By Richard Thomas
Johnnie Walker is one of the most recognizable labels in scotch whiskey, as it is distributed to virtually every country in the world (including quite a few Islamic ones as well), so it needs no introduction. Johnnie Walker Black Label, however, might need a little further explanation.
Walker’s Black Label is one of the more venerable labels in the history of modern scotch. The Walker family got into the whiskey business through their Ayrshire grocery in the mid-19th Century, and launched their blended scotch whiskeys from that store in the 1860s. The color series of blends were started in the early years of the 20th Century, with Johnnie Walker Black Label being introduced in 1909. However, some see Black Label as the heir of the original Walker scotch, with a heritage stretching back to 1865 through Extra Special Old Highland and Walker’s Old Highland blended scotch whiskeys. Between that legacy and the Black Label’s placement as the brand’s first step up from the entry-level Red Label, it is reasonable to look at Black Label as Johnnie Walker’s dividing line between mass market and premium whiskey.
Packaged in the standard squared Johnnie Walker with a metal screw top, Johnnie Walker Black has a lovely deep coppery amber color, and the Walker’s style bottle shows it off marvelously. That full-bodied coloring is, in fact, one of the best things about Johnnie Walker Black. The scotch is blended from at least 40 different whiskeys, aged for 12 years and bottled at 40% alcohol.
For a long time, I’ve thought of Johnnie Walker Black Label as the sort of scotch for a person who likes whiskey, but only dabbles in it. It’s great in bars, because it is almost always available and reasonably priced, but at home it adorns the shelves of those who might buy one bottle of whiskey every year or so and that’s it. The nose comes across with the sweet scent of cinnamon apples and raisins, with an undercurrent of earthy peat. Those characteristics carry over onto the palate, but I found the flavor more mellow and subdued than the scent. The finish is warm and subdued.
Johnnie Walker Black usually retails for between $35 and $30 a bottle in the United States. In Europe, I often see it priced around 15 euros on supermarket shelves.