Johnnie Walker parent company, Diageo, has announced the release of the fourth edition of the Private Collection blend. The high-end, special release was announced earlier this month, with master blender Jim Beveridge working alongside Aimee Gibson to deliver what they call a ‘journey of flavour styles’.
Commenting on the new release, Beveridge said:
“The first two releases were examinations of distillery character. The first looked at smoke; the second examined rare fruits. Last year, we took a different approach and focused on the role of oak in helping to enhance honeyed notes.”
Each release of the Private Collection has focused on showcasing the blending philosophy of Johnnie Walker, the company said.
“This year continues that theme” Beveridge continues. “...but this time concentrated on oak-rich fruit notes. It is more about how the wood matures our whiskies”.
The Johnnie Walker Private Collection is a popular set of annual and limited release whiskies that are designed to show the famous distillery’s ability to innovate in the whiskey industry, producing blends that have previously never been created.
The 2017 release of the company’s high-end whiskey will blend three kinds of oak casks to complement the character and flavour of the spirit. Starting by filling former bourbon American oak whiskey casks, the distillery then transfers the whiskey to American and European oak casks from Beveridge’s collection of ‘experimental casks’. The result is expected to be a rich whiskey with a nose that offers vanilla and toffee, and the aromas of orchard fruits.
Beveridge explains that the palate will also offer some gentle spice, thanks to the American oak casks, as well as hints of peach, berries and stewed apples, courtesy of the Highland whiskies used in the blend.
The whiskey will be sold in individual, numbered decanters, in a run will be limited to 5,588.
Going Beyond Classic Expressions
Beveridge also noted, in an official press release, that the intention was to be ‘different from the classic expressions of distilleries people may know’. The release will offer customers a chance to ‘go beyond that by using whiskies matured for longer’.
The experimental casks in Beveridge’s collection originate from the ‘Matrix’ programme, an unusual trial that split 400 casks into five different groups. Most of the casks were made using American oak, but many had different shells, toasts and heads.
Other casks used to create the 2017 blend had been ‘salt-cured’. The process takes traditional oak casks and pre-conditions them with salt, permanently changing the chemistry of the wood and making it possible to produce more concentrated whiskey flavors.
Beveridge says that, when the casks were too new, the flavors produced were simply too intense. Today, however, the casks are said to produce a ‘remarkable intensity’ which will no doubt set aside the 2017 Private Collection from its predecessors.
The Long History of Johnnie Walker
The experimental nature of this latest limited run is by no means the first time the brand has thought outside of the box. Johnnie Walker Scotch whiskey started life as ‘Walker’s Kilmarnock Whisky’, but later became known as ‘Johnnie Walker’ as a result of the legacy left by John who sold the whiskey in his Ayrshire grocery store.
While the Scotch quickly became popular, it was only in 1857 – after John Walker’s death – that it began its journey to becoming a worldwide brand. The son and grandson of John – Alexander Sr and Alexander Jr – established the brand and soon made whiskey sales more than 90% of their firm’s income. This was a substantial increase to the 8% during John Walker’s time.
From Single Malt to Blend
During the early life of this popular Scotch whiskey, it was illegal in Great Britain to sell blended whiskey. So, before 1860, John Walker traded in single malt whiskeys, including his own which he called Walker’s Kilmarnock. By 1867, the first ever Johnnie Walker commercial blend was released to the public, and he called it Old Highland whisky. In order to move more product, he worked with captains of ships to carry the whiskey wherever they sailed, meaning that Johnnie Walker’s unique blend of whiskey was soon available all over the world.
The company was taken over at the start of the 20th Century by John’s grandsons, Alexander II and George. The two men built on the wide range of whiskeys that were being produced by the end of the 19th Century, and were responsible for introducing Walker’s famous color names (Black Label, Green Label and so on). By 1908, the Managing Director of the company, James Stevenson, oversaw this huge rebranding in which their Special Old Highland Whisky was renamed Johnnie Walker Black Label.
Johnnie Walker’s Most Famous Labels
For those who don’t have the £550 ($690) available to spend on a bottle of this extra special Johnnie Walker Private Collection, there are still many high-quality Scotch whiskies produced by the brand that are easier on the wallet. These include:
80 proof, Johnnie Walker Red Label is one of the most popular whiskies in the world, and is made of a blend of 35 grain and malt whiskies. It’s intended to use as a mixer, and was chosen whiskey of Winston Churchill, who liked to mix it with soda.
Green Label is 86 proof, and is a blended malt whiskey made from a number of single malts, with no grains added. This edition uses four single malts, all coming from Scottish distilleries.
Black Label is a blend of 40 whiskies – predominantly Talisker and Caol Ila – which are all at least 12 years old. That makes Black Label an accessible and yet high quality whiskey blend for the mass market.
Double Black Label
Double Black Label builds upon the Black Label philosophy of taking quality whiskies and making them accessible, but also incorporates peaty West Coast malts for a more intense, oaky and charred flavour.
For those who are looking to purchase the brand new 2017 Private Collection, orders will begin being dispatched by February 27th. We’ll raise a Glencairn glass to that!