Johnnie Walker master blender Jim Beveridge is the man responsible for maintaining the house style and imprint on all of the Johnnie Walker whiskies, and now his latest effort — Johnnie Walker Double Black, formerly available only in duty-free shops — is about to be released in the United States for a limited time. Double Black has more peat and is aged in heavily charred oak barrels, but unlike 12 year old Black Label, it carries no age statement. It’s more smokey but also has a vanilla fruitiness that may appeal to a different group of consumers. We checked in with Beveridge to see what the Double Black is about.
Mix: What was the goal in creating Johnnie Walker Double Black?
Beveridge: The idea behind Double Black starts with Johnnie Walker Black, first and foremost. The main idea was to create a blended whisky that had similar flavors to Johnnie Walker Black, but a different expression of them. I had several options and could have taken it in a number of ways, but we eventually decided that making something that was smokier was the best way to go, which we did by adding a little more of the West Coast whiskies in our portfolio.
Mix: When first tasting Double Black, I expected the more smoky qualities, but was surprised by the increased vanilla quality, which made it seem very easy to drink and mixable. Was that a goal?
Beveridge: To make a smokier version of Johnnie Walker Black, we needed to make other adjustments as well in doing so to balance the smoke with other aspects that come into play and to adjust different proportions of the casks we used. There’s definitely a rich fruitiness and an extra creamy quality.
Mix: In terms of flavor, where would you place Double Black in the Johnnie Walker range?
Beveridge: I think of it as an expression that fits well in the Johnnie Walker range, but it’s quite overtly in the style of Johnnie Walker Black; the touchpost would be to think of it as a smokier Johnnie Walker Black.
Mix: As a master blender, is it more important to maintain the house style in all of the expressions or to find ways to adjust things a bit based on contemporary tastes?
Beveridge: There’s a bit of a push and pull that goes on in the debate and questioning about what would be a contemporary whisky. As a blender, I am fortunate enough to be able to make many styles of whisky, and when I’m developing blends, I’m mindful of the feedback from consumers that says they like the Johnnie Walker style. So when I’m experimenting within the Johnnie Walker range, I must be respectful of that style, so most consumers will be able to recognize it. Every expression we make has the Johnnie Walker DNA, if you will.
Mix: What are the biggest challenges in blending for such an important brand with so many expressions?
Beverdige: I’ve got a large responsibility in upholding the tradition of Johnnie Walker. Brands like Johnnie Walker Black are so iconic and distinguished, and I’ve got to be mindful of that all the time. My biggest responsibility is making sure that the style and flavors within continue now and in the future, so laying down stocks now so that the people who blend these whiskies in the future will be able to continue making Johnnie Walker Black in that style is very important.
Mix: What’s your favorite way to drink Double Black?
Beveridge: I’m a very traditional guy — I just pour it over a little crushed ice. Water really wakes up the whisky, releases the flavors and aromas, and, as it melts, the ice helps reveal the many layers of complexity within the whisky.