Sunday, August 16, 2009

Johnnie Walker Green Label - A Blend of 15 yr old Single Malts

The vast majority of single malt scotch is produced for scotch blends. 80% of production is actually sold to companies that produce blends. However, whenever I speak to someone about scotch, they invariably turn their nose up at blends and insist that single malt scotch is superior. I think there is a lot of snobbery going on and little relation to the quality of flavour profile produced by blends. In fact, I have conducted some blind taste tests of blends served to such aquaintances, telling them we are sampling single malts and their praise is over flowing, until the truth is revealed and they are informed by me that they actually have been sampling high quality blends like Johnnie Walker Green Label or Ballantines 17 year old. They will grudgingly acknowledge it is good, but then start to ramble that they suspected "something was off" for a purported single malt. Nonsense, I say. For me, it is all about the taste and drinking experience. These scotch snobs think that the best scotch must be a single malt meaning that the scotch comes from one distillery only. Mind you, even such a single malt scotch is a blend of sorts. Specifically, it will be a blend of single malt scotches of different ages, but all from the same distillery. "Blended Malts" just take the blending process a little further by blending single malts from other distillerys.

In general blended scotch whisky is the combination of various single malt (varying in age) scotches with various grain whiskies (varying in age). The proportion of blends is usually 35% single malt and 65% grain whisky. Grain whiskies are cheaper to produce and are responsible for softening and even the sweet taste in scotch at times. In short, they take the harshness out of a single malt, and that is a good thing! But, too much grain whisky makes a blended scotch boring.  So, the task of the master blender is to find the right balance between the proportion of single malts and grain whiskys for that balanced, smooth yet interesting flavour profile.

Johnnie Walker Green Label is an interesting blend because it is a "vatted malt" meaning it is a blend of several different single malt whiskys with a minimum age of fifteen years, but no grain whisky is present. The principal single malts that go into this blend are: Talisker, Linkwood, Cragganmore and Caol Ila. Talisker is responsible for the smoke flavour, Cragganmore provides the sweetness and honey profile and Caol Ila provides the peat.The result is stunning.  It is approachable, smooth, interesting, attractive. 

Suggested Serving
If you are a novice scotch drinker and find the taste of scotch overhwhelming on its own, try an ice cube or two. The ice will slightly dilute the scotch, which will result in taking the burn one typically experiences when nothing is added.  Scotch connosieurs will scoff at the idea of adding ice, but if you want to enjoy a fine drink and new to scotch, add an ice cube or two.

On the other hand, if you are not a newbie to scotch, then you must try Johnnie Walker Green label with half a teaspoon of water to a standard shot.  The water opens up this scotch beautifully making it more honeyed, floral and complex.  I cannot over emphasize the importance of adding a little water to this magnificent dram.  Without water it is very good, but add the water and it becomes stellar.

Distinctly floral, coupled with malt and cookie dough, faint wisps of anise, peat and pipe tobacco.

Initially a honeyed dram, surely due to the core malt of Cragganmore.  Honey gently expands across the palate followed by vanilla, moving to a drying sea spray (I realize this is an oxymoron) and pepper corns across the palate.  I recognize this taste to be unmistakably Talisker.

Dry cinammon, restrained fresh ground black pepper and sea salt linger. A very long peppery/honey finish. Great length.

Final Comment
A very smooth, refined dram with some peat and smoke, but not overwhelming with a zing of pepper and sea salt on the finish. If you are looking for a dram that is not offensive but interesting, then look no further. Johnnie Walker is the best selling scotch in the world. In particular, its Red Label is a top world seller. This is probably due to the fact that the price is very reasonable.  Because Johnnie Walker is such a dominant player in the scotch market, I believe that it is the brand that some snobbish scotch drinkers love to hate. This is similar to the treatment of Microsoft by IT professionals. MS is the company they love to hate partly because it has been so successful.

Johnnie Walker Green Label is one of those premium blends that is just as good if not superior to many single malts (ie.  Glenfiddich 12 yrs, Glenlivet 12 yrs, etc.).

In any case enjoy!


Jason Debly

Psst!  I have a more recent review of this scotch here!

