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The story behind this blend is well-known, so here’s the two-sentence version for the sake of brevity and non-redundancy: The late Sir Alexander Walker II, grandson of John Walker, crafted the Swing blend in 1932 for the ostensible purpose of creating a “swinging” bottle that would be distinctive on ocean-liner bar shelves. It’s also the last blend that Sir Alex created, and the modern version is presumably as close to the original as available ingredients will allow.
JW Swing seems to be the ignored stepchild in the Walker range, perhaps because it’s not readily available in many parts of the world (although I’ve seldom encountered a Midwest liquor store in the U.S. without it). The precious few online reviews range from “meh” (L.A. Whisky Society) to raves (Ralfy), and Murray doesn’t even bother with it. So it was something of a take-a-chance purchase for me, in part because I’ve already bought everything else that interested me at the local store.
Nose: Malt, malt, and more malt. After it settles down a bit, I get…more malt. I’m not complaining – I like malt! Other sweet notes that arrive are in the soft and rich category: vanilla, honey, maple syrup, chocolate, and a hint of fresh-baked bread. Maybe a touch of cherries – not fresh off the tree, but tart and rich after having been baked in a pie. Underneath it all is a quiet earthy texture that doesn’t quite fit, even though I usually like quiet earthy textures. Some nice grasses and flowers, perhaps, but a little too much dirt. Nonetheless, it’s a solid, B-plus nose.
Palate: Guess what? Malt! Also more smokiness than the nose would suggest, along with some rich dark brown sugar and more warm pie cherries. There’s also cinnamon and spices, sharp and prickly, yet well-integrated into the smoothness. Rich and robust, this is a grand old gentleman of a blend. Reminds me a bit of the Black Label with the intensity kicked up several notches. It never loses its bite or richness no matter how long it sits on the tongue.
The finish is very good, but with a slight off touch. The fiery spices really emerge here, which is a good thing, but some bitter tea and too-weak coffee are rude intruders. It’s a back-and-forth finish, however, and all the good flavors (with malt!) dominate in the long run.
Overall, I’d say this is a JW that deserves greater popularity. Next to the Green Label, it’s my favorite of the Johnnies, and I’d choose it any day over the Blue Label (for less than ¼ the cost). I don’t know if it benefits with a few drops of water or not – I like it neat too much to experiment with Adam’s ale. It may have some slight problems, but I think it’s one of those blends that single-malt lovers will praise for its brazen boldness.