The venerable house of Johnnie Walker is always good for something different once in a while. This year we see the launch of the new Select Casks limited release series which will run for the next few years and showcase different woods used as finishing barrels.
First out of the gate is Rye Cask Finish. This blend starts with Cardhu malt plus a variety of grain whiskies which are aged for 10 years in first-fill ex-bourbon barrels. It is then finished in ex-rye whiskey casks for one month before bottling.
I compared Rye Cask to Black Label, the closest analogue in the Walker stable, though it’s a bit older at 12 years of age. It’s a quite a different spirit, so clear your expectations before you dive in.
The nose is big with burnt marshmallow, dark caramel, toasted grains, and some medicinal, iodine-laden, kippered fish notes coming along in time. The seaside elements are mild, though, as the more woody/spicy/grainy character takes center stage. On the palate, it’s got heavy toasted notes, almost coming across as burnt bread at times, and ample barrel char. Again, light smoke comes across more as wood fire than peat smoke, but a gentle sweetness driven by raisins, cinnamon bread, and molasses notes more than compensates.
This whisky is bold and a little brutish, and it tends to be all over the place from start to finish. It’s initially a bit off-putting, but you’ll find it’s got quite a number of charms, provided you stick with it and give it a chance to breathe.