© Jason Debly, 2009-2011. All rights reserved.


  1. Superb Review ! Partly because I agree with your notes and partly because you write without a bias.

  2. Jason have you ever tried Lock Lommond 21year old single malt. I'd be interested in your opinion if you ever review it

  3. I've never had Loch Lomond. I believe it is not available in North America. hence, I haven't had it. Anyway, if you do, please post back your impressions.

  4. Hi Jason,

    Thanks for the review, finally purchased a bottle. I too am/was a label snob I guess and always ended up buying the malt instead due to price.

    Still I can absolutely see why one would prefer this to say Glenfiddich 12 or Old pultney (though to be fair, it is also more expensive), as it is indeed an excellent whisky. It's very complex and I absolutely enjoy it, but there is one "but" for me.

    For anyone who has a bottle of Caol Ila 12 year old at home (which I always do and in Holland can buy for less) it might be too much of the same.
    Drunk neat, the peat is there, but with other influences, adding water however just makes the Caol Ila dominate in my opinion, in which case I might as well just be drinking Caol Ila in stead of spending more on JWG if you get where I'm going.

    I also can't really escape the feeling that the were being a bit lazy and just reversed the formula of JWB, swapping tallisker with Caol Ila, ofcourse it is not that simple, but still...

    It truly is a wonderfull whisky, well worth the price I would say, but for me, too much like the Caol Ila. Something worth considering I would say for anyone in possesion of the forementioned whisky.



  5. Boris, I never thought of it that way. But, then again I am not overly familiar with Caol Ila. I'm just gonna have to invest in a bottle and 'study' your points more closely . . .

  6. Hi Jason,

    Don't get me wrong, I don't regret the purchase, in fact I was looking for the perfect travel companion for 3 week vacation and have found it in Green Label. It gives me a bit of everything.

    And I would definitely recommend Caol Ila!



  7. Well, your Caol Ila recommendation is very timely as I will be attending a whisky festival in November. On sale will be Caol Ila. I'll be sure to pick up a bottle.

  8. Sometimes i am put of by wood character of some single malts.

    i am bored by now with black i have has lot of.

    what is green like in
    Wood. bitter/tannic...
    Malt.. just delicate or other char like creamy, prune, crunch,


    your nose comment : pipe tobacco + cookie dough are my top loves so Green might be just for me.

  9. Hi Jason -

    We seem to have very similar tastes, so I tend to find your reviews to be very true to my own. I thank you for the care you have taken to create such thoughtful content.

    One of the local liquor stores here in Ohio has a very good stock of JW Green. Rereading one of your reviews reminded me that it was discontinued, so tonight I asked the lady working the store about their stock. She said that Diageo resumed production. Have you learned anything more about Green label since writing about the sad news last March?

    Best Regards
    - Ian

    1. Hi Ian,

      I have not heard of any resumed production of Green Label by Diageo. I will check again but I doubt it. I suspect the sales clerk is mistaken. However, if you happen to come across an article or news release please let me know.

      Thanks for commenting!

  10. I have two 1L bottles of green label. If kept for a decade or so, do you think the value aught to increase?

    1. I do not think so.

      The bottles that appreciate in value are nearly always single malts. Single malts from now defunct distilleries are particularly collectible and go up in value.

      Johnnie Walker products are so widely available that they lack the cachet to attract the attention of collectors and speculators.

      I suppose if you waited thirty years the bottle would be worth more, but not worth the wait. For example, you can buy a bottle of Teacher's from the 1950's for about $200.


  11. Jason: I have purchased a case of the re-released JW Green and it is stated as 15 yr., 43% ABV and it is as good as the original. Comes with a screw cap and plastic insert, but the bottle looks to be thicker like the Blue Label and does not come in any packaging. Some retailers are jacking up the prices. I bought wholesale @ 51.99 @ bottle in a case of six. Hope this is helpful. Tom from MA P.S Enjoy your site.

  12. Highland Park 12 is a lot better than JWG. I've had them both side by side. I like good blended and single malts. But now I'm starting to get into Bourbon because the peat is starting to bore me. If you guys want to try something good and different, check out Buffalo Trace Bourbon.