I spent a rainy and contemplative weekend nursing Johnnie Walker’s hotly-debated new(ish) NAS blends: The Double Black and the Gold Label Reserve. The Double Black is marketed as the Black’s smokier younger brother – something about extra charry casks or whatever. But, being a newly released NAS blend from a company known for its
overbearing impressive marketing both my expectations and my bullshit-detector were turned up to eleven. Prepare to be judged:
Ah Black Label, sweet mistress. The overall smell – spices and smoke, sugar and vanilla – are very familiar. But there are clear differences: The Double Black is fruitier, a delicious Speyside whiff of grated apples and a surprisingly peaty tang. In return, the smoke and caramel are less pronounced (they’ve all but faded into the background).
Pepper, fruit and plenty of peat. A strong, bitter orange zest, raisins and that classic Black paprika. The alcohol really kicks, however. It doesn’t seem as well integrated, a rougher ride than I was expecting – the flavours (while delicious) fight for dominance.
The original Black Label’s finish is short… but the Double Black’s is tiny. The grain is quite prominent and it has a young-whisky sharpness its venerable brother manages to avoid. It’s pleasant, but my immediate thought was “stick some ice in there.” And so:
That powerful alcohol sucker-punch needs water to keep it in check, and I much preferred both the nose (brings out the peat) and the taste (now smoother, fruiter and less bitter) with a shnoops or two of water. For my second glass I chucked in some ice… and was pleasantly surprised. Unlike the Black this is fairly resistant to drowning and was enjoyable drinking chilled. I expect it’ll make a badass cocktail, too.
The Double Black is like your arty, less academic second-child. Its older brother is the achiever – highly regarded, independent and successful, but restrained. The Double Black is young, pretty (that bottle is gorgeous) rebellious and unrefined – demanding more of your attention, resources and getting you into trouble.
Fortunately, unlike a parent you don’t have to pretend there are no favourites. I love them both… but the original Black Label 12 is the one who’s going to inherit the money. It’s smoother, well balanced, more rewarding, more interesting. And considerably cheaper.
As for the Double Black, it’s still quite a success – Diageo came damn close to making lightning strike twice without the limitation of 12-year-old stocks. A terrific drink, a dose of Johnnie Walker with a dash of fruit. Would never say no to a glass. But buying a bottle? Save the cash and stick to Black.