Johnnie Walker seems intent on grabbing a piece of the rye whiskey pie in America, as it launched Johnnie Walker High Rye in the United States. This blended Scotch whisky has “a unique mash bill of 60% rye aged in American oak barrels“, which leaves me with some questions.
But first, this is what Master Blender Jim Beveridge has to say. “Our journey towards crafting something truly unique and fantastic was guided by Black Label and how flavors from rye whiskies present nicely in classic whisky cocktails. The tasting experience features familiar Johnnie Walker notes that are expressed and emphasized like nothing we’ve crafted before, perfectly complementing our existing portfolio of products.”
Now, I don’t mind a proper rye whisky, but I’m not sure the new Johnnie Walker High Rye fits the standard definition of a rye whisky. Well actually, I am sure, because it also includes single malt whisky produced at Cardhu, Glenkinchie and Caol Ila.
Next, it is unclear what they mean by mash bill. I suppose they’re using the term incorrectly, maybe as a substitute for cask recipe. Or maybe they mean that the new Johnnie Walker High Rye includes whisky with a 60% rye mash bill, but doesn’t actually have a 60% rye mash bill. Because that can’t be the case if the whisky is produced at multiple distilleries. Which it is.
Not Actually A Rye Whisky
And yet, this is a huge step for a Scotch whisky brand with a 200 year history built on blended Scotch. The High Rye actually has some interesting innovative quirks, mainly the fact that it includes rye whisky distilled at Teaninich.
I mean, it can’t actually be called rye whisky under the current Scotch whisky regulations. After all, there are only five official categories and rye whisky isn’t one. The rye whisky distilled at Teaninich is therefore officially a single grain whisky. But I understand why it would be referred to as rye whisky. You know, to avoid confusion and all.
I’ll be curious to find out how it compares to true rye whiskies from a single mash bill. Because that is what the new High Rye is competing with. Specifically rye whiskies that are often used in cocktails, like Bulleit, Old Overholt or Rittenhouse.
For example, I love a good Old Fashioned with rye whisky, but I like ’em robust, and I can’t imagine that this will fit that profile. Then again, if it is a mix between Black Label and a rye whisky? That makes me very curious.
Not The First
Finally, this is not the first time Johnnie Walker has dabbled in the rye whisky world. Back in 2016 they already launched the Red Rye Finish. It was only finished in rye casks, so should be nothing like the new High Rye.
The Johnnie Walker High Rye is bottled at 45%. For now it will only be available in the United States at $34.99 a bottle. I hope it will find its way over to Europe as well.