Johnnie Walker, like the rest of the whisky industry, is betting on black. Twice.
Formerly available only as a duty-free product, the company is (today) releasing as a limited edition a new blended Scotch called “Double Black,” a more heavily wooded and smoke-infused version of its classic Black Label — for my money, Walker’s best label. Actually, that’s a bit of a misnomer, since Double Black (which, by the way, carries no age statement) doesn’t much resemble Black Label at all. It’s a new and separate blend of whisky stocks, including peated whisky and whisky aged in heavy-char barrels, and bottled at 80 proof.
The result, if you’re familiar with Johnnie Walker, is bizarre: At first blush, heavily peated in comparison to the other whiskys in the Walker line. Certainly it’s mild in comparison to, say, Ardbeg, but it’s a whisky that lets you know its smoky intentions up front, no question.
That said, Walker isn’t a brand known for peat and smoke, and Double Black isn’t really playing to the company’s strengths. The sweet, tree-fruit, and nougat-like character that Black Label is known for gets unfortunately muddied under the smokiness here. It’s not bad — but Double Black has a bit of an identity crisis, not sure if it wants to be a smoked-up sweet bomb or a sweetened rendition of a peaty Scotch. Walker didn’t land on either one, and fans of both styles of whiskys are unlikely to be thrilled here.
Still, kudos to Walker for stepping into the peat world, however erratically. As I said, this is a drinkable dram: It just needs to reimagine this approach with a little more balance in mind.