Whisky and Words Number 80: Johnny Walker ‘A Song of Fire’

Got dragons. But is it a fiery dram?

You may have seen the range of special-release whiskies following the Game of Thrones TV series. I had a lot of other whiskies to review stacked up so did not catch any of those when they arrived, but recently I stumbled across a discount shelf with this blend from Johnny Walker. I always keep some Johnnie Walker Black around, and I figured, why not give this a comparison to the standard. Also, I have read the SOIAF books and followed (suffered?) through the Game of Thrones series on HBO until the end. I even mused here on the blog about the annoying habit of showrunners sending their characters into danger without proper headgear. So, the buy was a no-brainer.

What do we know of this whisky? Not much. On the back of the bottle (photo below), we encounter some purple prose about fire consuming everything and then waxes on about House Targaryen. And of the whisky?

Johnnie Walker a Song of Fire is a blended Scotch whisky inspired by these beasts of the sky. Peated malt from Caol Isla lends subtle smoke, tempered by a rich rounded sweetness

The fact that Caol Isla makes up the Johnnie Walker line of blends is no surprise. As for the rest, Scotch blends are often made of dozens of malts as well as grain whisky. How this one shakes out will come down to taste. I’ll be comparing it to the Black, their 12-year old blend.

Someone had fun with the story. Click for hi-res to read the back.

The two are very similar in color, with the SOF blend just a quarter shade darker than the 12. The nose of the SOF is pleasant, not fiery: some of that smoky Caol Isla makes itself evident but the medicinal aspect of CI is not evident. Instead, it sports a quite forward fruity aroma that reminds me of a sliced beefsteak tomato and a touch of sherry. Touches of grainy mineral round out the nose. In contrast, the Black has a more balanced nose with vanilla and honey you don’t find in the SOF. The fruit aromas are not as dominant and the medicinal aspect of the Caol Isla is more noticeable.

Time to take a sip. With the SOF, neutral sweetness and quite a bit of fire are the initial impressions, and the secondary impression is more fire. This dram lit up my throat quite noticeably for a 40% ABV spirit. It wasn’t particularly harsh, per se, but smooth it’s not. Oddly, it does not offer a lively and peppery feel on the tongue like some younger whiskies. But fiery, yes. Got that Targaryen thing going. The sweetness is sucrose–very neutral (I did not get toffee or caramel). It has a pleasant wheat toast  aspect to the tannins I like.  The SOF is a rougher ride than the JW12, which does have a modest peppery liveliness balanced with light honey sweetness, a little smoke and spice.

Balance on the SOF’s finish is good: modest tannins and the neutral sweetness work together but it is a transparent finish. Not a lot of there there. The JW12 is not known for a strong finish either, but its tannins are more forward, there’s more smoke and body, and though not drawn out, it is satisfying.

Johnny Walker ‘A Song of Fire’, Blended Scotch Whisky, 40% ABV

Nose: Gentle smoke, a good dose of fruit (well-ripened tomato flesh and sherry) with a pleasant mineral undertone.
Palate: Fiery on the tongue, palate and throat. Sucrose sweet, dark wheat toast, moderate tannins.
Finish: Pretty quick and thin. The sweet and tannins are balanced but there is not much between them.

Bottom Line: Bought on discount (I think I paid $21), and for the gag appeal, why not? You can mix it and save some bucks vs. even JW Red. But if you are looking for a sippable whisky (the label does say take it neat), you’ll find plenty of better alternatives. Even the whisky-drinking wife thought it harsh. That’s a far cop, though I found the thinness of the finish more of a downside than the fiery palate. If you want a blend for sipping, the Black still serves. It is more expensive, of course.

Johnnie’s Song of Fire is indeed mostly fire. Best served to monsters like this guy here.

Author: H.W. MacNaughton

Technologist and communicator. Into technology, jazz, Formula One, sci-fi and any good writing about real stuff.

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