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Archive for the ‘Johnnie Walker’ Category

Introduction

I got an email a couple of weeks ago from Stephanie Jerzy of NOVA Marketing asking if I’d like to participate in a Chivas Regal tasting event taking place in NYC on October 5th. Leading the tasting would be Chivas Brothers Ambassador Alex Robertson. The 2,500 miles between myself and the event were not to be a problem, as they would send me a set of samples and hook me up to the event live via chat room. The price was right, too ($0.00). Sold!

The samples they sent included four 50ml bottles of non-commercial whiskies: “Islay 18″, “Grain 18″, Longmorn 18, and Strathisla 18. These are described as being some of the “key components” that make up the Chivas Regal 18 blend, which I previously reviewed here. They also included 200ml bottles of Chivas Regal 18 and Johnnie Walker Blue. I don’t find the Chivas/JW comparison particularly meaningful, as they’re very different taste profiles, but I’m not going to turn down a free 200ml bottle of JW BLue. I do love having the ability to break down a blend into its components. This is what Johnnie Walker did last year with their Art of Blending webcast. I think this is by far the most intriguing and satisfying way to hold a blended whisk(e)y tasting.

 

The components of Chivas Regal 18

 

The Event

There were about 20 bloggers participating in the event remotely. We were able to chat with each other, and Stephanie tuned us into the live action via webcam right there in the chat room. It was nice to be able to compare notes with the other bloggers and ask each other questions. As we went through the tasting, Stephanie served as our proxy, reading some of our questions out loud at the event, and making sure we heard the answer. Prior to starting the actual tasting, the participants in NYC were given a cocktail named “The Crooner Fizz”. I haven’t tried making it yet, but here is the recipe:

“Crooner Fizz” ingredients

  • 2 oz Chivas Regal 12
  • .5 oz Chairman’s Reserve Rum
  • .5 oz lemon juice
  • .5 oz raisin syrup
    • [Raisin syrup recipe: 1 cup muddled raisins boiled in 2 cups water]
  • Topped with Perrier Jouet Champagne

The Whiskies

A couple of interesting facts came out from the Q&A.

  • The Islay and Grain 18 samples are blends from different distilleries.
  • Chivas Brothers sources the spirit, but then takes control of the maturation process themselves.

We worked through the samples in the following order:

  • Strathisla 18 - I was really excited about being able to try this, as the only standard Strathisla distillery bottling is a 12 year (which I haven’t tried either). It seemed like more of a treat than the Longmorn 18 vs. the standard 16 year. :-) The Strathisla is very nice, with an apparent sherry cask influence providing pleasing red grape and dried fruit notes. There’s also a clean maltiness that carries through to the finish. In fact, everything about it is very clean. It’s not very spicy, but has a nice full body. Maybe a hint of smoke at the end? If they bottled this, preferably at 43% to 48%, and sold it for a reasonable price (closer to The Glenlivet 18 than Glenmorangie 18), I’d keep a bottle on the shelf. Many of the participants seemed to feel the same way.
  • “Grain 18″ – Pretty much all I got out of this one was toffee sweetness and fresh oak. It’s ridiculously easy to drink, but doesn’t offer any real satisfaction unless your goal is just to get drunk. However, what really impressed me was the lack of aftertaste. This is a very clean base for the blend, allowing the single malts to shine through.
  • “Islay 18″ - On the nose, I was hit immediately with a combination of sherry and iodine. Then I noticed a toffee sweetness and some smoke. It’s actually kind of easy going and fruity on the early palate, then headed into the finish I get big sweet smoke in the nostrils and another medicinal kick. The finish lasts a while and is quite drying on the tongue. I’d put money on there being a fair amount of Lagavulin in this based on the particular smoke/iodine combination presented. At first, I thought this would make a great “beginner” Islay whisky, but now I’m thinking the medicinal properties are a little over the top. Still, I enjoyed it very much.
  • Longmorn 18 – Hmm…not excited about this one. I much prefer my 2009 bottle of Longmorn 16. The 18 year provides similar fruity notes (more on the apple side than dried/red fruits) to the 16 year, but the 18 year has kind of a stale maltiness that i don’t care for. It seems a little “dirty” compared to the lovely Strathisla 18.
  • Chivas Regal 18 – I commented on Twitter that I thought another name for this could be “Strathisla 18 and friends.” The nose especially really brings out the same kind of fruits and clean malt that the Strathisla provides. The oak/vanilla/spices and sweetness from the Grain 18 is there, and a little extra apple kick from the Longmorn. Islay 18? I tried to find it in here somewhere, but at best, I’m getting a hint of peat smoke on the finish. I don’t think there’s much Islay 18 at all in the mix. The finish is medium in length and overall good, with maybe a hint of that “stale” malt from the Longmorn 18. In the end, it’s a very nice whisky that manages to keep most of the best traits of the Strathisla and Longmorn, adding some additional spices. It’s not going to blow your mind, but I found it quite enjoyable. The $55-$60 price tag seems very reasonable. Well done!
  • Johnnie Walker Blue - I won’t really get into the JW Blue here. I posted my thoughts on it recently. It’s a very good blend and fits right into some of my malt profile preferences. Especially with the increased Island/Islay influence relative to the Chivas 18. Granted, it costs upwards of $200.

