Tuesday 19 February 2019

Tasted #433: John Walker & Sons "Private Collection" Midnight Blend

The fifth and final release of the Johnnie (or rather, John) Walker & Sons "Private Collection", the prestige series from Johnnie Walker was released in Sydney last week.

The final release, named "Midnight Blend" is set to represent all the different profiles that were explored in the previous four releases - A Unique Smoky Blend (2014), Rare Fruit Character (2015), Fine Honeyed Notes (2016) and Mastery of Oak (2017). Each of the previous "Private Collection" releases explored different aspects of a Johnnie Walker blend, be it maritime and smoke (Unique Smoky), rich, exotic fruits (Rare Fruit Character), honey and vanilla (Fine Honeyed Notes) as well as the various characters that are typically derived from the different oak types that are used in the maturation process (Mastery of Oak).

It was a rather exciting release, as Simon McGoram, Diageo National Whisky Ambassador noted - a "Luxuriously smooth and complex whisky". The four previous releases are completely different liquid and are there to paint a picture of the final release, the Midnight Blend - a whisky that McGoram summed up as one that's greater than sum of its parts.

As part of the launch, Simon was fortunate enough to have secured all the previous bottlings from the Private Collection series so as to give all of us an opportunity to review the entire series before finishing up with the Midnight Blend.

To celebrate the release of the Midnight Blend, a pairing menu was created by Black Bar & Grill Head Chef, Dany Karam in consultation with Simon containing menu items that have been paired against the five individual Private Edition releases.

The results were excellent as we saw the combination of spanner crab with the sweet Fine Honeyed Notes (2016), savoury duck breast with Mastery of Oak (2017), Striploin Angus Beef complemented by A Unique Smoky Blend (2014), a Chocolate & Hazelnut with Rare Fruit Character (2015).

Having first tasted the entire series for the first time - I have to say the 2014 private edition release, the Unique Smoky Blend is unlike any other John/Johnnie Walker blend I have had in the past. It was certainly very unique and I would guess, considered to be one of the smokiest whiskies from the Walker portfolio. I did note whilst trawling through our old posts that Charles Maclean, renowned whisky writer described the 2014 edition as "flawless"

The John Walker "Private Collection" series is considered rare in the grand scheme of the Johnnie Walker universe given the limited bottling that is made available with each release. The first three releases were limited to 8,888 bottles, the Mastery of Oak limited to 5,588 bottles and the last and final release, the Midnight Blend, limited to 3,888 bottles. Do note the prominent use of the number 8 in the total number of available bottles. The number 8, in Chinese culture is the luckiest number as the number carries similar sounds to "wealth" and "prosperous". Multiples of eight are even better with a double 8 meaning double happiness, 888, triple happiness and as you may have guessed, 8,888 means quadruple happiness. Whether or not this is coincidental with the numbering of available bottles or the fact that this week is the Lunar New Year week - the interpretation is for each of us to determine.

One aspect that is different in this final release (as well as with others in the portfolio) is the inclusion of an age statement - 28 years. The Midnight Blend is said to contain rare whiskies aged for a minimum of 28 years.

Whilst there's limited information on the whisky that makes up the blend, Simon McGoram mentioned that this final release contains a large amount of Clynelish, Cambus and Strathmill whiskies. The prominent characters that come through the nose and palate are representative of those distilleries with waxiness that you typically get from Cynelish, toffee and butterscotch from Cambus grain and the sweet fruits and spices that you often get from Strathmill.

What's in a name? The name "Midnight Blend" has been chosen to represent the fact that the flavours lend themselves to be enjoyed after-dinner, or approaching the 'midnight' hour I'd say it's enjoyable any time of the day though given the rarity and price point - though perhaps it's more sensible to enjoy it after dinner or on special occasions.

Johnnie Walker Master Blender Jim Beveridge commented:
“Whiskies aged for 28 years are rare, and very special. In our search to find the flavours and characteristics necessary for a rich, indulgent Scotch like Midnight Blend, we were very lucky to have access to some of the most mature reserves drawn from the four corners of Scotland. Each individual malt and grain used in the final whisky adds layers of flavour to the 28 Year Old Midnight Blend, leaving hints of fruit, sweet and spice and making it a wonderful final addition to the Private Collection.”

John Walker & Sons Private Collection Midnight Blend 700mL (42.8% ABV, 28yo, Blend, Scotland, $1000AUD)
A very fine and luxurious release to cap off the Private Collection series. The combination of the different facets explored through previous editions is evident in this final edition. There is a balance of sweet and spice, depth and warmth.

Colour: Gold

Nose: The nose is sweet and appealing. There is a mix of vanilla, berries combined with a hint of citrus, malted cereals and a subtle hint of peat smoke.

Palate: The palate is juicy, refreshing. It is round, balanced and lightly spiced with a bit of wax (Clyenish?). Loads of sweet fruit and citrus notes, from creamy vanilla and mango pudding, candied orange, strawberries followed by light spices, cloves, all-spice tannic spice. The malt from the nose also grows more fondly along with creamy syrup and rich toffee.

Finish: The finish is extremely long and warming. The finish is sweet, mixed with candied orange and leaves a lightly wax, subtle peat that slowly fades.

Rating (on Hendy's very non-scientific scale): 95/100

Thanks to Leo Burnett Sydney for having us at the launch.


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