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Johnnie Walker 80's Black Label

Great Things Happened in the 80's

7 1193

@RianCReview by @RianC

27th Nov 2020

1

  • Nose
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  • Taste
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  • Finish
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  • Balance
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  • Overall
    93

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Distribution of ratings for this: brand user

So what was so great about the 80's then? Well, yours truly was born for a start, the music was better than you might remember, Schwarzenegger and Norris, Aliens and Predator, tube socks and sweat bands, Thatcher ruled supreme and ... er ... OK, maybe it was a mixed bag.

One thing that would certainly be remembered fondly by all us malt heads though is the whisky loch that was filling up all through the decade, mostly due to a lack of interest and low sales - whisky simply wasn't cool! I know, right?! It's well known that the blends of the day were thus of a much higher quality as 'the good stuff' was primarily going into premium blends to entice those casual sippers into more purchases. I guess it worked, in the long run ...

As such, and due to my affection for this particular bottling (it was my gateway whisky and a bar staple for years) I recently acquired a bottle from the era at auction. I wanted to gaze lovingly at the bottle as much as open it but, well, curiosity got the better of me so here we are.

Bottle's been open a week with about four fifths left. I dare not add water ...

Nose - Instantly classy, clean and complex. Waves of over ripe pineapple, soft honey, something slightly nutty (macadamia?) and the cleanest sherry note I've ever come across immediately greet you. Next, sweet raisins, toffee and maple. Then the peat comes out with diesel, mild tar, tabacco, hessian, sea weed and light smoke. So much to admire here, it's a quintessentially 'Scotchy' nose.

Taste - well, OK, the abv isn't helping but even so, what you do get is sublime. The arrival is intensely flavoured with sour, over-ripe fruits - pineapple, orange and lychee. Then toffee, maple, fudge and old, high-quality raisins and dates. Then it goes a little quiet as it develops and the very soft and well-integrated grain is noticed; it's all in harmony though with zero sharp nippy edges. It then starts to turn smoky and peaty with a stunning nip of sweet, black liquorice, smoke and more of that industrial tar note. Yes its low proof but amazingly rich in flavour all the same.

Finish - I guess I just described the finish above; it's all about that smokey uplift, nay surge, and peat. It's also much longer than the development suggests. A mere wisp of tannin. Simply wonderful!

Were this a malt, it would be the malt whose taste matches my palate the best. It really does bring together everything I like about Scotch in one bottle. I would love to taste the peated malts that went into this, naked, as it were, (I suspect Caol Ila and Talisker) as there are notes here that I haven't come across before. Ditto for the sherry elements too - these are 'clean as a whistle' sherry casks. Man, I could wax lyrical all day about this bottle but it would not be employing hyperbole to say this is the best blended whisky I have ever tasted. Were the abv higher, I'd be giving this a crazy high mark.

How would this taste compare to the same bottle being opened in, say, 1984, is the question on my lips? I suspect OBE has had an effect on the overall flavour for sure and allowed the whole thing to mellow and mingle further with time. I love the thick glass too, even with a few air pockets and imperfections - all adds to the charm. This won't be my last 'trip' to the auction ...

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11 comments

@BlueNote
BlueNote commented

@RianC Nice score. I bet that baby would be something else at 46%.

8 months ago 2Who liked this?

@RianC
RianC commented

@BlueNote - yeah even 43% would significantly lift it. I'm already scouring the next upcoming auctions ha!

8 months ago 1Who liked this?

@OdysseusUnbound
OdysseusUnbound commented

Well, think about it this way: without Margaret Thatcher, we wouldn’t have all the great music Billy Bragg produced in the 1980s.

8 months ago 3Who liked this?

@cricklewood
cricklewood commented

There are times when a well written review can transport you there, almost as if you had the dram in hand.

This seriously sounds amazing and right up my alley. Well done! This has only increased my desire to try an old JW Black.

Not only would this have benefitted from 30+yrs in the bottle, it surely must have some paxarette treated casks also which some claim is integral to the taste of the whisky of yesteryear.

Speaking of Thatcher I am reminded of a little ditty by The Exploited...

8 months ago 1Who liked this?

@RianC
RianC commented

@OdysseusUnbound - I'm not the biggest fan of Billy Bragg, generally, but always liked New England - sums up that era nicely. Do you like Frank Turner? He's very much of that ilk.

@cricklewood - I don't doubt this has Paxarette in there and, if this is the result, why oh why did they stop it?! I read a great article recently all about the old Spanish sherry casks and how they were phased out (bloody EU and their namby pamby rules and regs grin ) but can't find it to add a link, sorry. Many 'in the know' say that much of what we are drinking currently is the result of those changes, i.e. use of sulphur candles, and such associated flavours are a relatively new phenomenon. I'm not overly sensitive to sulphur, luckily, and quite like a little match box note, but apparently this was never, ever an issue prior to the changes in cask management.

If there's a reason why the use of Paxarette was stopped, I've forgotten. Does anyone know?

I would love nothing more than to sit with folk on here and plough through this bottle together! It shows how good blended Scotch can be. Maybe I won't be as lucky next time but, if the price is right, I'm willing to risk it - my main concern is that more exposure to older bottles will lessen my enjoyment of modern whiskys. Even my non-whisky drinking partner said it smelled lovely!

8 months ago 2Who liked this?

Wierdo commented

Great review @RianC . I too have a soft spot for JWB. First bottle of scotch I ever brought. That bottle looks amazing.

8 months ago 2Who liked this?

@RianC
RianC commented

@Wierdo - Thanks, mate. I'll happily stick a sample in for you but I worry that all the shaking around won't do it much good. Just got home to a package from you as well, thanks! grinning

8 months ago 0

@BlueNote
BlueNote commented

Some pretty good films came out of the ‘80s/early ‘90s too: My Beautiful Laundrette and Sammy and Rosie Get Laid come to mind. The lead singer from Fine Young Cannibals was in that one I think.

8 months ago 1Who liked this?

@OdysseusUnbound
OdysseusUnbound commented

@RianC I’ve never heard Frank Turner. I’ll have to check him out. I believe the SWA ruled that paxarette was an additive, sometime around 1990, and was thus not allowed to be used.

8 months ago 1Who liked this?

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