There is no superlative to describing my wonderment at why this is bottled at 42%.
Almost like someone wants to admit that bottling at a slightly higher ABV is better for flavor and depth compared to 40%, but doesn’t want to admit that all those people going up to 43% a decade or two, three ago were right.
Anyway, Islay Origin. I have no background information to this. There’s of course the facts that Caol Ila and Lagavulin are the core of Johnnie Walker Black Label, and with this being ‘Islay Origin’ I expect that this is more so for this bottling than for the regular one. Apart from that, there’s marketing blurbs about intensity and the most powerful release in the origin series, and so on.
Let’s just dive in!
On the nose it’s almost like a 40-ish% Caol Ila. A little bit less intense due to it being blended, but it’s a very clear focus on the smoky aspects. A whiff of diesel and bonfire smoke. Some vanilla and sweeter bourbon cask-y scents too, almost some custard and pie. Strudel, maybe?
On the palate you initially get a bit of a peppery bite, but it quickly turns a little bit thin with even an acidic note. Not overly weird for a lighter, peated whisky, but it surprised me nonetheless. Still quite some smoke, bonfire and embers. Some engine grease and diesel, slightly creamy. So, quite Caol-Ila-y again. The custart and pastry notes are back too, but that pepper brings some heat and dryness which balances it rather nicely.
The finish continues down the same lines, although the pepper vanishes quickly. With that it becomes rather sweet, with lots of custard and pastry notes. The thinness (?) is less obvious here.
I was expecting this to be a bit of a watered down Islay Malt, and it more or less is. There’s a lot of Caol Ila happening, which is not a bad thing. I guess the weird thing here is that the Caol Ila 12 is about the same price, and unless you’re very much into the lighter aspect of a blended whisky, there’s no good reason for Johnnie Walker Black Label Islay Origin to be a thing.
It’s nice. It’s not bad. It’s also a bit generic, and the fact that it is a blended whisky takes away some depth, some idiosyncrasy.
Of course, this is from a ‘tasting’ perspective. I can imagine if people like Johnnie Walker and don’t want to spend too much time with a whisky, this has a place.