Many whisky blenders make the mistake of thinking that to produce a brand of Scotch Whisky that will be popular internationally, they need to create a blend with not much flavour. Nothing could be further from the truth as Johnnie Walker Red Label has proved. It is the world's most popular whisky, yet it has a distinctive strength of character and a fullness of flavour that sets it apart from other brands.
When Johnnie Walker began in business in 1820, he developed an immense respect for malt whiskies with real flavour. In particular, he favoured robust Islay and Island malt whiskies, because they added depth and vigour to his blends. His grandson, Alexander Walker, inherited all his grandfather's blending skills and his taste preferences. When he developed the Johnnie Walker Red Label blend, he made sure that, although it was much smoother and somewhat lighter than many of its contemporaries, it retained the authentic flavour of traditional Scotch Whisky.
That was at the turn of the century. Within twenty years Red Label had become the first truly global brand, sold in over 120 countries around the world. It also gained a devoted following at home in Britain. King George V liked Johnnie Walker whisky so much that he granted a Royal Warrant to the company in 1933, and Johnnie Walker has remained an official purveyor of whisky to the Royal Household to the present day.
Red Label whiskies have consistently won awards in competitions; recently Red Label won Gold and Grand Gold Medals at the Monde Selection Awards, one of the drinks industry's most respected international events. And in 1996 it won a Gold Medal in the International Wine and Spirit Competition in the blended Scotch Whisky category.
Whisky blends, like people, have individual characters. Some are smooth and polished in their manners, but may be short of character; then there are others that have strength, but lack lasting presence. But a characterful whisky blend, like a person, should be interesting to get to know. If everything is divulged at once, then there is nothing further to be revealed. However, if you feel that there's more to discover, then you will want to explore your acquaintance further.
Johnnie Walker Black Label has an enigmatic character. The first sip leaves you with an overwhelming curiosity to discover more. As Black Label's deep taste unfolds a myriad of flavours are revealed in several waves: first, there is an impression of silky richness; then deep and fruity foreground flavours give way to drier peaty nuances, followed by the complementary flavour tones of sweet vanilla and raisins.
This unique complexity is achieved by expertly blending an extremely diverse, but complementary range of malt whiskies, each of which has been matured for a minimum of 12 years and some for much longer. In total, up to 40 malts and grain whiskies make up the Johnnie Walker Black Label blend. Island and Islay malts deliver spice, richness and lingering peat. Speyside malts make an important contribution to the depth of taste, bringing smoky malt, fruitiness, apple freshness and a rich sherry character to the blend. At the heart of Black Label lies 12 year old Cardhu, an outstanding malt from Speyside, which imparts silkiness, a characteristic which has made it famous as a single malt.
Like a growing friendship between two people, getting to know Black Label is a profoundly satisfying experience that reveals new pleasures every time you meet. It's a taste that goes deeper than any 12 year old deluxe brand.
Back in 1820, when Johnnie Walker first established his business at Kilmarnock in the west of Scotland, malt whiskies and grain whiskies were bottled singly, and a market for them barely existed outside Scotland. All this was to change. During the remainder of the century Scotch Whisky achieved international fame. The foundation of this revolution lay in the art of whisky blending which John Walker pioneered.
Single whiskies, like wine, can vary from one year to the next, and John's aim in blending was to create a consistent flavour and a quality that could be relied on time and time again. However as his experiments reached fruition, he discovered that though blending he could achieve a depth of flavour unattainable in a single malt.
Foremost among the whiskies most favoured by John were the malts shipped from the Isle of Islay. These malts were powerful in character and flavour. The intensity and richness of the blended whisky John produced reflected his personal preference for these Islay malts. His son, Alexander, continued this tradition of creating powerful blends and, in his own words, his philosophy was "to make our whisky of such quality that nothing in the market shall come before it".
Now once again the authentic character and taste of a blend typical of that pioneering era can be savoured. With only Alexander Walker's words and a few dusty text books to guide him, the Johnnie Walker master blender has achieved the ultimate feat of bringing history to life. He has created Johnnie Walker Blue Label, a celebration of the whisky blending style pioneered by John and Alexander Walker.