By Andy Young, editor TheShout, and Stefanie Collins, editor b&c
Last month Johnnie Walker released the first in a series of experimental whiskies under the Blenders’ Batch banner, and distiller Emma Walker wants feedback from the bartending community.
The first expression is the Red Rye Finish, which was created as a celebration of American Oak, and as Johnnie Walker Blender and Whisky Specialist, Emma Walker (no relation), told TheShout, there is lots more happening behind the scenes where experimental whisky is in the company’s DNA.
“For us with the Blenders’ Batch, we’re looking at Experimental whiskies, that we can still have under the Johnnie Walker umbrella, but that are looking at different flavour styles, different experiments,” Walker said.
“Experimental whisky is part of our DNA, it’s what we do every day in the background, along with putting out the core Johnnie Walker family. This was a really exciting time for us. We were able to actually look at some of these different experiments, look at some of these really amazing flavours that we get to play with in the lab and actually get out there to the consumer.”
Walker adds they are looking specifically to the international bartending community to find out what they want from a whisky and how Johnnie Walker can deliver that.
“This is part of the feedback that we want to get from bartenders, what is coming up? What are the next trends in bartending and cocktails? Are there things that bartenders would like from Scotch that they don’t think is available at the moment? So it would be great to get that kind of feedback,” she says. “The growth of bartending is really exciting you want them to know more so they can advise people on which whiskies they want, whether they are drinking straight, on the rocks or with soda – which is growing.”
And so the first phase of Blenders’ Batch is looking at the celebration of American Oak flavours.
“So it’s flavours that we use in blends in Scotch whisky in our day-to-day. Your looking at those toffee Bourbon flavours, American Oak, sweet, soda cream, coconut notes, but we really looking at how far we can accentuate, how much we can play with that, with Scotch. But really push those flavours out the extremes and then see how that works with cocktails and how it works with consumers,” she says.
“When we were coming up with Red Rye, we came up with a brief and we had an idea of what we wanted to create. So you then look at the inventory and we’re really lucky because we’ve got close to nine million barrels that are maturing in our stocks. With the idea that we’ve got, we get some cask samples in from the different distilleries that we’re thinking about and the different wood types. In this case it was all Bourbon casks that we have maturing. With the Red Rye finish we got in 203 different cask samples and we looked at those in different prototypes. We ended up with 50 different prototypes until we ended up with the one which led us to the Red Rye Finish.
“You have ideas on how you think these different flavours will come together; how these different cask styles will work together. You put that together but then it’s not quite got the right balance, it’s not quite got the flavours that you want. So you’ve got to, say, focus on one particular distillery to get a bit more flavour, and it’s just working through the different iterations until you’ve got the right style that we were looking for.
“There is loads of experience and knowledge in the team, and we all get together and talk about what we are looking for. There’re different specialists within the team who get look to for advice. But it’s the same with any experiment, whether it’s maths, physics, chemistry or whisky: you have a theory which you’ve then got to challenge and see if the theory is right and bringing that all together.”
Walker also explained with the Red Rye Finish there was an extra factor in creating the whisky and getting the right flavour balance as the after the whisky was blended it was then further matured in ex-Rye casks.
“With the Red Rye Finish, all the whiskies that went into the blend are American Oak, so the ex-Bourbon casks that we have in our stock and when that blend was put together that was then filled into ex-Rye casks. So again they are American Oak casks that we’ve got from the American whiskey industry. All of the Red Rye has been finished for up to six months in these red Rye casks, so you’re getting even more of a hit of that American Oak flavour as all of the flavours are integrating.”
And although Walker said they do always try to create whiskies that can stand alone as a sipping dram, there was a lot of thought put into this blend as to how it would mix and work in cocktails, and as for a signature serve, Walker said: “When we were developing the whisky we tried the classic cocktails like Old Fashioneds and the Manhattan and I think the one that we would talk about would be the Manhattan, it works really well with the Red Rye Finish. It has a vibrancy, it has a character about it, that is has been influenced by American whiskies so it sits really well.”
The Blenders’ Batch Red Rye Finish is available now with other whiskies in the American Oak celebration and wider Blenders’ Batch series to following in the coming months.