Cigar Aficionado

Johnnie Walker Goes Platinum

When a recording goes platinum it’s cause for an artist and a record company to celebrate. Johnnie Walker’s latest release—Platinum Label—is reason for fans of blended Scotch whiskey everywhere to shout out a loud hosannah. The maker responsible for a series of venerable drams—Red, Black, Green, Gold and Blue Labels—is sharing its tradition for occasional special releases meant for a limited audience, but this time on a permanent basis. And its a release that should make single-malt snobs sit up and remember the importance of the blends that brought Scotch whisky to worldwide prominence.

The master blender Jim Beveridge says he was aiming with this creation at “precision blending, something that is very much in the 21st century.” He attained that mark with a whisky that straddles both the subtle nuances and smoothness of a blend, while highlighting the prominent flavors that make single malts stand out.

The whiskey marries single malts from some 20 to 25 Scotch distilleries across the regions of the country with the grain spirits that define it as a blend. All are at least 18 years old. Every major Scotch region—Speyside, Lowlands, Highlands, Islay and Islands—is represented, as well as the typical ex-Bourbon-barrel-aged spirits; there are also malts that have spent time in former Sherry casks.

Beveridge describes the melange as a palette of autumnal colors with rich end-of-season and exotic fruits. While the trademark Johnnie Walker smoke is there, it is not overwhelming. The blender calls it as a “contemporary smokiness. It is there to be found.”

This whisky will lead many enthusiasts to ponder from whence each element in the mixture arises, and in that sense it is something of a reinvention of the blender’s art. Each element—even the grain whisky—plays its own exquisite solo for those who care who care to listen.

Johnnie Walker Platinum Label Private Blend (80 proof, or 40 percent alcohol by volume; 18 years old; $110 a 750-milliliter bottle)

APPEARANCE: Light, amber/brass color. Gives up its legs in dawdling teardrops.

NOSE: Honey-sweet aroma that fairly bursts with fruity notes: apples, pears, ripe berries, cherries. Sniff with your mouth slightly open, and you’ll almost get a taste without taking a sip.

PALATE: Smoothness sometimes means a tradeoff: you give up flavor. Not so here. This blend presents a buttery mouth feel and then introduces a conga line of tasting notes that keep you wondering what distillery or region was the contributor. The soft honey and graham cracker notes suggest the Lowlands. The fruits and Sherry bursts have you up in Speyside in the Highlands. Obviously, the doled-out smoke and touch of salt spray suggest Islay. But there's an edge to the marine flavor that has an Island feel. It's all drawn together with a cake-icing of a grain whisky. And through it all, a rich vanilla flavor persists. 

FINISH: Finishes long and sweet with tangerine, orange and quince notes. At the very end there's a miniature explosion of anise that tells you to take another sip--if you're lucky enough to have it.

Note: Serve neat or with a bit of water, a sliver of ice if you must. Don’t even think of mixing this.

CIGAR PAIRING: Nat Sherman Timeless No. 2 (6 1/4  inches by 52 ring gauge, $8.00, 93 Points, February 2013  Cigar Aficionado—Top 25, No. 10). Nearly flawless in appearance, every puff of this torpedo is full of cedar and espresso flavors that play off of dark chocolate and nutmeg notes. The cigar's cocoa opens up another dimension on the whisky, which gains a dessert-like quality. The Johnnie Walker repays the favor by bringing out lighter sweetness on the No. 10, with honey and rich wheats. A bang-up pairing.

Romeo & Julieta (Cuba) Wide Churchill (5 1/8 inches by 55 ring gauge, £19.28, 93 Points, June 2013 Cigar Aficionado). The dark, oily appearance of this fat robusto hints at the hearty espresso and bittersweet chocolate notes that layer the palate with each puff. The smoke is dense and chewy. The inherent smoothness of the whisky gives a wonderful nuance to the cigar. The whisky blend seems to pop under the structure of the Romeo, revealing even bigger flavors of spice and graham cracker, and once again that dessert quality. Another excellent pairing.