Whiskey Review: White Walker by Johnnie Walker

Like many fans of the television show Game of Thrones, I’ve been understandably burned and bitter for a few years now. Despite having previously reviewed Dalwhinnie’s House Stark edition scotch, I haven’t been able to bring myself to touch any of the other Diago GoT-marketed variants since. But since 2020 is turning out to be just as peachy as that cursed final season, I figured things can’t get any worse. Hence, today I’ll be checking out Johnnie Walker White Walker.

History

John Walker sold his family farm in 1819 and bought a grocery store in Kilmarnock, Scotland. Following the 1823 licensing of distilleries in Scotland, John (who did not drink) started producing his own brand of blended spirits for sale in his store. He would produce blends to his customer’s requirements since, as a man who did not drink alcohol, he had none of his own.

The brand became somewhat popular, and following John’s death in 1857 his sons took up the family business. With the passage of a new law in 1860 that allowed for a wider variety of blended whisky to be produced, John’s sons solidified the company as a producer of blended whiskys by being among the first to innovate with the larger varieties now available. They also introduced the first square bottle in 1860, allowing more bottles to be stored on store shelves — as well as the distinctive tilted label that differentiated the brand and remains a feature to this day.

The Walkers purchased the Cardhu distillery in 1893, which became the primary single malt scotch used in the production of the red and black label whiskys.

In 1909, the descendants of John Walker embarked on a rebranding effort. They hired cartoonist Tom Browne to create a new logo, and he produced the Striding Man that remains the iconic logo of the Johnnie Walker brand.

Later, in 1925, the company joined the Distillers Company which was acquired by the Irish Guinness in 1986, and subsequently merged with Diageo in 1997.

Despite local backlash, Diageo decided to close the original Johnnie Walker distillery in Kilmarnock, the place where it all started, in 2012.

Product

Oh, man. This was an idea that sounded so very good on paper, but seems to have gone so poorly (through absolutely no fault of its own) that a full two years after the “limited edition” “while supplies last” offering went on sale… it’s still pretty well stocked in stores.

The year was 2018. Game of Thrones was the biggest cultural event on TV, watched by pretty much everyone, and it was going into its final season. Sure, the previous season was a bit of a dud, but hopes were high for the finale. Hoping to ride that wave of popularity, Diageo decided that it should put out a limited edition series of whiskey dedicated to various factions within the Game of Thrones world.

Fast forward to modern day, November 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic is hitting its second (or third?) peak here in the US, and the final season of Game of Thrones turned out to be so amazingly awful that even with all the time in the world to sit at home and re-watch whatever they want, absolutely no one is re-watching Game of Thrones. Associated merchandise is similarly languishing, since everyone still has a bitter taste in their mouth from the way the series ended and would prefer to simply move on and forget it ever happened.

Responsibility for that market behavior rests squarely with David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, the two men who not only tanked a beloved fantasy property so hard that it went from a cultural phenomenon to a punch line, but also managed to nose dive it so far into the ground that it didn’t just kill the demand for Game of Thrones branded merchandise — it drove it straight through the bottom of the supply / demand chart to the point that people actively avoid anything associated with the series.

To that point: the last time Google indexed this product at Total Wine, it was $34.99. Check it again today and it’s down to $22.99. The price is getting even more depressed than Game of Thrones fans. And yet, despite every attempt to kill off the remaining stock, it stays alive. A spooky Halloween product zombie, possibly?

For their part, Diageo actually put some time and thought into their co-branded products. This edition is the White Walker version of Johnnie Walker and, true to their roots, they have produced a blended scotch whisky by combining spirits from distilleries including Cardhu and Clynelish (which are fittingly some of the northernmost distilleries in the country) for this bottle. As a scotch whisky, these spirits are required to be produced in Scotland and aged for a minimum of three years, but beyond that the specifics of their processes are left to the drinker’s imagination.

Packaging

Johnnie Walker has a distinctive shape to their bottle — square body with faceted edges, short neck, and metal screw-on cap. That’s all present here, but the real attraction is the wrapping they put over that bottle.

Instead of the traditional slanted colored label, there’s a shrink wrapped plastic layer that has all the usual branding. The front of the bottle sports a stylized “walking man” in the style of a Game of Thrones white walker, and the back is blank. That is, until you put the bottle in the freezer. When frozen, the message “Winter is Here” appears on the back and the eyes of the walking man appear to glow.

It’s a cool trick, but it’s 100% gimmick. They’ve taken the same technology from a Coors beer bottle and slapped it on a whiskey bottle. Forgive me if I’m not exactly swooning.

FYI, under that shrink wrapped label is a bottle with the bare minimum legally required labeling slapped on the front, just in case. Which is an aesthetic I actually kinda like, truth be told.

Neat

The biggest thing I get in the aroma is some apple and cherry fruit notes. There’s the usual expected vanilla with a touch of caramel present, but the fruit is what stands out the most. That said, it isn’t exactly strong — it’s light enough that you might mistaken it for some of the lighter unwanted compounds that typically get cut from a good run of whiskey. But there’s just enough depth to make it noteworthy.

Those flavors translate into the taste as well, with the fruit being the most notable item on the menu. It’s actually got a surprisingly good bit of saturation on that fruit note in the flavor — typically a scotch whisky only has a hint of fruit and tends to be lighter and more subtle, but this is closer to a watered down fruit-punch juice.

On the finish, I can see why they advise to try this chilled — there’s a good bit of bitterness on the finish that tends to ruin the experience. A bit of ice should help that out considerably. Otherwise, just like Season 8, it leaves a pretty bad taste in your mouth.

On Ice

With the added ice, you can see why there’s such saturation in the fruit flavors when taken neat. The ice and the cold has a tendency to reduce or eliminate the more subtle flavors, and in this case that’s happening here as well. Those vanilla and caramel notes are almost completely gone, leaving just the apple and perhaps a bit of cinnamon strong enough to survive the winter.

I think what’s happening here is that the flavor is actually “off” when taken straight neat — too saturated in the fruitiness on purpose. But when chilled, it turns back into a mediocre scotch whisky.

Overall Rating

I get what they were going for with this. It’s a gimmicky whiskey designed to work in a very specific presentation, and it does work for that purpose. However, judged outside of that very narrow set of parameters, it’s not really something I would voluntarily stock. It’s an interesting flavor with some unfortunate side effects when its taken neat, and taken chilled it’s only mediocre.

Not to mention, I need to slice the shrink wrap label off every bottle to avoid being reminded of that terrifically terrible final season of GoT.

Johnnie Walker White Walker
Produced By: Johnnie Walker
Owned By: Diageo
Production Location: Scotland
Classification: Blended Scotch Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 41.7% ABV
Price: $22.99 / 750 ml
Overall Rating:

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Overall Rating: 2/5
Just like The Long Night, it works very well in one specific set of circumstances. And very poorly everywhere else.

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