Sensibly doing their best to exploit an expanding premium Scotch whisky market, Johnnie Walker has just launched two new blends to round out its portfolio and tempt those who wish to buy something pricier than Black Label (about $50) without breaking the bank on Blue (closer to the $300 mark). At the Toronto launch of Johnnie Walker Platinum, brand ambassador Ewan Gunn cut his presentation short in favour of a film. In The Man Who Walked Around the World, Glaswegian character actor Robert Carlyle strides down a rugged mountain path, telling the story of young John Walker’s rise from farm boy to shopkeeper to whisky magnate in a single, uninterrupted and utterly captivating 6½ minute take.
As good as the film is, it’s still advertising. Take John Walker’s seminal blending experiments, conducted with the goal of providing a consistent product in a time when single malts “could be a wee bit inconsistent.” No mention is made that this is no longer the case, with master distillers holding degrees in advanced chemistry. Nor is it explained that the driving force behind blending whisky today is actually thrift, achieved by spreading single malts thin with grain whisky. But you may not guess as much while contemplating the purchase of Johnnie Walker Platinum, which sells for about $149.
Whether the taste was worth it, we did not yet know, for at the conclusion of the film, Gunn wanted us to first sample other Johnnie Walker whiskies. One of the fun things about whisky tastings is that they are opposite of, say, wine tastings. There is no talk about doing things the proper way. The Scots just want to close the deal: add ice, add Coca-Cola or add both, no one cares, as long as you drink it and buy some more.
Our tasting journey started with three drams of unidentified whisky: one neat, one with ice, and another with water. Asked which we preferred, nearly everyone had an opinion; the whisky was all Johnnie Black. We tried Johnnie Red shaken with coconut water, Gold Reserve (another new blend) straight from the freezer and the top of the line Blue opened up with a little water. Some tasted of citrus and dried fruit, others were smoky or creamy, but none were as exciting as the unadulterated splash of Cardhu, the constituent malt, with its honeyed sweetness and mellow finish.
“With the blends, I taste what he’s talking about—but only because he said so,” a neighbouring taster protested, quite reasonably. “But the Cardhu speaks directly to me.”
But if those other blends lost clarity in their quest for consistency, the Platinum with which we finished was something else altogether: rich and creamy and smooth, it expanded over the palate like a slow-moving oily cloud. I liked it—more so even than the far pricier Blue. But to come clean, I prefer the Cardhu most of all, which still costs less than $100.
$300 ice balls?
Bemoaning the fact that ice cubes have a pesky habit of melting and diluting the whisky it’s designed to cool is the very definition of a #firstworldproblem. There are options. Some would have you swap your watery rocks for actual frozen stones. This is silly. Still there’s something elegantly scientific about this Japanese ice-ball maker: round objects tend to melt slower than square ones. They’re also slower to make. And more fun. File under #firstworldsolutions. $300, williams-sonoma.com
Jacob Richler is a Toronto-based writer and author of My Canada Includes Foie Gras
Photos: Trinity Mirror/Mirrorpix/Alamy