Conclusion

We closed out with a return to Chivas Regal 18 and a toast. As for the “challenge” part of The Chivas Challenge Live…a few people voiced opinions favoring Chivas or Johnnie Walker, but I think the overriding opinion was that they’re both good in different ways. The Chivas folks didn’t really need anybody to come out and say Chivas 18 was better. Just presenting them as “equals” and getting people to debate the merits of each is a victory for Chivas Brothers, given the 3x price premium for JW Blue.

For me, this event was all about gaining insight into the components involved in creating the Chivas Regal 18 blend. It was interesting to see how smooth the individual components were. This probably has something to do with the manner in which they matured the whiskies. I had figured the smoothness of the blend was purely based on the recipe, but clearly their control over the maturation of the malts and grains plays into the final outcome. I was most impressed with the Strathisla 18 single malt and the Islay 18 blended malt. You can’t buy either, but if you try Chivas Regal 18, you’ll get a pretty good insight into the profile of the Strathisla 18.

Many thanks to Stephanie, Alex Robertson and the rest of the Chivas/NOVA teams for putting together this enlightening and entertaining event.

Cheers,
Jeff

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Introduction

I bought a 200ml bottle of JW Gold a while back to see what all of the fuss was about (people seem to rave over this particular expression relative to the more expensive JW Blue). I also have a 200ml bottle of JW Blue that I got from, of all people, a marketing firm representing Chivas Regal. I got it along with a 200ml Chivas 18 bottle just before Christmas, as did a bunch of other online bloggers and spirits writers. I find the Gold/Blue comparison much more interesting than Chivas 18/JW Blue, so that’s what I’m going to write about in this post.

Johnnie Walker's Gold and Blue

Taste Comparison

Nose:

  • JW Gold – Slightly medicinal, earthy peat, and some smoke. There is also some toffee sweetness and wood of the cedar block variety. There really seems to be a strong Talisker presence.
  • JW Blue – There is peat and smoke, but it’s more subdued than with Gold. Then a really rich vanilla and dried red fruits. You really have to stick your nose in there and take a big whiff to get the most of it. There is also a really nice cinnamon/nutmeg presence.
  • Comments – On first sniff, the Gold stands out, and would probably appeal more to the single malt aficionado. Though more subtle, the Blue is overall darker, richer and more complex. More luxurious, if you will.

Palate:

  • JW Gold – Ugh…what happened? It’s totally flat, like a Talisker watered down to 15% abv. Nothing offensive, but pretty forgettable.
  • JW Blue – Much thicker palate than the Gold, with a nice sweet peat flavor. There’s some white pepper that adds life to the party, but doesn’t overwhelm.
  • Comments – Big win for J.W. Blue.

Finish:

  • JW Gold – A nice burst of peaty smoke rushes up the back of the nostrils. On the tongue, however, it continues to be flat, leaving a grainy taste on the tongue that reminds me of a younger blend.
  • JW Blue - More subtle hints of smoke in the nostrils, with hints of peat and toffee sticking to the tongue for a while. No graininess or anything off-putting.
  • Comments – The Gold was off to a great start, but screamed blend on the tongue. Neither one of these stands out on the finish relative to a good single malt, but your occasional drinker friends will delight in proclaiming how smooth the JW Blue is.

