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Whiskey Review: Johnnie Walker Black Label 12 Year Old

Editor’s note: This whiskey was provided to us as a review sample by Johnnie Walker. This in no case, by our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review. It should also be noted that by clicking the purchase link at the bottom of this review, our site receives a small sponsorship payment which helps support, but not influence, our editorial and other costs.

Johnnie Walker needs no introduction. Their simple, colorful labels and iconic “Striding Man” logo appeared on whiskey bottles around the world long before most of us were born. The brand has its origins in the Kilmarnock grocery store opened by John Walker in 1820.

While it was common for grocers to keep a stock of single malt whisky, Walker found he could achieve more consistent quality through blending. A small grocer could even cater to specific customer tastes by mixing batches to order and by the 1850s the Walker name was associated with an increasingly popular product in the region. When John’s son Alexander inherited the business in 1857, whiskey had become the flagship product and Alexander spent most of the next three decades developing his father’s grocery store into a global spirits business.

the 1860s were a great time to be in the whisk(e)y business. At the start of the decade, legal prohibitions were relaxed on the large-scale blending of whiskeys from various distilleries. This allowed the growth of the whiskey blend as it is known today. Additionally, the construction of railways across the islands allowed for the easy transportation of goods to Britain and gave smaller towns access to world ports.

During the first decades of the 20th century, John Walker’s grandsons acquired large distilleries in the whiskey-producing areas of Scotland. The first of these, Cardhu in 1893, provided the backbone for the red and black label mixes that were introduced in 1909 with the walking man mascot still in use today. They joined their business with the Distiller’s Company in 1925, which was acquired by Guinness in 1986. In 1997 Guinness merged with Grand Metropolitan to form the current global spirits giant Diageo which farm the Kilmarnock factory in 2012 to protests from local residents and the government.

the Johnnie Walker Black Label has been a staple offering since its introduction over a century ago. The ubiquity and accessibility of the Walker’s Black label ensures that it is an introduction for many new whiskey drinkers not just to Johnnie Walker products, but to Scotch in general. And it really is a Scotch 101 course in itself. The blend takes advantage of the vast library of spirits available to Johnnie Walker’s master blender. Emma Walker. It is assembled from around 40 whiskeys from distilleries across Scotland and aged at least 12 years.

Johnnie Walker Black Label (image via Diageo)

Tasting Notes: Johnnie Walker Black Label

Vital Stats: Blend of 12 year old whiskeys. 80 proof. Average retail price is $37/750ml

Appearance: Clean golden color.

Nose: Sweet, woody and smoky.

Palace: Low resistance and low burning, there aren’t too many barriers to entry here. There is a strong base flavor which hits the sweet notes of honey, stone fruit and vanilla often associated with Speyside whiskeys which are delicately balanced with a smoke of Islay.