“This is our Supercar”
That’s the extent of the introduction I get to The John Walker, the lastest pinnacle of the Blue Label marques. I have Jonathan Driver, Global Brand Ambassador for Johnnie Walker Blue Label & the Higher Marques, as my host in tasting this, the newest and most rare of all blends to be run out under the striding man.
It’s somewhat rare to be spared an exhaustive history of the brand and a retelling of the manifesto that led a product to market. Driver seems supremely confident in the product he and the team have blended, and is happy to let it speak for itself.
The nose of this liquid gold is subtle, noticeably different to the Blue and it’s King George V expression. The notes say mature fruits, giving way to fresh citrus. I would say it has the scent of luxury; restrained, resplendent and full of rapture. The taste then, is a revelation. It has the soul of the Johnnie Walker Blue, but the addition of Speyside to frame it, with a mile long finish teased out by a pleasing note of peaty smoke. Words simply do not do the liquid justice, the heather, the shrill of the bagpipes, tradition, indulgence, delight; tantalisingly out of reach but tremendously evocative at the same time.
It turns out that Jonathan’s confidence is extremely well placed.
Driver’s supercar metaphor too, is an apt one. Supercars are a chance for those who live and breathe an industry to put forward the world as they see it around them, unencumbered by the rules of the game or the need for wide consumer appeal. When done right, these creations are unabashed objects of perfection and desire, done wrong they are little more than smoking hulks, wrapped around the nearest tree. This, I can assure you, is done right.
Expressions like this give a marque a chance to articulate new ideas, old inspirations in a risky and often high priced package. This is not the future of all whiskey and it never sets out to be. It is the labour of love for those who blend Scotch, and for those of you who evangalise the Singles but eschew the Blends, the liquid will come as something of a shock. Most blends are shrouded in mystery, an amalgamation of 50 individuals. You could describe it kind of like a massed choir, I suppose, the result is deep and intoxicating but if you close your eyes, it is kind of hard to pick out your brother in law, third from the left, fourth row from the back.
Johnnie Walker have around seven million casks in their reserves, so perhaps the most surprising aspect of this blend is its restraint. The whiskies come from only nine distilleriesand Jim Beveridge, the brand’s master distiller selects only the finest to marry into this special product. Some no longer distill the Scottish aqua vitae. Those named in the documents are Cambus, Glen Albyn, Mortlach & Dailuaine. Jonathan lets me in on the secret of third fill Talisker as well.
Named for the founder, each batch is is married in a hundred year old cask, much the same as the original John Walker would have done in his grocery, so many years ago. The barrel holds enough to fill 330 of the beautiful Baccarat crystal decanters you see above. Each batch will be different, and what a delightful job it would be to try and work out exactly how. The bottle is housed in a beautifully tooled case made from a single grain and everything about it, from the sliding closure, the tooled leather paneling and inset hinges are finished to a Rolls Royce standard. The restraint of the blend is reflected in that crystal, with the angled bevel and a tiny striding man on the bottom left panel the only traditional brandmarks that are visible.
If my words have convinced you, you’ll find The John Walker at the World of Whisky and Rockpool Bar & Grill here in Sydney, and at Spice Market and Left Bank in Melbourne. There are ten bottles allocated for the Australian marketplace, and one can be yours for A$4,500.
Sitting at home after the tasting, nursing a Talisker 10, the smoke reminds of the John Walker finish. My one exception to unabashed endorsement is that after The John Wlaker, all other Scotch will remind you of this one, and the gulf that lies between them. It’s not an easy thing to forget.