Conclusion

The bottling code on my 200ml bottle of Johnnie Walker Gold starts with L4, which I understand to mean it was bottled in 2004. When I read  reviews of J.W. Gold by Jim Murray, Paul Pacult, and by numerous single malt aficionados on message boards, I can’t help but wonder if something less than ideal happened to my bottle between the time it was produced and the time I bought it. I mean, it’s got a great nose, and the finish has its moments, but it’s otherwise so flat, I find it hard to believe it would get such raves. I like it just fine, and would probably give it a solid 84 points on my scale. It would need a much more memorable palate and finish to rate more highly.

Johnnie Walker Blue provides a thoroughly enjoyable blended whisky experience. Where as the Gold had me imagining I could taste specific distilleries…Talisker, Oban or Clynelish, etc., the Blue had me thinking of the actual flavors…smoke, berries, spices. It has been blended into its own flavor profile that hits on a lot of notes that I tend to favor. The nose is a bit reserved, but it rewards time and effort. There’s enough complexity to keep you interested for a while, and it’s super smooth. Just right for the occasional scotch drinker who wants to experience a luxury spirit. I’m going to rate it 88 points.

Is the J.W. Blue worth the $175 – $225 price that it typically commands? On taste alone, of course not. But that’s not the point. As a gift to impress somebody, the Blue Label should satisfy, with its distinctive packaging and prominent recognition (due to great marketing). I’d much rather drink Laphroaig 30 year, which was going for $200 to $250 a couple of years back, but will the occasional drinker appreciate that one as much? What about the fact that you’re going to have to sit there and explain to them why it’s a “special” whisky, and why it’s about the spirit inside, not the bottle/box it comes in? I don’t have any immediate plans to purchase a 750ml bottle of J.W. Blue, but I don’t have any issue with others doing so, and if I were to get this as a gift, I’d be very appreciative and enjoy drinking it. There’s definitely a place for a whisky like this, and I think it hits the mark for what they’re trying to accomplish.

Cheers,
Jeff

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Introduction

This is my third post about the Johnnie Walker Art of Blending webcast event with Johnnie Walker Master Blender Andrew Ford. Why am I still blogging about it? I realize I’m probably providing more coverage than a lot of people are interested in, but I thought I’d try to give a full account of the webcast, as different bits of information might be of interest to different people. This post will cover the final two-thirds of the webcast, where Mr. Ford walked through the 7 samples that were provided in the blending kit. I’ll share Mr. Ford’s insights, as well as his answers to questions that were posed along the way. Finally, I’ll provide some of my own notes about the samples.

Regions and Flavor Map

After discussing the history of Johnnie Walker, Mr. Ford briefly went over the regions of Scotland, and the types of whiskies you’re likely to get from those different regions. From the Lowlands, you tend to get a light style whisky, while the Highland whiskies are more robust. The west coast and islands is where the smoky whiskies usually turn up. Speyside is the region with the most distilleries, and the location of the first distillery purchased by Johnnie Walker, Cardhu. He didn’t discuss Campbelltown or Orkney, but that’s not particularly surprising given that Diageo doesn’t own any distilleries in those areas. :-)

Scotland Whisky Regions

Scotland Whisky Regions

Mr. Ford referred to the Single Malt Whisky Flavor Map throughout the webcast. This flavor map is provided by Diageo, but it does contain distilleries not owned by Diageo. It attempts to place distillery profiles on two scales, from Delicate to Smoky and from Light to Rich. Click on the image to view a larger version.

Single Malt Whisky Flavor Map

Single Malt Whisky Flavor Map

The Whiskies

Tasting/Nosing

Mr. Ford stressed the importance of using a nosing glass when assessing whiskies, and not something like a tumbler. He also said that blenders typically assess whiskies at half strength (around 20%).

Question from audience: Why half strength?

Answer by A.F.: The flavors come out from the liquid, into the empty space in the nosing glass, presenting themselves more clearly. It also allows you to focus on the flavors and not be influenced as much by the alcohol itself.

Grain

Grain whisky, which uses grains other than barley, came to the whisky blending industry in 1832 when the Coffey still was invented. The Coffey still produces a very light spirit, and even after 12 years in a cask, the flavor is still quite light. Mr. Ford stated that it probably wouldn’t even show up on the Flavor Map. He likened Grain whisky in a blend to pasta or rice in a food dish, serving up the flavors of the single malt, and providing drinkability and sweetness.

