Things were simpler then

Posted 23 October 2017 by Matt / In Blend
The Dramble's tasting notes for Johnnie Walker Black Label Director's Cut

Bottle Name: Johnnie Walker Black Label Director's Cut

ABV: 49%
Bottler: Diageo

Unless you’ve already moved to the Off-World colonies, you’ll probably be aware of a little low-budget film called Blade Runner 2049. The acid rain soaked world of Blade Runner has long been associated with both high rise neon branding, and booze – after a hard day of retiring replicants, what better way to unwind than to imbibe for some product-placed Johnnie Walker Black Label? Deckard reached for the Black Label in the 1982 original – served in a stunningly designed, weighty, but completely impractical glass designed by Cini Boeri, and, of course accompanied by some sultry Vangelis on sax. Well it’s now 2049 and rest assured, Diageo haven’t missed a marketing opportunity.

Let’s get this out of the way first – Johnnie Walker Black Label Director’s Cut is pretty. Very pretty. Like the new film. Partnering with both Denis Villeneuve and supposedly blessed by original director Ridley Scott, Master Blender Jim Beveridge (nope, I didn’t make that name up) has crafted a new Black Label clocking in at 49% ABV (2049 you see) as compared to the original of 40%. The design is sleek, striking, but still prominently Johnnie Walker. It’s also really pleasantly weighty. Design agency ‘Love’ (if you’ve seen the new film, this is almost another in-joke) have not skimped on the materials here. It comes in a two part cardboard coffin with scenes of post-apocalyptic Las Vegas printed on the inside in a stark  desert orange hue – these work particularly well against the amber liquid itself.

Enough about packaging (though if you’re buying this bottle, frankly, it is probably a factor). Johnnie Walker Black Label is all too often disregarded by whisky fans. It’s a blend. It’s bottled at 40%. It’s usually seen either laden with ice or mixed up into a cocktail. But, there’s a reason it has been one of the most recognisable and best-selling bottles for decades – it’s silky smooth, the epitome of balance and remarkably well priced. 2017 brings us this new fancy limited edition version - we'll get to the flavours in a minute, but in terms of the price, Diegeo have done questionable things. The announcement PR’s indicated a cost of around £70, but subsequently this was listed and sold out quickly on Amazon UK for a shy under £100 – that’s the price of three bottles of standard Black Label – clearly this new edition will be coming to an auction house near you in the not too distant future.

Anyhow, let’s fire up the VK machine and see what response we can get from the Director's Cut.

Nose: Fairly pronounced. Caramels, toffee covered apples and pears with a light musty and earthiness. Slight sherry notes are present offering dried fruits – prunes and figs alongside wisps lingering oak char and delicate smoke. Honey and roasted nuts provide sweetness and backbone respectively. It’s certainly got more immediate oomph than the standard Black Label, but whilst the sugar and fruit aromas seems more defined at 49%, there’s a double-edged sword (or blade as it were) at play here – in terms of a fair bite of alcohol being delivered too at the same time.

Taste: Quite mouth coating – as you might expect with an extra 9% ABV.  Good translation from the nose with the sugars and fruits all coming across well and being joined by increased cask influence – vanilla, pepper, allspice and a slight pinch of salt. Smoke is still present but someway in the distance – like attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. Arguably less silky than the 40% version – this is bolder, firmer and altogether more aggressive. The flavours are all recognisable, but there’s been a remix here which on the one hand delivers less compromise with the clarity of individual elements, and on the other comes across as slightly heavy handed. A higher ABV is not always a better thing.

Finish: Medium in length and offering toffee, pepper and light citrus.

If you take Johnnie Walker Black Label as a baseline for quality affordable blended whisky, then the Director’s Cut edition offers a deviation from that baseline. Like the film it’s inspired by, it’s set in the same universe, but offers a different vision of that world. All the notes and inflections are there, but for the most part are dialled up and increased in prominence at the expense of an overall loss of balance. The end result is undoubtedly a tasty whisky, but one in which some of the nuance of the original has been lost. The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long.

Score: 82/100

Master of Malt
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