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Thursday, 19 August 2010

Double Bubble or Double Trouble?

There are some old fashioned sayings that definitely have a place in today’s society. If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It certainly springs to mind. How many great things have been tinkered with in recent times, to the point that all the quirks and decency are engineered out. Consider the disastrous American versions of 'Fawlty Towers' and the marginally better 'The Office'. Both series tried to muscle their way into our homes, using brute force instead of the subtlety and wit of the originals.

Also consider first class train travel. The once great way to travel the land in the elegance and comfort of your own compartment, serviced by polite, well dressed waitresses, has now been replaced with rude staff in ill-fitting nylon jackets, serving re-heated crap. Where did it all go wrong?

Progress. Can’t live with it, can’t live without it.

So when we were told that a new formulation of one of the world’s best selling blended whiskies was going to hit the shelves, we were a little dubious. Why bother? Johnnie Walker’s Black Label sells an astonishing 14.3 million cases a year around the world and is unmistakable, from Bangor to Baghdad.

Double Black is the new more heavily peated take on Black Label. So far it has been trialled across several international Duty Free shops, including Bangkok, Dubai, Beirut, New York JFK, Singapore and Sydney. As well as more heavily peated west coast Island whiskies bringing up the flavour, the blend will also contain whisky from heavily charred casks, presumably for a richer fruitiness. One of the main differences is of course that there is no age statement on this bottling, unlike the original weighing in at 12yo.

Good marketing speak then, but clearly, the liquid inside is what counts here. It's only fair to put this up against its the original and see which expression slugs it out...

Johnnie Walker – Black Label – 12 yo - 40%

Nose: Soft brown sugar, stewed banana, light malty notes, with a touch of Caol Ila’esque smoke and light vanilla aromas.

Palate: Very vanillery on the first sip, followed by butter notes, fresh green apples and cereals.

Finish: The palate melts into milky chocolate, with green shoots and grassy undertones as it dries.

Overall: Well, you can’t really argue with this. It has balance, sweetness, smoke and a rich mouthfeel. It sips well on its own, with ice and makes a superb Whisky Sour. Sometimes, it’s hard to see the wood for the trees when it comes to immensely popular whiskies, but this is just an unpretentious and well made blend.

Johnnie Walker – Black Label - Double Black -NAS - 40%

Nose: Cereal notes, vanilla ice cream, stone fruits (plums and damsons) Peach Melba and then the peat smoke- mostly a sweet pinewood smoke. It is certainly a heavier peating level, but it is not there to dominate, balancing with everything else with ease.

Palate: Ah, there’s the peat, followed by a big spicy dollop of licorice, dark Java coffee, malt extract and spicy dark chocolate dessert.

Finish: A slightly bitter dark chocolate note starts to develop, but leads into a very lengthy and spicy undertone. The peat is still there, but again stands guard over all the other drying flavours rather than leading the offensive across your tongue.

Overall: A tough call between these two. The regular Black Label has for many, defined what a blended whisky should do in your glass. It can dance the tango, whilst swimming the channel. What I’m trying to say is that it’s a definitive all-rounder. Double Black offers more in terms of bold flavours. It is a bigger, more muscular whisky and as a result, probably won’t appeal to the absolute diehard BL drinkers. But for those looking for a touch more excitement and flavour, without travelling too far from the original, this might just be the ticket.