Drinks Pairings

Johnnie Walker Doubles Down on Smoke

Oct 21, 2011 | By Jack Bettridge
Johnnie Walker Doubles Down on Smoke
The makers of Double Black aged the whisky in barrels that were extra-charred.

If you’re the drinker who enjoys the complexity of a blended Scotch, but always thought you were being short-changed on peat levels, help is on the way. Johnnie Walker Double Black is arriving in the United States.

This extra peaty sibling to Johnnie Walker Black, which already occupies the upper rafters of the blended-whisky smokehouse, ramps it up even more with added Islay and western Scotland malt components. To boot, some of the whisky has been aged in deep-charred barrels.

Johnnie Walker Double Black has been available in the duty-free market for a couple of years, but has only just debuted in America. Its release will also be a limited release on these shores. The Johnnie Walker webmasters have been thoughtful enough to include a countdown clock on the website that estimates the number of days, hours, minutes and seconds until the U.S. stock runs out. Not recommended for the anxiety-prone.

Like the standard Johnnie Walker Black, this label is blended from dozens of single malts as well as grain whiskies that are all at least 12 years old. The Double Black manages to maintain the core profile of the Black, while introducing more peat flavor. The blend nimbly retains the many other charms of Johnnie Walker that hide just beneath the smoke screen.

Peat is a fuel that occurs naturally in the ground in Scotland and pours off phenols when it is burned. The smoke is introduced to a whisky when the barley from which it is made is dried prior to fermentation. Distillers can choose different levels of peat from zero phenols to chimney-top intensity at 50 phenols per million and above.

The malts of the island of Islay, where it seems everywhere peat is squishing underfoot, are especially known for their high peat levels. The spirits giant Diageo, which makes Johnnie Walker, owns the Lagavulin and Caol Ila Distilleries there. It also operates a facility at the silenced Port Ellen Distillery that supplies peated malts to most of the Islay whisky makers.

Casks that are used to age whiskies are typically charred on the inside to release flavor. Whisky makers can order their barrels be extra-charred—as the makers of Double Black have done—to hasten and intensify the process.

Johnnie Walker Double Black (40 percent alcohol by volume or 80 proof, $40)

APPEARANCE: This amber whisky with a slight copper patina is nigh on identical in color to its relative Johnnie Walker Black. Its chunky legs are rather quick.

NOSE: As expected, it announces itself with a big peat blast. The real surprise is layered underneath in coats of rich wood and shortbread. Keep nosing and berries and field flowers may even arise.

PALATE: Once again, this whisky begs to show off its peat from the start, easily out-smoking its brother Johnnie Black. Almost immediately, however, it changes its tack and lets you know how tartish it can be, with hard candy, pears and tangerines. As soon as you settle into that another mood swing occurs and the whisky becomes all cuddly and warming with bread, maple and vanilla.

FINISH: It’s at the end that the peat determines to prove whose boss as it fairly tingles at the extremities of the mouth with sour dough and smoky toast. This is a long-distance finisher that occasionally throws some fruit on to the smoke.

"I've read so many reviews, now I have a bottle, I don't want to open it. I need to get at least two more, to make sure its a keeper! S. Tx don't see much action, LOL! But, I'm trying to put it on the map, LOL! " —November 10, 2011 04:56 AM
"Brought back some bottles this summer while in Grand Cayman and more recently when I was in Germany I stocked up further. A peat lovers dream with upfront flavors. For the price point I really enjoyed it versus the regular black. Glad to see it is coming around to more than just the duty free stores. " —October 22, 2011 12:06 PM
"I was lucky enough to have a buddy of mine pick me up a couple of bottles on 2 separate trips. Very good stuff!" —October 21, 2011 13:37 PM

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