Ah, Johnnie Walker. The company many (though not all) experienced whisky drinkers love to hate. Sure, people covet the special releases (like the recent 200th anniversary bottlings), the Blue Label and Ghost & Rare, but the Black, Double Black and Green? Hard pass, right? Wrong!
In my mind, there is always a place for these bottles on your shelf, even if it is to share with friends, not all of whom share your enthusiasm for cask strength peated scotch. I will always stand by the Black Label (and I’m sure the Double Black when I eventually try it), but it is the Green Label which is the focus of today’s review. This is a great whisky for several reasons. First, if you are new to Scotch, this is a great introduction to the thoroughly (almost criminally) underappreciated category of blended malts as well as peated, smoky whiskies. Second, it lists the three or four distilleries that are the sources of the blend. Last, it is presented at an un-JW like 43% abv.
Which Diageo (owner of the JW brand) distilleries are represented in your bottle will depend on the release of Green Label you have. The one I am reviewing is a blend of Caol Ila (unpeated), Talisker, Clynelish and Craggenmore. The blend contains whiskies that are now younger than 15 years. It is chill-filtered and probably colored as well.
Nose: This is a light, but pleasant nose. Right off the bat, I get fresh cut apples, light sponge toffee and vanilla. There’s a little bit of smoke in here as well. This has Talisker and unpeated Caol Ila, so that’s not surprising. There is a little bit of citrus with some orange and a tiny bit of lemon. I’m not getting an awful lot of spicing on the nose apart from some cinnamon and maybe a little bit of ground coriander seed. As this sits for longer, it get’s ever so slightly herbal (cilantro) and floral.
Palate: The entry starts off light and sweet with a nice, oily mouthfeel. There’s nothing surprising here and should taste pretty familiar to anyone who has had other JW expressions in the past. It’s slightly floral with a little bit of honey and vanilla cream. There’s some flesh of an orange as well. A nice mix of sweet and sour. That sourness builds during the development with the introduction of a bit of lemon peel, very much the Caol Ila shining through there. The oak and baking spices kick in during the backend of the development. Cinnamon, ginger and a dusting of nutmeg. The experience gets a little drier as I head into the finish.
Finish: It’s short to medium in length, but has a nice amount of balance. A little bit of that honey sweetness from the entry is still detectable and helps to counteract the oak, spices and lingering sour peat from the development. Mid-way through the finish, I get a square or two of dark chocolate, but it’s presence is fleeting.
With water added…
The nose has gotten slightly tropical now. A heavy hint that the majority of this whisky comes from first or refill Bourbon barrels. There’s a touch of pineapple alongside the apple. I’m definitely getting cantaloupe as well. The ginger has come forward from the development without water added. I have never had this with water added, but I like what I’m smelling so far! The entry is just as fresh, light, sweet and slightly citrusy as before, but the peat is much more pronounced on the development. This won’t knock the socks off of experienced peated Scotch drinkers, but it’s still a nice change. The development has a bit of a surf n’ turf thing going on with the peat. There’s a bit of the maritime saltiness and sour lemon that you would expected from coastal peated Scotch mixed with earthier baking spices like nutmeg, which I get off of American peated single malts. The chocolate comes in at the very end of the finish. Making the end of the experience a little less drying that without water added.
Look, this isn’t a whisky that will take you to strange and bizzare new places. That is simply not what Johnnie Walker is all about. Instead, this bottle is a great introduction to peat and blended malts, the latter being a category everyone should explore more of these days. If you like what you taste here, I fully encourage you to explore Diageo’s regular distillery releases, but more importantly, the independent bottlings from those distilleries as well. You’ll find some hidden gems in there that will transform your scotch experience, believe you me!