Over the course of two centuries in business, Johnnie Walker has earned a global reputation for offering the finest in blended Scotch whisky. But as is the case with any relationship, it never hurts to spice things up from time to time.
That’s precisely what the iconic label has done with its newest offering, Johnnie Walker High Rye Blended Scotch Whisky. Like the other expressions that comprise the Johnnie Walker core range, this first high rye profile Scotch Whisky by the brand is a blended Scotch whisky. This means it is made with both single malt whiskies (those distilled at a single distillery from 100 percent malted barley) and single grain whiskies (those distilled at a single distillery from multiple grains, such as malted barley, wheat, or rye).
In the case of Johnnie Walker High Rye Blended Scotch Whisky, the unique mash bill has been tuned all the way up to feature 60 percent rye. So, while it is unmistakably a blended Scotch whisky in the legal definition, it provides a new kind of taste experience that hasn’t been offered before in the brand’s 222-year history.
Now, before we get into the nitty-gritty of the blend, we might want to reflect on what makes a high rye content desirable in the first place. Rye, lest we forget, is a simple grain, one you’re most likely to encounter as a loaf of bread or as the binding material of a good pastrami sandwich. And rye bread, as you might recall, hits the palate a bit differently than your standard wheat. Aside from its darker color and denser texture, it’s best characterized by a certain spiciness in flavor. So, when rye is distilled, it’s precisely that spicy quality that’s expressed in the distillate.
Rye is a hardy crop that can survive in cold climates. For this reason, it was often grown in Central and Eastern Europe and distilled into vodka, or cultivated in the American Northeast, where it would be utilized in whiskey production as either a rye whiskey (with the majority of the mash bill composed of rye) or as part of a blend constituting a “high rye” bourbon. These high rye bourbons have gained a following among whiskey enthusiasts and bartenders thanks to the spicy quality that the rye component introduces. It provides a unique taste experience in the glass when sipped neat and can also stand up to the multiple ingredients of a cocktail.
Turning our attention back to Scotland, the blend that makes for Johnnie Walker High Rye Blended Scotch Whisky includes many of the same single malt whiskies that serve as building blocks in the Johnnie Walker Black Label recipe. In particular, Cardhu, which is associated with sweet orchard notes; Glenkinchie, which has a way of adding berry qualities to the flavor bouquet; and Caol Ila, whose Islay position introduces a subtle touch of smoke. This lineup of single malts is joined by rye and grain whiskies distilled at the Cameronbridge and Teaninich distilleries to create a blended Scotch whisky composed of barley, wheat, and rye.
As mentioned earlier, it’s that last ingredient that accounts for the lion’s share of Johnnie Walker High Rye Blended Scotch Whisky: 60 percent of the blend is made up of rye matured in American oak barrels. It’s a deliberate choice of cask, as American Oak will add rich vanilla notes that harmonize with the inherent spiciness of rye.
How does this composition translate to the glass? Take a whiff of Johnnie Walker High Rye Blended Scotch Whisky (preferably in a Glencairn, with your nose just above the rim but never in the glass) and you’ll catch aromas of sweet wood spice, fresh cut fruit, and creamy vanilla. Take a sip, and your palate is treated to green apple, rich toffee, and the spicy hit of dried cloves.
While darker and spicier in this expression, those are flavors that should be familiar to any drinker of Johnnie Walker Black Label. However, it’s the finish where this latest expression really stands apart from its predecessors. Once those initial flavors have begun to subside, the back of the palate is treated to a dry spice of rye that’s tempered by subtle vanilla sweetness and a whiff of smoke.
As the last few sentences testify, Johnnie Walker High Rye Blended Scotch Whisky has a powerful but balanced presence in the glass that’s a pleasure to experience neat. But that same rich, rye spiciness that’s so rewarding in solo-sipping also lends itself to mixing.
Mix It Up
The rye presence also makes it a shoo-in for drinks that were historically prepared with American rye whiskey, such as the Old Fashioned, Manhattan, or Sazerac. When used to make any of these classic cocktails — or anything else calling for rye — Johnnie Walker High Rye Blended Scotch Whisky will deliver the desired spice hit while introducing the more complex orchard fruit flavors and touch of smoke that’s closely associated with Johnnie Walker Black Label.
In conclusion, it’s high time for a high-rye blended Scotch Whisky. And happily, Johnnie Walker High Rye Blended Scotch Whisky satisfies as a new addition to the Johnnie Walker family while trailblazing a brave new path of its own.
This article is sponsored by Johnnie Walker.