They are two of the most successful expressions from the Johnnie Walker stable, and as much as the similarities they share, they have their fair share of contrasts too. The Johnnie Walker Black Label and Johnnie Walker Double Black take the centre stage today as we entertain a debate. Is the Double Black expression better than Black Label? Let’s find out.
The Johnnie Walker Black Label is an iconic release from the company, and has been a pivotal part of their success since their entry into the blended Scotch whisky market. The Black Label was first launched in its original form, as the Extra Special Old Highland in 1909.
Whereas the Johnnie Walker Double Black is one of the company’s modern marvels, released relatively recently in 2011 after a resounding success in the travel retail segment. In a short span of time, the Double Black expression has collected enough awe and praise for it to stand on the back of its own popularity, and challenge the Black Label for the ultimate superiority.
Let us delve deeper into understanding each of the Johnnie Walker expressions in detail before we pit them against each other and unravel the winner of this bout.
Johnnie Walker Black Label
The Black Label is a 12 Year Old blended Scotch, put together with great care by combining source whiskies from ‘four corners of Scotland’ as Johnnie Walker like to put it. This indicates the presence of source whiskies from Islay, Speyside, Highlands and the Lowlands, with each region brining in a unique characteristic to the Black Label blend.
The one word used by many whisky experts and drinkers alike to describe the Black Label blend is complex, and there is more than some truth to this decree. The finish is long and smooth, and the texture is silky, which have played a huge role in making the Johnnie Walker Black Label one of the world’s largest selling blends. How does the Double Black hold against it? Let’s find out.
Johnnie Walker Double Black
The Double Black expression was widely released not more than a decade ago, after the company tested the waters with a controlled travel retail exclusive release. The expression was met with positive feedback, with fans of heavily peated and smoky whiskies particularly expression their affection for it.
Unlike the Black Label, the Double Black is a no-age-statement blend, and here is where things gets interesting. The Johnnie Walker Double Black is a blend created by using the Black Label as a fingerprint whisky, with some more heavily peated whiskies from the West Coast and Islay added to the blend later. The resulting blend is then finished in heavily charred oak barrels for the smouldering smoky character.
So is the Double Black really better than the Black Label?
When it comes to price, the affordability factor is as important as the premium-ness of a Scotch whisky brand. The Johnnie Walker Black Label and the Johnnie Walker Double Black don’t have much to separate them when it comes to pricing, although the Double Black is slightly more expensive. Nevertheless, when it comes to finding out the better whisky, price is usually a moot point to discuss so allow us to focus on the quality instead.
The Double Black blend is richer, intensely smoky and created for lovers of Scotch whiskies that do not shy away from peat and spice. On the other hand, the Black Label is not devoid of smoke itself, although it does exercise more subtlety in this regard. The Johnnie Walker Black Label balances itself well through the inclusion of other source whiskies into the blend.
It isn’t all smoke and peat with the Double Black, although it is a significant part of its personality. All that smoky goodness is accompanied with a sweet and spicy combo with hints of citrus and freshly cut tropical fruit. The Double Black is phenomenal when taken neat, but it is best enjoyed with a generous splash of water or soda. Not to say it cannot be taken it, because it obviously should but all that charred wood and smoke are not for everyone.
The Johnnie Walker Black Label has 12 years of smoothness that immediately brings to the table, juggling every single influence from its source whiskies to the tee. Soft and pleasant aromas of sweet caramel and dried fruits, followed by fresh apples, vanilla and ripe pears on the palate. This is a very inviting blend, with a smooth, long finish with a beautiful smoky climax. The Black Label has enjoyed so much of its success for its versatility and universal appeal, and can easily be enjoyed neat, a few drops of distilled water or with a mixer if one must feel inclined to do so.
As you may have expected, these are two very good whiskies from the same company placed right next to each other on the portfolio. This leaves very little to differentiate between the Johnnie Walker Double Black and the Johnnie Walker Black Label, yet we must try.
The Johnnie Walker Double Black is considered to be the slightly more premium expression by the company itself, who have placed it between the Black Label and the Gold Label Reserve. What anyone with more than a few miles on their whisky gauge will tell you is that premium and not premium are merely indicators of price and almost never equal great quality.
Our team at The Whiskypedia feel the Johnnie Walker Black Label is a slightly more universally appealing and well put together whisky. The peat and smoke is definitely there, but it does not overpower everything else, whereas the Double Black is not too far away from the peaty monsters of the Islay. Johnnie Wal
Johnnie Walker Black Label is a solid whisky at the price range, and can be enjoyed by nearly every whisky lover on the spectrum, whether they are new to the world of whisky, or are accustomed to Speyside or Highland whiskies. Overall, the Black Label earns a narrow win over its younger cousin and is our choice for the better blended Scotch as compared to the Johnnie Walker Double Black.