What’s darker than black? According to Sterling Archer, it’s a slightly darker black. But for Johnnie Walker, it’s actually “Double Black”. This version is supposedly a smokier and richer version of their famous Johnnie Walker Black. Today, we’re checking this out to see if it’s everything it claims to be… or if it’s basically just a slightly darker black.
John Walker sold his family farm in 1819 and bought a grocery store in Kilmarnock, Scotland. Following the 1823 licensing of distilleries in Scotland, Walker (who actually 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 someone who did not drink alcohol, he had none of his own.
The brand became somewhat popular and following Walker’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, his 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, which allowed more bottles to fit on store shelves, as well as the distinctive tilted label that visually 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, resulting in the Striding Man that remains the iconic logo of the Johnnie Walker brand.
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, in 2012 Diageo decided to close the original Johnnie Walker distillery in Kilmarnock, the place where it all started.
- Learn More: What Is Scotch Whisky?
Johnnie Walker Black is a famously blended scotch whisky, meaning that the specific sources of their spirits are a closely guarded secret. Multiple strains from different distilleries are pulled together to create a single expression of whisky that meets their desired flavor profile.
Based on the “Double Black” name, you might have assumed this would be an excessively aged spirit above and beyond the usual 12 years. And that would be a good assumption… but you’d be wrong. Instead of going older, they actually use younger barrels of whiskey to create this specific blend. Instead, they increased the ratio of smoky peaty barrels of spirits being used and sherry cask finished spirits to create something supposedly richer and more flavorful than the original Black.
It makes sense based on the role this was intended to fill. The Double Black was released in 2011 and originally intended for the travel market — somewhere that taste buds would be a little diluted and, as a result, need a bit more kick to the flavors to make itself known. The bottle has since been a hit and made its way to retail shelves where it continues to be available for purchase today.
As you’d expect from a good scotch whisky, this spirit ships in a cardboard sleeve. This is to protect the spirit inside from any degradation due to light or any scratches from the shipping process, and the effort is appreciated.
Inside that sleeve is a fairly standard design and bottle from Johnnie Walker. The square bodied and clipped cornered bottles have become almost iconic, evoking just the right level of old world charm and modern sensibilities to pull off something that looks pretty good on a back bar. In this case, the glass has been darkened more than other versions, giving it a mysterious vibe.
On the bottle, the label follows the same pattern of slanted labels that we see on every other bottle of Johnnie Walker. The label is even the same color black as the normal Black edition of this spirit, and the only difference is the addition of a gold ribbon at the bottom of the label, making it a little larger and a little flashier than normal. it definitely stands out on the shelf, and the additional gold label gives it a (slightly) more premium feel.
Compared to the standard edition of Johnnie Walker Black, there’s a noticeable difference that you see as soon as you take your first sniff. The aroma coming off the glass here is definitely deeper, richer, and smokier than the original. The first thing that hits is some dark fruit, like plums and dried figs, followed by dried apricots, some honey, a touch of floral blossoms. Then the peat smoke comes through in the background, combined with a hint of slate and salinity.
That fruit was also the very first thing I tasted, with raisins, dried figs, dried apricots, and honey being front and center. With that honey, it almost takes on a sweetened and jam-like flavor — almost like a flavor you’d see in some aged sherries or cognac — with a wisp of peat smoke tying everything together.
That sweet dark fruit and smoke flavor lingers long into the aftertaste and proves to be a welcome companion as you continue to sip and enjoy your evening.
In my (fairly extensive) experience, a blended scotch whisky will have amazing aromas but the actual flavors may be a bit mediocre… and then fall apart completely when you add some ice. That’s the way you typically identify it in a blind tasting, at least. So in this case, I want to give Johnnie Walker some serious credit for doing a great job with the flavor profile — even on ice.
In this Double Black version, the peat smoke is a larger player in the game, almost dominating the rest of the flavors and evident from the very first moment you take a sip. A lot of the fruity notes have dissipated, leaving behind just the typical notes of a scotch whisky: malted barley (aka sourdough bread and honey) and a bit of peat smoke.
Compared to what it once was when taken neat, it’s absolutely a step down. But compared to other scotches, on the rocks this actually tastes like a fairly pleasant scotch. There’s balance and simplicity in these flavors and I appreciate it.
I was unimpressed by the standard issue Johnnie Walked Black, but this is a horse of another color here.
When taken neat, this is a legitimately delicious scotch whisky. You definitely won’t be mistaking this for an Islay scotch anytime soon, but it has some of those characteristics coming along for the ride combined with a fruity and rich flavor profile. I could happily sip this all day long — especially combined with a good cigar.
On the rocks, this doesn’t hold up quite as well… but just as a broken escalator only turns into a staircase, this excellent scotch whisky only turns into an average scotch whisky. It is still delicious and enjoyable, just not as cool or quirky.
Compared to the competition, I think this is the first edition of Johnnie Walker that pulls ahead of the pack. The flavors are all there and the branding looks great. I have a couple minor issues with it, but overall a well executed spirit.
|Johnnie Walker Double Black Blended Scotch Whisky|
Classification: Blended Scotch Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 40% ABV
Price: $29.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 4/5
This has depth and richness, flavor and character that you do not see in their standard line of scotch. It might be younger but it is a definite improvement.