Johnnie Walker Director’s Blend: a dream within a dream?

Johnnie Walker Director's Blend

Imagine this. You meet a girl or a guy (depending on your preference), you get to know each other and soon it turns out he or she is quite simply perfect. The person in question has the looks of an angel, keen intelligence, lightness of heart and soul that brightens up the world, more money than even a stupid person could spend in a lifetime, great interests revolving mainly around fine drinks and exotic travel, healthy approach to relationships, wonderful family and a small but equally attractive and approachable group of friends. Is that it? Hell, no. Your perfect prospective significant other (yes, we’re going for romantic interest here so if you’re married or something like that just imagine for a second you aren’t) seems to like you a lot and wants to spend time with you.

Sounds too good to be true? That’s because it is. If you ever find yourself in a situation like that, it means you’re dreaming and your alarm clock is going to go off any second now bringing you back to your stuffy bedroom, your own bad morning breath and a general feeling of violation as you slowly put one foot in front of the other on your way to the bathroom in complete darkness.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enjoy the dream while it lasts, right?

Last week I had the privilege of spedning some time with Drs Jim Beveridge and Nicholas Morgan, giants of whisky creation (and education!) at drinks company DIAGEO. The purpose of the session was no other than to taste the entire Johnnie Walker Director’s Blend range, consisting of six annual releases dating from 2008 to 2013.

Six distinctly different but equally impressive blends were laid out in front of me in what could only be described as the perfect tasting. Jim Beveridge, Johnnie Walker’s Master Blender, referred to these as the artist’s study in whisky blending. Six small batches of liquid which in itself is not designed to achieve perfect balance but rather to showcase various facets of the art.

‘Something like a deconstruction of Johnnie Walker Red Label then?’ I hear you ask. But the answer is – not at all.

If a blend deconstruction tasting was an autopsy, this project would be Leonardo da Vinci’s anatomy sketches. Each expression was created as a separate entity, a masterpiece in its own right, and while Jim and Nick gave examples of how this exercise informed current and future commercial releases from the Johnnie Walker stable (see Double Black and Voyager), the Director’s Blends remain generally unavailable to the public. They were created as an artist’s study, an exercise, an education tool, a development tool and just a sheer outlet for passion and creativity. Around 500 bottles of exquisite whisky created every year, complete with a concept, stunning packaging development, production execution, the pain of bottling a small batch… just imagine the time, effort and cost. And the price tag? There isn’t one.

This is difficult to compute, at least for me, so in the meantime, very briefly, a couple of words on each expression.

2008
The first one, released in 2008, focuses on the importance of grain whisky. Its light, creamy, sunny character reminded me of holidays in the south of Italy. Very simple and very elegant.

2009
The second one couldn’t be further away. Jim took us all the way to Islay with Lagavulin-in-a-suit view of an important, if not immediately obvious, part of the Johnnie Walker taste profile – peat smoke.

2010
Next one is all about rich fruit and generous helpings of European oak influence. Old whisky, 2nd fill butts at the heart of it. This taste profile in blending is often used as a bridge between other flavours, this time showcased on its own it took a long time to get right. And right Jim got it.

2011
This one was a real treat and a rare little nugget. A blend of Scotch whiskies, both grain and malt, matured solely in virgin oak. American and European. Result? Ripped my head right off. What a stunning dram. Intensity and power of that big tannic, sugary structure served in an elegant way, without forcefulness. Something many a bourbon maker would be royally surprised by and, dare I say, inspired?

2012
This 5th one is a study in the distillery style, by stark contrast to the study in wood in the previous year. It’s all about young, green malt whisky; pears apples and mown glass. Pronounced, open Speyside character with all its swagger.

2013
Now this last one was ‘released’ in December last year and its a closing chapter in the series. The year before was about youthfulness and this one is about the opposite – age. Relentless intensity, maturity, candle wax thickness, peach skin sweetness, slight bitterness on the palate. Ridiculous. The packaging is also worth noting, it was designed by Claessens and in my view single malt brands specialising in penis extensions, chiefly Macallan and Dalmore, should take a close look. It’s not about size, guys.

My favourites of the line-up were the 1st one, perhaps because of the time of day, and the fourth one, the study in wood, purely because it offered something I’d never tasted before and didn’t think was possible which is distinctly non-vulgar, elegant Scotch whisky from virgin oak.

If you ever get a shadow of a chance to try these, do it. Go out of your way, move your wedding, cancel family holidays. Tasting this line up will change the way you look at blended whisky forever. Oh, and being taken through the range by the man who created it helps too.

*

If you’re a regular reader you know I rarely praise DIAGEO. I always try to give credit to the liquid where credit is due, that goes without saying, but the biggest player of the whisky world has over the years made itself too easy a target to miss an opportunity of having a go. Pricing of limited releases such as Manager’s Choice single casks or scarce availability of single malt whiskies from distilleries not forming part of the Classic Malts collection have been particular rant favourites of mine. But this time no matter how hard I try I can’t find a fault in this project. Johnnie Walker Director’s Blend collection was developed not for immediate gain but as part of a wider effort to educate and inspire people who have crossed paths with blended whisky. I can’t think of a better way to convey the message about the art of blending, this is the ultimate whisky evangelist’s tool and a masterpiece of blended whisky porn to rule them all and in the darkness bind them.

There is only one problem with it and it’s the very thing which helps to make it so unique. You can’t buy it. We can’t share it, show off with it, love it, cherish it or polish it with a duster. We can’t put it to work it was designed for because people who made it are doing it. That’s fair enough of course but since I will most likely never try these whiskies again, in a slightly philosophical way they don’t really exist for me any more. All I have is a memory, a picture on the inside of my eyelids, a…

BEEP, BEEP, BEEP, BEEP

Dream.

Comments

  1. Well written mate!

    never had any of those. are they for sale?

  2. Perhaps not so well written if you didn’t get that but… no, they are internal releases, given out to people in DIAGEO to share and spread the gospel. Having said that, one full set was sold at a charity auction for something like £23k.

  3. I would have LOVED to have been there! Thanks for the write-up, as while I had heard of the Director’s Blends before I wasn’t 100% sure on the philosophy of the project. Blends really inspire me to get my geek on: so many raw materials, so many permutations, so much skill… I’m hyperventilating.

    I doubt these will come my way, either. In the meantime, I’m (mostly) content to try the new expressions Johnnie Walker are releasing. I stand by Double Black as a ridiculously satisfying blend for the money and Platinum Label has a stylishness to it, also.

  4. Good Day.
    I was recently given a bottle of Johnnie Walker 20013 Whisky Directors blend.
    I’m simply not a whisky drinker and would therefore prefer to let someone who would appreciate it more, savour it.
    Kind Regards,

    Alen

  5. Do you still have the bottle. Would you consider to sell it ?

    Thanks

  6. Hi Alun
    Would you be able to get in touch if you’d consider selling your 2013 bottle?
    Hope we can chat.
    Best wishes
    Paul

  7. Hi I have a bottle of Johnnie Walker directors blend that i am trying to get a valuation on to sell in aid of charity, it is 2011 and bottle number 84 of 504, Comes with the original letter of authenticity from Johnnie Walker any help on valuation and offers would be appreciated.

    Many Thanks
    Mark Jakeways

  8. There are a few bottles of JW Directors Blend for sale now in this auction site: https://whisky.auction/ but prices are not so crazy, are bottles sold for charity worth more for a collector?

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