My Take: I thought the grain sample tasted ok, but it’s definitely not exciting, and there is an aftertaste that I’ve noticed in blends that I’m not thrilled about. Actually, though, I wonder about potentially selling inexpensive grain whisky to compete with vodka for making mixed drinks. Why not?

Single Malt Scotch

He did also mention that the pot stills used in the production of single malts are very inefficient, and not a good way to make alcohol for mass consumption. The pot stills are about making flavor, not alchohol. Another thing Mr. Ford brought up when talking about scotch is smoke. According to him, smoke is the signature of scotch whisky. That’s what tells you that a whisky is from Scotland. He also said this is a key component of Johnnie Walker blends. The smokiness comes from drying barley with peat smoke, sticking with the spirit through the distillation process, through the aging, and arriving in the final product. Today, there are many ways to heat barley, so the use of peat smoke is more of a calculated flavoring process today than it was before more modern methods of heating were available.

Lowland

The lowland malt is still light, but more flavorful than the grain whisky. You’ll find grassy flavors in a lowland malt, along with sweetness and some vanilla. Lowland whiskies will show up on the lighter, more delicate part of the flavor map. While tasting the lowland sample, Mr. Ford talked a little bit about the casks used in aging. Scotch is always aged in previously used casks…typically ex-bourbon, port or sherry. The reason for doing this is that they don’t want scotch whisky to be quite as sweet and woody as a bourbon. By using an ex-bourbon cask, like this lowland sample comes from, you still get the toffee sweetness and vanilla flavors that the American oak imparts, but it’s not quite as intense as you’ll find with bourbon.

Question from the audience: Is this sample Glenkinchie?

Answer by A.F.: That’s a good guess, but I’m not telling.

My take: I’ve never tried Glenkinchie, so I can’t say, but I have a 200ml bottle on the way and will post an update after I compare them. [Update: I got my bottle of Glenkinchie, and it seems to be a match. Pleasant vanilla and a very easy drinker, with some nice oak on the finish to keep it reasonably interesting.]

Speyside

According to Mr. Ford, Speyside malts are traditionally fruity (fresh fruits like apples, pears and maybe bannanas), along with some grassy notes. You might pick up a tiny hint of smoke in some Speysides, but you’d need a very sensitive palate to pick it up.

Question from audience: Is Cardhu a large part of Johnnie Walker blends?

Answer by A.F.: There are a number of Speysides in the blend, but Cardhu will always be there as well.

My take: I’ve never tried Cardhu, but does it taste a lot like Cragganmore? Because that’s what this sample reminds me of…at least on the nose. The palate seemed a bit more mellow.

Sherry

Mr. Ford stated that he went to great lengths to get the sherry cask sample (from Speyside) included in our blending kits. The flavor is pretty robust, and very different on the palate from the previous samples. Very mouth coating, full bodied and rich. It also has a longer finish. It belongs close to the right-hand side of the flavor map. Not a lot of smoke, but lots of rich fruit flavors like dried raisins and figs. Another note about casks during this segment, was that the “sherry” flavors are not coming directly from sherry left over in the casks, but rather from the European oak used to make the casks. This is where sherry gets some of the same flavors.

Question from audience: How does the size and type of the cask influence the flavor?

Answer by A.F.: Bourbon casks tend to be about 200 liters and are charred and toasted. The charring removes pungent flavors from new make spirit, and the toasting adds flavors like vanilla and coconut, and also adds color. The smaller the cask, the more wood influence, and the shorter maturation time needed to get that influence into the spirit. The sherry casks tend to be bigger, around 500 liters. Sherry casks tend to only be lightly toasted, and not charred.

Question from the audience: Does it matter if your mouth is opened or closed during nosing?

Anser by A.F.: Whatever suits you. The J.W. blenders seem to close their mouths.

My take: I enjoyed the sherry cask sample. It reminds me of Glenfarclas 10 on the nose, and Glendronach 12 on the palate. It’s not as rich and fruity as the Glendronach on the nose, but it does have some of the spiciness of the Glendronach on the palate that I don’t get with the Glenfarclas.

