Johnnie Walker have announced a Johnnie Walker Black Label Origin Series – a new range of four regional expressions that are designed to celebrate the ‘four corners’ of Scotland; Highland, Lowland, Speyside and Islay.
The Islay, Highlands and Speyside Origin whiskies are all blended malts, while the Lowlands Origin expression is a blended Scotch whisky, combining malt with grain whisky from Cameronbridge.
All expressions only feature whiskies from their particular regions, while the packaging highlights hero distilleries, including Caol Ila, Glenkinchie, Cardhu and Clynelish. All are bottled at 42% abv, with an RRP of £35/€40 per one-litre bottle.
The range will launch first to global travel retail in July 2019, with the Lowlands and Speyside Origin expressions due to be released to ‘selected markets’, including India, in October. The whole range will be rolled out globally in 2020.
According to George Harper, who led the creation of the series under the guidance of master blender Jim Beveridge OBE, the range aims to show off the regions that contribute to Johnnie Walker Black Label.
Harper said the series focuses on smoke (Islay), fresh fruits (Speyside), rich fruits (Highlands) and creaminess (Lowlands).
‘The idea is to pull the whisky apart and really focus in on those four flavours,’ he said. ‘We talk about these four flavours within Black Label. It’s many different distilleries that contribute to these flavours.
‘We had to focus on these flavours and work to match distilleries that might have similar – though unique – flavour profiles.’
The Islay Origin expression uses 100% refill casks to avoid ‘too much woodiness’, Beveridge said, while the Highlands Origin expression features ex-European oak and ex-Sherry casks.
‘Highland malts work well with European oak,’ Beveridge said. ‘They have complexity and richness.’
Harper and Beveridge noted that the Highlands Origin expression presented the ‘biggest challenge’ when the brief came in. ‘That’s because of the diversity of the region,’ said Harper.
For the Lowlands Origin expression, ex-Bourbon casks were used for their ‘sweet, vanilla, toffee’ characteristics, while the Speyside Origin whisky is aged in refills and first-fill Bourbon casks.
‘The range is equivalent to an artist’s study of the flavours you would find in Black Label,’ said Beveridge.
Harper added that the slightly higher abv (compared to Black Label) helps when it comes to using the whiskies in cocktails.
Diageo declined to quantify the ‘limited edition’ tag on the bottles, stating only that the range will not be repeated.
The launch of the range comes as Johnnie Walker prepares to celebrate its bicentenary in 2020, with Diageo investing £150 million in a new brand home in Edinburgh, as well as upgraded visitor facilities at Caol Ila, Cardhu, Clynelish and Glenkinchie.