. I would pair this one with Indian food, maybe saag paneer or a dish with lots of fenugreek leaves. I hope they decide to keep it around for a little while.