Highland

Our sample is a west coast Highland malt, and offers a more robust flavor than the Lowland and Speyside malts. This is where you start to get more of a smoke influence. People also talk of maritime flavors in coastal highland malts. How maritime flavors get into the whisky they don’t know. In fact, malts distilled in coastal distilleries are not always matured there by the ocean. They’re sometimes shipped to inland warehouses for aging.

Question from the audience: How long does it take to produce peat, and are we in danger of running out?

Answer by A.F.: It takes hundreds to thousands of years to product peat, and there is plenty of it. The scotch whisky industry doesn’t use a high proportion of peat. People actually use it more for gardening. There is no danger of running out any time soon.

My take: Hmm…a west coast Highland malt from a Diageo distillery. It must be Oban, right? Well, I’ve only tried Oban once, so I don’t have a very good frame of reference. However, like with the Lowland sample, I’ve ordered a 200ml bottle of Oban 14 and will compare that to this Highland sample soon and post an update. [Update: Yes, I'd say this is Oban. The sample seems a little weaker than the 14 year, but perhaps that's because it's at 40% vs. 43% for the retail bottle. Some nice hints of peat and smoke, but seems weak on the palate...like a heavily diluted Bowmore 12.]

Island

Island malts are malts distilled on the islands off of the west coast of Scotland. Smoke now becomes much more evident. You will also find spicy and maritime flavors, and pepperiness. On the flavor map, it’s in the smoky region. Perhaps somewhere in the middle on the richness scale. Mr. Ford really seemed to enjoy this sample.

My take: This sample is Talisker, I’m sure of it. Mr. Fords comment about it being peppery helps to give it away, too. Interestingly, the sample tastes closer to Talisker 18 than Talisker 10, in my opinion. He said they try to stick pretty close to 12 years for the JW Black whiskies, but I wonder if this sample of Talisker is a bit older.

Islay

This is the final sample from our blending kits. Islay is an Island off of the west coast of Scotland, but it’s treated as a completely separate taste profile region because of the strong peat influence associated with Islay malts. You get lots of smoke, sometimes an antiseptic note. Whiskies from this region tend to be polarizing. Mr. Walker noted that a little Islay goes a long way, and they’re very cautious with it as a component of the JW blends.

Question from audience: What can you say about the color of whisky?

Answer from A.F.: The color comes from the casks used to mature the whisky. First-fill bourbon casks impart significant color, but as they continue to re-use the casks a second or third time, you’ll see less color. European oak sherry casks also tend to impart a dark color. He also noted, interestingly, that a pretty good portion of the Islay malts used in Johnnie Walker are going to come from refill casks, which allows the distillery profile to shine through.

My take: On first nosing out of the sample bottle, I thought there was some Lagavulin-like iodine. However, upon pouring it into a nosing glass and trying it, I’m almost positive this is Caol Ila 12. Consulting the Malt Whisky Yearbook 2009, I see that Caol Ila IS a standard component of Johnnie Walker blends.

Wrapping up

Mr. Ford concluded by taking a taste of Johnnie Walker Black, noting that you’re going to find all of the flavors we’ve been discussing to some level. The whisky samples that we got comprise the big building blocks of Johnnie Walker Black. He then encouraged us to play around with the samples and create our own blends.

Some guidance for blending by Mr. Ford: Keep in mind that a little Islay goes a long way…10% Islay whisky in a blend will make it “very” smoky. He recommended using half grain, and a decent portion of sherry cask whisky. However, you have to be careful with sherry cask in much the same way as the Islay malt because of the sherry richness.

Question from audience: Do you have a favorite single malt?

Answer from A.F.: Talisker tends to be a favorite. A full-on whisky with lots of flavors and just the right amount of smoke [for him].

Question from audience: Are there casks that will be used exclusively in JW Black Label and are not available as single malts.

Answer from A.F.: Yes, that will happen. However, almost all of the distilleries offer single malts now, but some of them are hard to come by, perhaps having to go to the distillery for some of them.

Question from audience: How did you come to be a Master Blender at Johnnie Walker?

Answer from A.F.: Interestingly, he came from the scientific side, and did research on the influence of casks. Over time, they came to realize that they couldn’t turn whisky making into a science, and his time analyzing cask influence eventually led him to blending.

