Back to basics. Johnnie Walker Red Rye Finish is the first expression in a new Blender’s Batch series. It is not usually the kind of whisky I write about, but in this festive season it is all over the place, here in Belgium you don’t have to wait long for a Red Rye commercial when you turn on the TV.
The Blender’s Batch range is all about variation and experimentation. For this first release they used whiskies matured in first-fill American oak which were blended and finished for six months in casks that previously held rye whiskey. It is a wide-scale evolution of a previous experiment, Johnnie Walker Select Casks Rye Finish, that was released in the US last year.
Later on new experiments will follow, not just finishes but also variations in malting, fermentation and distillation processes. Expect a Johnnie Walker Triple Grain American oak soon. I’ve also seen a Major Peat experiment, as well as The Bacchus (with Roseisle malt matured in wine casks) set for May 2017.
Johnnie Walker Red Rye Finish is made from four whiskies including malt from Cardhu and grain from Port Dundas. Most of all this is a cocktail whisky aimed at a Manhattan or Old Fashioned.
I asked myself whether it was a good move for Johnnie Walker to dive into this limited series concept, where a new marketing campaign is launched every few months and the whisky disappears after a while. It may not work for consumers who stick to the reliability of the ubiquitous Johnnie Walker Red. But we can only applaud the open spirit.
You may want to compare this to some of my other Johnnie Walker reviews.
Johnnie Walker Red Rye Finish
(40%, OB 2016, Blender’s Batch #1)
Nose: sweet and spicy. There’s honey, toffee, oranges and baked apple. Warming wood spices, mainly cinnamon and ginger. Sugared cereals. Light bread crust. An ever so light hint of cedar oak. It’s in the same ballpark as a Red Label but with more spicy oak. A good thing, it gives it a little more depth.
Mouth: same kind of spiciness at first. Pepper, ginger, oak shavings. Then the common blend character comes out, with caramel sweetness, vanilla and a slightly harsh, grainy tang.
Finish: not too long, with a vague sweetness and the lingering grainy notes.
Oak is usually what a cheap blend hasn’t been exposed too (at least not long enough) so in a way the spicy notes of this Red Rye Finish give it some depth and a sense of age. I wouldn’t sip this like a malt whisky, but given the price point, this is not bad and I agree it works well in cocktails. Around € 20.