Distilled Sunshine

Johnnie Walker


Johnnie Walker is a brand of blended Scotch Whiskys originally created by John Walker in the 1800’s, in Kilmarnock, Scotland. After his death in 1857 his sons grew it into a major brand.

Alexander Walker introduced the iconic square bottle in 1860. This meant more bottles fitting the same space and resulted in fewer broken bottles. The other identifying characteristic of the Johnnie Walker bottle is the label, which is applied at an angle of 24 degrees and allows text to be made larger and more visible. – Wikipedia

The company went through a series of acquisitions and mergers until it became one of the main parts of Diageo in 1997. Diego owns 28-29 distilleries in Scotland. Using American terminology, we could consider Diego to be the major whiskey producer, and Johnnie Walker is a series of Diego blends.

They produce blends from Single Malts and Single Grain Whiskys including from these distilleries: Cameronbridge – grain. North British – grain. Auchroisk – malt. Benrinnes – malt. Blair Athol – malt. Caol Ila – malt. Dailuaine – malt. Inchgower – malt. Talisker, Linkwood, Cragganmore.

Johnnie Walker

Johnnie Walker Blenders’ Batch Triple Grain American Oak

Aged in ex-bourbon barrels. Triple grain mash bill – wheat, barley and corn. Their website notes that it is “crafted using five whiskies including grain from the now closed Port Dundas distillery and malt from Mortlach on Speyside.”

More gentle than a typical JW, very little peat/smokiness! Nose is light vanilla and oak. On the palate it is spicy and sweet. This is the closest product they have to an American multi-grain whiskey. Of the three that I tasted today, this would be the one that I’d want to try again.

Johnnie Walker Select Casks – Rye Cask Finish

“With Cardhu single malt at the heart of the blend, [we] used whiskies matured for at least ten years in first-fill American Oak casks to create this blend. He finished the Scotch in ex-rye whiskey casks.” – Well, I detected the rye spice kick, yet also a hint of sweetness.

Johnnie Walker Double Black – Honestly, I tried to detect notes on this, but it all seemed rather peaty. Yes, there were other flavors, but I’d tried a few other whiskeys on this day, and by this point the peat overwhelmed everything else.

Johnnie Walker Red Label – The very first peated Scotch that I tried. At the time, I hated it. Hints of unplesant organics, and burn. But I’ll give it another try.

Thoughts on peated whiskey

Consider this review of Ardbeg 10-Year-Old by Joshua St. John on The Whiskey Wash

Peat smoke and bandages… more peat, more smoke, and more bandages. Menthol and eucalyptus lozenges. A hint of white grapes with more bold notes of peanuts, brine, grass clippings clogging a mower after cutting a wet lawn that had grown a little too long, a bit of sweat, and butter… Salted whipped honey, dried mango and papaya, fresh chopped parsley… persistent smokiness.

Or this review of the same whiskey by The Scotch Noob

sweetness greets the tongue, of pure malted grains and oaky vanilla. This is quickly obliterated by smoking hay, dry seagrass, slightly bitter charcoal, and dense, woodsy peat… strong spike of anise and black pepper… leaving a fugue of grassy, boggy peat and smoke.

Show these to someone not brought on on Scotch but don’t tell them what it’s for. Ask them to guess. They’d wonder, is he talking about spoiled food in a college dorm refrigerator?  Perhaps the smell in an emergency room?  Or a trash can containing the pick-ups after a grass fire?

No, they’re about a supposedly delicious whiskey! So how have spirits drinker come to the point where many pay large sums of money for drinks that – in their own words – taste like band-aids, peat, sweat, etc.?

If one wasn’t brought up with peated whiskey, very few would buy this. Most of my friends won’t finish even an ounce of it. Recently a peated whiskey fan told me that a taste for peat is like Stockholm syndrome for your taste buds. That may have more than an ounce of truth to it.

Perhaps this is like how people get used to foods their ancestors once ate out of necessity due to poverty or famine, but then these foods became a tradition. Ashkenazi Jews enjoy gefilte fish – one the worst kinds of fish delicacy. Would anyone really prefer that to a well cooked Tuna steak? Norwegians enjoy Lutefisk, a foul, gelatinous, aged stockfish chemically treated with lye. The chemicals used in preparing it are deadly. Or consider Surströmming, fermented Baltic Sea herring, eaten in some Swedish towns. Generally considered repulsive, except by those brought up on it.

Peated whiskey may be like this. The industry in centuries past wasn’t aimed at producing great whiskey – it just did things as frugally as possible. Distilleries were built in out of the way places because land was cheap. The cheapest barley was used, instead of other grains. And instead of using burning wood to dry grains, they burned local peat, despite the aroma, because it was cheap. Over generations people got used to this as being “what whiskey should be”, rather than as an phenol-contaminated outlier.

Of course if you enjoy it, that’s great. Don’t let someone dissuade you from what you enjoy. Hey, I enjoy gefilte fish. Just don’t “try” to become a peated Scotch drinker if you don’t like it. I’ve seen people admit that they spent years acquiring a taste – but why? Don’t force yourself to drink something you don’t like, to “get to the point” where you like it. There’s so much out there to enjoy without effort, and without great expense. There’s a wide world of American, Irish and Canadian whiskey, non-peated Scotch whiskeys, not to mention rum – the cane and molasses equivalent to whiskey.

But of course, you know, that’s just like my opinion, man.