Whisky can be sweet, bitter and even spicy. But umami?
With the latest Johnnie Walker Blue Label expression, the venerable whisky blender brings the fifth taste to scotch whisky.
For the launch, Diageo brought Johnnie Walker's first female blender Dr. Emma Walker on a limited five-city tour of Paris, Ho Chi Minh City, Singapore, New York, and Manila. The local whisky community was indeed lucky to have a whisky rock star come over and talk about Johnnie Walker Blue Label.
The highlight of the launch was a tasting session led by the jovial whisky expert who talked about how they got the umami into the whisky.
Walker first let us try the standard Blue Label. Only one out of 10,000 casks in its 10 million cask inventory are eligible to be blended in this top whisky in Johnnie Walker’s core expressions. I thought this was for sophisticated drinkers who like their smoke in their whisky as this was the predominant note in the finish with the more restrained familiar fruit, toffee, honey, and wood spice notes on the palate.
For the umami, Johnnie Walker partnered with Kei Kobayashi, the chef of three Michelin-starred restaurant Kei located in the heart of Paris.
“We talked to him about flavor, about how he creates his menu, how he builds his dishes, how he uses different ingredients to build texture, aroma, and taste. It was absolutely fantastic to realize that the way that he thinks about his gastronomy is exactly how we think about the world of flavor in Johnnie Walker,” Walker said.
Kobayashi’s interpretation of umami was a blend of the land and the sea. The number of casks suitable for the elusive umami is one out of 25,000 with Walker calling out Mortlach and Benrinnes for the meaty notes, and Caol Ila and Talisker for the salt and smoke. Besides that, this is a once-in-a-lifetime expression that when all the current bottles are sold, the Elusive Umami will be gone for good.
So, did Johnnie Walker catch the Elusive Umami?
At first whiff, there was smoke and there was salt, which I thought was briny. This carries on over to the first sip where the smoke and brine become almost meaty, giving way to more pronounced and distinct notes of the honey, toffee, and even bright green apple.
Walker had a big smile when she introduced the pairing of caviar with the Elusive Umami. She instructed us to take a sip then take a bit of caviar and let it just mix. This just amplified the hit of salty umami and the whisky’s creamy mouthfeel that then slowly finishes into those sweet fruity flavors with just a gentle touch of 43% ABV.
In the end, this feels like an entirely different whisky from the Johnnie Walker Blue Label but truly deserves the premium moniker. The Johnnie Walker Blue Elusive Umami will delight even the most wizened whisky drinker with the umami imagined as a whisky.
This unusual whisky profile in that stunning black and bright orange bottle would make a great top-shelf addition to the top of any eclectic whisky collection.