Conclusion

That pretty much covers the webcast. I haven’t come up with my own blend yet, but I’ve already typed over 2000 freaking words in this post, so perhaps I’ll do that as a separate exercise. If you want to hear Andrew Ford for yourself, check out the Episode 220 (October 3rd) of WhiskyCast for an interview from the same day as this event.

Previous post: The Art of Blending webcast – Part 1

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Introduction

Black Label from 1920

Black Label from 1920

This is my second post about the Johnnie Walker webcast event titled “Johnnie Walker Black Label Centenary Journeyman Blending Webcast with Johnnie Walker Master Blender Andrew Ford.” Whew! My first, introductory post is here. Andrew Ford was the host of the webcast, airing from the Brandy Library in New York City. The webcast was divided into two parts. The first part being a history of Johnnie Walker, and the second being an overview and tasting of 7 whisky samples that represent the big building blocks of Johnnie Walker Black. These samples were sent out in a blending kit to the webcast attendees.

In this post, I’ll go ahead and share my notes from Mr. Ford’s history discussion, along with some pictures of the Walkers and some historic bottles for the history buffs out there. Then I’ll do another post with notes from the tasting, along with the Q&A from the interactive webcast.

John Walker and son Alexander

John Walker

John Walker

John Walker was thrust into the grocery business in Kilmarnark at the age of 15 when his father passed away. He somehow got into blending whiskies in an attempt to provide a consistent whisky product to his customers. [Note: The initial blends would have been solely comprised of single malt whiskies, as grain whisky didn't come about until 1832] That’s really about all that’s known of John Walker, and it was his son Alexander that took the family grocery business and turned it into a big whisky company.

Alexander built up a wholesale business and started exporting whisky worldwide. He’s the one that came up with the square bottle (possibly for better packing in shipping containers), as well as the slanted label.

Alexander II and George

Alexander II

Alexander II

Alexander Walker left the family business to his sons George, Jack and Alexander II. George took over the business operations and became CEO. Jack fell ill and died while looking after the Australian part of the business. Alexander II was the blender. They still have original blending notes from Alexander II in the Johnnie Walker archives. Mr. Ford showed a picture of Alexander II in a blending room sometime around 1910, and commented that the room looked similar to the blending rooms used today.

To ensure the supply of whisky for their blends, the Walker brothers started buying distilleries. Cardhu was the first distillery purchased, and is still a cornerstone of the Johnnie Walker blends.

Note: Mr. Ford noted during the webcast that this was one of the “happier” pictures he’s seen of Alexander II. Quite the serious fellow, it seems.

Johnnie Walker Blending Room from 1910

Johnnie Walker Blending Room from 1910

How did “Black Label” come to be?

JW Black 1950

JW Black 1950

Alexander II came up with the Johnnie Walker Black Label recipe around 1906 and named it “John Walker Extra Special Old Highland Whisky.” Quite a mouthful! The label was black, to distinguish it from the standard blend which used a red label. Given the long name of the Extra Special blend, people just started referring to it as “Black Label.”

In 1909, they added an extra label to the bottle with the text “Johhnie Walker Black Label”, and here we are 100 years later celebrating the anniversary of the official “Black Label” release.

Andrew Ford mentioned during the webcast that he had a chance to try a 1950’s Black Label from the archives. It wasn’t exactly the same as current Black Label, but he noted that some of that could be due to bottle aging.

Coming in Part 2…

Rather than create one huge post covering the whole webcast, I’m going to stop here and resume in another post, where I’ll cover the process of actually walking through the seven whisky samples provided to the attendees.

There were also a number of questions fielded by Andrew Ford during the webcast. I’ll provide the details from the Q&A in the next post as well.

Previous Post: Introduction and a look at the blending kit

Next Post: The Art of Blending webcast – Part 2

JW Black Centenary 2009

JW Black Centenary 2009

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Introduction

JW Black Centenary Pack

JW Black Centenary Pack

Is that a long title or what? That was the title of an event put on by Diageo’s Johnnie Walker brand on 9/29/09 as part of a celebration of 100 years of Johnnie Walker Black Label. The host of the webcast was Andrew Ford, Master Blender for Johnnie Walker, and they aired the event from the Brandy Library in New York City. It was an interactive webcast, with participants able to ask questions via web form during the presentation. Attendance was by invitation only, owing to the “Art of Blending” kit sent to each participant (details below).

