Thursday, April 9, 2015

Finally! A Review of Johnnie Walker Green Label!

Finally, I have acquired a bottle of Johnnie Walker Green Label that has been temporarily re-launched in Canada and the United States.  Special thanks to Mike for asking his mother to pick me up a bottle while she was recently in Florida!

As you will recall, a couple of years ago Diageo decided to stop producing it for the Canadian and US markets.  However, it was still quietly sold in Korea and a couple other places around there because it had such a strong following.

So, why the re-introduction which may be temporary?  Here is my theory:  Maybe Diageo stopped selling it in Canada and the US because sales were weak.  It was priced around the entry level 12 year old single malts, and so consumers were opting for those products while operating under the mistaken assumption that a single malt is always of superior quality to a blended malt.  Or maybe Diageo thought with an expanding market in China, Russia, India and other countries that they could make more money simply selling the single malts individually that make up Green Label.  This  blended malt is composed of four single malts: Talisker, Cragganmore, Linkwood and Caol Ila.

So, why the change of heart?  Sales of single malt have been weak as of late.  Bourbon, Canadian and Irish whiskies are eroding market share once held by single malt Scotch.  Don't take my word for it.  Read about it here:

http://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/apr/01/scotch-whisky-exports-decline-sales

http://www.wsj.com/articles/scotch-whisky-gets-left-out-of-the-party-1427922058?mod=e2fb

So, if Cragganmore, Caol Ila and Talisker are not selling well in Ukraine, Russia and China, maybe its time to start blending them into Green Label to sell off the excess stocks of those wonderful malts?  I dunno why Green Label is really back, but in any event, here is my tasting note:

Price Point
$48 - $50 US is virtually the same as a few years ago.  Always a good thing when prices remain the same.

ABV
43%!  Nice to see that Diageo did not tinker with the ABV.  A higher than normal ABV allows the drinker to experiment with a little water in the dram.

Nose (undiluted)
Apple blossoms, citrus notes, oak, malty and milk chocolate notes.

Palate (undiluted)
Heavier body than I remember from a couple of years ago.  Really coats the palate.  Wild spiced honey up front with considerable sweetness.  Maybe a little too sweet for my liking.  Soon thereafter malty notes appear with faint sherry and a flourish of gentle peat.

Finish (undiluted)
Not what I would call a sherried dram by any means, but there is a faint sherry note on the finish and the taste of bright red raspberries.  Maybe some cherries too.  Part your lips and inhale and the smoke comes, mild cigar smoke.  Davidoff?  H. Upmann?  Dominican Republic?  You be the judge.

. . .

Years ago I enjoyed JWG with a little water.  Specifically, one teaspoon to a double pour (1.5 oz) made the dram flavors more complex, so I just had to try that again.

Nose (diluted)
Peat and sea air, damp Fall leaves, scent of gardening and getting caught in a light summer rainfall.

Palate (diluted)
The addition of a little water tones down the spiced honey and Graham cracker action, and in its place reveals some complexity. H2O definitely improves this whisky. It brings out to the forefront of the palate crystal clear spring water; takes the sweetness down a notch and in its place is some dray balsa wood with lime and blood orange flavors.  Key lime pie for sure.

Finish (diluted)
Part your lips and breathe and taste the smoke drying on your palate.  Oak, faint dry sherry and black pepper.

General Impressions
I have to be honest.  Johnnie Walker Green Label is not as good as I remember it.  It is a pleasant Scotch whisky at $47-$50 a bottle (I wouldn't pay over $50), but it is now sweeter than it used to be and still lacking some complexity that it used to have.  It is less peated and smokey on the finish.  Where there was once a zing of peat drying across the palate there is now some very nice, but less dry key lime pie.  I wonder if the Talisker and Caol Ila components are in a lesser proportion to the older JWG.  It tastes like that is the case.

I remember it being candle wax or Swiss cheese dry on the finish with a truly impressive complexity that made me think this could easily pass for a single malt in a blind tasting.

Not anymore.  It is a a little too sweet and needs the water to lessen that trait.  But, even with the water, it is not as complex as it once was.  I am sure of this.  I clearly remember what it tasted like before and my blog posts about how great it was were not hyperbole.  It truly was incredible.  The bottle I find in front of me is good, but not incredible.  It is barely fair value at $50 and in terms of flavor is good as a few 12 year old single malts like Auchentoshan, Glenfiddich and others.  But it no longer rivals 18 year old single malts as it once did.  I am a little disappointed.  If you are looking for a similar honeyed profile in a blended malt (no grain whisky) I highly recommend tracking down a bottle of 12 year old Poit Dhubh.  Really fantastic right now and tastes a lot like JWG used to.

The flavors now are dangerously akin to syrup you put on your morning waffles.  Too sweet my friend.

There will always be some variability from batch to batch that is bottled, but the JWG of a few years ago was a show stopper.  Glenfiddich 15 years Solera, Cragganmore 12 and others that it once stood shoulder to shoulder with are now taller.

Cheers!



Jason Debly

P.S.  JWG is still a decent Scotch whisky that will serve as a fine gateway 'drug' to the Scotch whisky hobby.  Newbies will enjoy this very much.  The price is barely reasonable if you can buy it for $50.  It just lacks the over-the-top 'wow' factor.  The old JWG was drier on the finish, crisper leaving your palate feeling like a brilliantly weaved Persian rug.  You marveled at the complexity.  Now, JWG is much sweeter initially and through mid-palate.  The finish does dry somewhat, if water has been added, but not enough and noticeably less peat action.  It leaves your palate feeling like someone just laid some nice, pleasant, comfy, cushioned bedroom carpet.  Your toes feel good on it, but you don't feel special like when you walk over the Persian down in front of the fireplace.