Crafting a perfectly balanced scotch whisky blend requires a bit of alchemy — a combination of science, art, and possibly magic which creates something greater than the sum of its parts. The casual scotch drinker might take this for granted as they enjoy their favorite bottle, but for the people at Johnnie Walker, who have been perfecting scotch blends for nearly two centuries, it’s what they do.
The Blenders’ Batch is a series of limited-edition whiskies that showcase what Johnnie’s team of 12 blenders are up to when they’re not working on the storied distillery’s well-known polychromatic blends. These experimental blends showcase the kind of exploration and discovery involved in crafting the flavors of one of the world’s most complex spirits.
Earlier this year, Johnnie Walker released the Blenders’ Batch series for the first time in the U.S. with Triple Grain American Oak (41.3% ABV). The bottle combines three grain whiskies (wheat, barley, corn) with two malts (Cardhu and Mortlach), which are then aged for 10 years in American oak casks. The result is a mellow, slightly spicy, subtly smoky whisky with just a bit of sweetness and fruit.
Triple Grain American Oak is a solid inaugural bottle in the series’ U.S. release. It might not possess the complexities of Johnnie’s top shelf labels, but it’s a great entry point for the American whiskey drinker looking to dip their toe in the scotch pool. The smoke is mild enough not to scare off scotch newbies, and the sweetness from the oak provides a note of familiarity.
While this is an easy bottle to sip, it’s also an ideal base spirit for scotch cocktails, which can be intimidating to both drink and make. Again, the similarities to bourbon give an easy jumping off point. Try it in an Old Fashioned or Manhattan, or be bolder and try it in a modern bourbon classic like the Paper Plane.
At a suggested retail price of only $29.99, Triple Grain American Oak is also a great value for a very versatile addition to the home bar.
Paste had the opportunity to chat with Johnnie Walker Master Distiller Dr. Jim Beveridge last fall at Diageo World Class in Miami. During the interview, and over a glass of Johhnie Blue, he teased the U.S. release of the Blenders’ Batch series as well as expounded on the blending process, the importance of tradition, and consumers’ evolving tastes.
“Over the last five or six years, we’ve been on a real journey of innovation,” Beveridge said. “(A blended) whisky has a lot of different components to it. A lot of our innovation has been taking those individual components and expressing them as they are.”
He said the Blenders’ Batch series is a platform to “demonstrate the blending skills that lie behind Johnnie Walker,” calling it an opportunity to introduce his team of blenders to consumers and let them become more visible as individuals.
According to Beveridge, the results of the Blenders’ Batch program have been quite unique. “They are quite radically different expressions of whisky.”
Yet Beveridge noted that such exploration is nothing new for Johhnie Walker. “Experimentation is part of our DNA,” he said.
“Sitting in our warehouses, we have experiments that have been laid down for many years,” he said. “Most of the experiments were used to hone our skills to produce our major brands (such as Johnnie Walker Red, Black, and Blue label). They were there to demonstrate how we can use our understanding of the science and technology of whisky making to produce these great brands.”
Beveridge, who has a background in flavor science, has a scientist’s curiosity, which fuels his desire to pursue ever more unique blends of scotch.
He said the Blenders’ Batch allows them to showcase the individual expressions he and his team have been working on and “use them in a more creative way.”
While some companies might deem so much experimentation as being off-brand, Beveridge noted that Johnnie Walker has a long tradition of experimentation.
“… If Alexander Walker or Johnnie Walker was alive today, he’d being doing exactly the same thing,” Beveridge said.
Beveridge said experimentation is important because, “it’s continuing the conversation we’re having with our consumers to see the kind of flavors the they like.”
That conversation provides vital knowledge as people’s tastes evolve and their thirst for knowledge grows. People increasingly want to know more about what they’re drinking — the flavors, the story, even the science. Providing something to challenge and engage such inquisitive consumers is essential. Beveridge said the trick, however, is evolving with the world while retaining “tradition within that context of change.”
Jim Sabataso is a writer, journalist, and bar director for The Palms Restaurant Group in Rutland, Vermont. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @JimSabataso.