So, how did I get an invite? I don’t know how to put this, but I’m kind of a big deal. People know me. I’m very important.

Ok, so maybe that Anchorman quote doesn’t apply…I’m nobody, and definitely not a big deal. However, the guys over at WhiskyParty.net apparently ARE a big deal, and they got an invite. I was fortunate enough to have them give my name to their PR contact at Johnnie Walker. I exchanged emails with the JW rep on Sunday before the Tuesday event, and my “Art of Blending” kit arrived via FedEx an hour before the webcast. Thanks Mike and Dan!!!

The Art of Blending kit

"The Art of Blending" kit

"The Art of Blending" kit

The blending kit sent to each webcast participant included the following:

  • 1 200ml bottle of Johnnie Walker Black
  • 7 sample bottles containing 100+ ml of whiskies representing each region (plus an extra first-fill sherry speyside sample and a grain whisky sample)
  • 1 Spiegelau whisky snifter (nosing glass)
  • 1 measuring device
  • 1 funnel
  • 1 empty sample bottle for storing your own blend
  • A tasting map
  • A map of the whisky regions of Scotland
  • A USB thumb drive with Johnnie Walker Black Label 100th Anniversary press materials and bio of Andrew Ford
Kit contents

Kit contents

The Whiskies

JW Black 200ml plus blending samples

JW Black 200ml plus blending samples

The sample bottles provided with the blending kit only contain high-level descriptions of region or type. They did not divulge the distilleries during the webcast, although there were a couple of hints, and possibly some facial expression give-aways by Andrew Ford during Q&A. Also, all of the samples are representative of whiskies that would go into JW Black (which contains 40+ malts and grains), so they’re at least 12 years old.

Unfortunately, I’m recovering from a cold, so I’m saving full tasting and blending experimentation until my nose and throat are back to normal. My sinuses did clear up enough to be able to somewhat enjoy nosing them, and I did taste a couple.

About the sample bottles:

  • Grain whisky - A very sweet, mild whisky with a definite “grain” aftertaste. Mr. Ford talks about grain whisky being important for blends, providing sweetness and drinkability. He likens it to rice or pasta in a food dish. I don’t know that I’m buying it. If it cost the same to produce a grain whisky and a single malt, would they really still choose to put the grain in the blend? I know it’s possible to create sweet, light, consistent tasting single malts these days.
  • Lowland – This is almost certainly Glenkinche, given that there are very few lowland distilleries (even taking into account closed ones) associated with Diageo. Mr. Ford also gave something of an acknowledging smile when somebody guessed that it was Glenkinche.
  • Speyside - Again, Mr. Ford seemed to almost give away the speyside distillery. He talked about Cardhu being a cornerstone malt for the Johnnie Walker blends. This is one that I tasted side-by-side with JW Black, and you could tell that it’s a big part of the blend.
  • Sherry Cask – A very strong sherry smell that reminds me of Aberlour a’bunadh. He mentioned that it was a speyside malt. Possibly a Mortlach?
  • Highland – A big clue was given for this one, when it was announced that our Highland sample was from a West Coast distillery. Oban jumps right to mind with that geographical reference. I tasted this one as well, but I’ve only had Oban once before. I need to get  a bottle to have on hand for reference. It kind of reminded me of Clynelish (from memory), but that’s on the East Coast.
  • Island – This one sure smells like Talisker, and wouldn’t you know that is a Diageo distillery and one that is known to play a big part in JW blends.
  • Islay – I figured this would be Caol Ila, but nosing it as best as I could with my cold, it sure seemed to have the Lagavulin iodine in it. Score! I can’t wait to taste this one. [Update: I poured a little into a nosing glass and tried it, and I'm pretty sure it's Caol Ila 12]

The webcast

Webcast with Master Blender Andrew Ford

Webcast with Master Blender Andrew Ford

Tomorrow, I’ll post a full review of the webcast presentation by Andrew Ford. I’ll also share some of the questions and answers from the event. Then I’ll probably do a third post about the whiskies once I’m healthy, and share the recipe and tasting notes for my own custom blend.

In the mean time, you can read an excellent overview of the webcast on the WhiskyParty.net web site, or check out the live blogging post by Liquor Snob.

Next Post: Part 1 of the webcast

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