I’m really digging blends at the moment, an enjoyment brought to light in the last few years with consistently good releases from the likes of Compass Box, Ballantine’s & TBWC for example, and recent mass-marketed blends such as Dewar’s 18yo and the Johnnie Walker Platinum 18yo blog, both of which Ralfy last week considered decent enough to review – Dewars86 & JW84.
Im also enjoying blending at home, often with bottles I’m not enjoying as single malts. My best mix so far is Glenmorangie Nectar D’or which is improving in its own right but hugely improved with maybe no more than 10% Aberlour A’bunadh [batch 47], which is definitely fine in it’s own right but brings out different things when mixed. I may be tempted to add a splash of Laphroaig [Select], which since its opening has been ‘selected’ for permanent reassignment in the corner of the whisky kitchen.
Whilst i wait for my Johnnie Walker Platinum to arrive, tonight i’m trying Johnnie Walker Black through the ages. After the current fayre, we travel back first 40 odd years to the 1970’s before flying back more than 70 years to the 1940’s, comparing as we go.
Johnnie Walker Black Label 12yo  40% WB75.16
No need for a sermon here. Much like when i spend time with Highland Park 12 wishing to have the 18yo, I spent the whole time with this dram wishing it was the Platinum 18yo. It’s just as well blended as the Platinum I’m sure, but there are no standout features at all. What’s lacking most is depth whilst it’s youthfulness only brings a soft-pokey thinness, and bottled at 40% which doesn’t help it’s cause. I’m sure however it’s good enough as a reasonably priced aged blend [£26 May ’17], to maintain copious worldwide sales for JW [450 bottles per minute], though at that price point you’re in core single malt territory – Glenmorangie 10, Laphroaig 10, Bunna 12,….. and the Bunna 12 is really good at the moment.
Scores 78 points.
- N: Woody & toasted grain in the main, and after all these years cooped up in a small bottle, part oxidised & bottled at only 70 proof, it’s still rather resinous and displaying strong presence. I guess its most redeeming feature is its boldness [not quite richness], and broad, unflinching self confidence. Aside from the grassy [hay/straw] resinousness, a grapey liquorice heat suggests it could be a bit pokey too. A simple, straight forward, grain led [drinking fodder] nose with nothing complicated at all so far.
- T: Some OBE, but nothing major. Its prickly thats for sure, moving towards oaky-sweet, malty=>fruity tamarind & furniture=shoe polish notes and then more prickles. The prickles subside in time whereas a consistent sure-fire hit of dark teak/oak furniture [polish] heralds the final stages. Theres a dry oily maltiness to be had although hampered by much caramel – after all this blend is dark, not only in comparison to the 1940’s edition. Becomes waxy.
- F: [With water especially] there’s a malty-chocolatey move preceding chalky-dry raisins & a dry maltiness before a major fade. Hums on mildly hot aniseed & dry, waxy<oaky caramel. That heat changes from liquorice to liquorice & spearmint with time, the oaky chocolate-malt becoming more prominent as the bottle level diminishes.
- C: I doubt ‘the men will cheer, the boys will shout, the ladies they will all turn out’, but in comparison to the current bottling, there’s no competition. This got tastier with every sip and more engaging.
Scores 83 points
Johnnie Walker Black Label 12yo [1940’s] abv unknown [4/5th’s quart]
- N: Much lighter than the 1970’s JW Black [see pic above], and a totally different nose character-wise. We begin with a creamy oiliness on emulsion, a few baking fruits and silver saucepans, some olive brine, grapey armagnac hints, peaty proposals, smoky>singed biscuits, some sweet-sour curd, sour-kraut entangled on a creosote fence,….. It’s really rather oaky with a grain-led subtlety. More grapey now with diced dried lime cubes [papaya later on],… and a slightly fermented note throughout – reminding me of a soft, cheap & young, old bottled armagnac. Over time the fruity peatiness really grows, the funny [grapey] wine note continues [OBE contributing for sure], and a briney Bombay mix ensues. It’s a curious mix of OBE and old/aged blend, and is that baked beans in the distance? Let’s taste.
- T: After the 1970’s edition, this 1940’s example offers a preferred softer arrival with softer prickles, if a little subdued overall. Nice soft/velvety dryness [if you can imagine] and clear evidence of peat smoked barley. Smoky-oily-dirty maltiness.
- F: Chalky-dry once again with far softer heat, witch hazel, chocolate and a little peat. Quite some mineral/OBE at the death. It’s a dry one.
- C: I like it’s subtle complexity. Hard to know how much of the presentation is down to OBE, but either way it’s rather good. A little boosting strength-wise would bring this bottling more limelight. Until the time machine is available commercially, it’s one worth revisiting, especially if offered at the price of a pint. If i’d had more juice, i’d have blended the two to make a ‘blended blend’ – no more than 2 parts 1970’s to 8 parts 1940’s.
Scores 84 points
I was going to stop there but now I’m really in the mood as is so often the case. Let’s nip back up to the 1970’s again.
Teacher’s Highland Cream ‘Perfection of old Scotch’ 70 proof WB77.33
I’ve had this twice before WB, but only the 40% versions. I’ve heard good things about some of the older bottlings in comparison to the today’s educators, and here’s hoping this will demonstrate that.
- N: Big, soft Armagnac vibe. Greener fruits occasionally come the fore [lime cubes~papaya again], as do sweet grasses, pine nuts, buttery heather, caramel and icing sugar. Not too much to report, but there’s definitely enough curiosity to sustain my interest further.
- T: More armagnac-ness with soft/stale biscuits soaked in the stuff. A touch of Amaretto, amaretti biscuits, Farley’s Rusks & macarons included also. Soft, fermenting fruit sugars in the main. However fleeting, later on there’s a little glimmer of brilliance towards a waxy mouthfeel. An oily-waxiness with a light aniseed prevails on chew.
- F: Dusty, tannic & dry slightly-off grapes<sultanas and oaky porridge oats. It’s really keen to pack-up and go but at the death there is a pleasant savoury-sweet malty=grapey-ness, joined later by bitter caramel=>oak and a hint of Chesterfield sofas.
- C: The form improves significantly over time. There is an OBE issue here for sure [especially on arrival], which may well detract from the better parts, but whilst it’s a bit weird, it’s equally interesting & engaging. I’d much prefer a bottle of this over the current JW black, and a fully intact bottle I’m sure would win battle of the blends convincingly.
Scores 81 points
Lessons learnt tonight:
- A reaffirmation of an article concerning blends from scotchwhisky.com that concluded with ‘,… the way in which a single malt is assembled is exactly the same as the way in which a blend is composed. Volume, character and consistency are the by-words. They are blends’
- There’s no reason why a blend shouldn’t become your favourite whisky ever. However, for me that usually occurs from blended malts/vatted malts where the grain isn’t able to dominate or ‘smooth off’ the complexities.
- Bottle codes and other information can often be found under the base of bottles.
Three super recommended blends:
- Hankey Bannister 40yo WB91.50
- [The] Antiquary 35yo WB89 WF90
- TBWC ‘Golden Age Blend’ 40yo WB89.67 WN91