The fourth John Walker Private Collection

Diageo has unveiled the fourth John Walker & Sons Private Collection expression.

The 2017 edition, ‘Mastery of Oak’ (46.8% abv), is available in Harrods and in other specialist retailers, from March. The recommended retail price is £550. There are 5,588 numbered decanters. The 2017 Edition celebrates the full richness of cask character.

The series showcases the Walker house style and gives its blending team led by Jim Beveridge, the opportunity to experiment and show their knowledge and expertise through small batch, one-off blends of rare and experimental whiskies.

Master blender Beveridge, working with fellow blender Aimée Gibson, are said to have handpicked exceptional casks of malt and grain whiskies to create three vattings from which to make the final blend. Each one was designed to contribute certain flavours from a different aspect of oak management.

At a special briefing and tasting for specialist whisky writers, Beveridge described himself as “hard wired” to the band. Talking about the Private Collection range, which started in 2014, he said: “It helps to understand Johnnie Walker. We are the architects and we have all these options to play with.”

He explains: “Every whisky starts out full of the promise of its distillery character. Oak casks offer us an astonishing number of ways to differentiate these styles further as they mature, broadening our palette of flavours for blending.”

The team started with ex-bourbon casks for creamy, toffee and spice notes to malt & grain whiskies, together with a small number of whiskies aged in rejuvenated casks to gain balance and a clove spiciness.

For the second vatting, Beveridge and Gibson looked for refill casks, the less active oak giving a long, gentle maturation that lets distillery character to shine - in this case Highland and Speyside rich fruit distillery character with a mellowness from the wood (mostly American oak, some European).

Finally, they turned to special stocks from a study on the creation of flavour through different cask treatments. They chose solely American oak combinations from these experimental casks, particularly new oak that has created a vanilla sweetness and cured casks for the flavours from activating deeper layers of oak.

Beveridge said: “For Mastery of Oak, we assembled some of our finest casks into three main styles of oak effects. Each vatting, brimming with complexity, was re-casked into blending puncheons for the flavours to combine.”

The feeling among the panel which included Charlie Maclean, Ian Buxton, Dave Broom and Drinks International editor, Christiian Davis, was that 2017 was better than 2016 which also focused on the use of oak in making scotch whisky and specifically the Johnnie Walker expressions.

On the nose, toffee and vanilla notes hint at the wonderfully complex sweetness from the variety of American oak casks, and mingle with aromas of ripe orchard fruits.

The official tasting note comprises: “Rich toffee is the first flavour to emerge on the palate too, together with creamy, gentle spice. This American oak influence is in perfect balance with the mature Highland and Speyside fruit character - blackcurrants and berries, soft peach skin and stewed apples, all mellowed by the oak.

“A delicate trace of crisp, green apples, a memory of the youthful distillery character preserved through the choice of refill casks, lifts the blend, and the subtle European oak cask effect appears as a background touch of leather. The whiskies matured in the experimental American oak casks come into their own as this silky blend develops into a long finish with intense, deepening layers of rich vanilla sweetness.”

The John Walker & Sons Private Collection 2017 Edition Mastery of Oak comes bottled in a glass decanter with rings representing oak and an angled cut to reflect the Johnnie Walker slanted label.