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
This is priced around the same as many 12 year old single malts.

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 priced on par with many 12 year old single malts.  Green Label is superior to some 12 year olds like Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, Aberlour, but not say Cragganmore or GlenDronach (both of which I prefer to GL).

Green Label 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 fair value 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.

54 comments:

  1. Jason, Good, fair, & accurate review. I liked the new JWG15 a bit more than you, but that is perfectly fine. Keep up the good work. Slainte, Richard

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks mon! I am in Jamaica and the lingo is catching on!

      Delete
  2. A friend of mine is a bourbon drinker, he respects scotch sincerely, but he boasts that really good bourbon can be had for entry single malt prices. I'd like to try all three right now, but the Crag and G Solera are $60 and the JWG $70 in the Chicago suburbs. These prices are 30-40% higher than 5 yrs ago. Sure Russia is a mess, but maybe the Scots can acknowledge they had a good run and start resetting the prices back to consumer sanity. I really fret over how much I'll like a $50-60 12 year old (especially after not caring too much for one I got in Nov) and I'm sure I'm more common than not.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Not as good as I remember either and not worth $63+ here in Phoenix. Good review, thanks!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for your confirmation of what I thought too.

      Delete
  4. Hi Jason, at the time you and I last had JWG15, Talisker was still good. Something happened to Talisker around 2011 - probably ran out of old stocks, see also the decrease in ABV for old Talisker. I haven't notice any decline in the Caol Ila, and they keep churning out awesome whisky at a brisk pace, so I don't believe that's the issue.

    In addition, Diageo/JW have worked hard to change the price points of their whiskies - see the overhaul of the whole JW line above JWB12. Which means although they brought JWG15 back, they may have messed with the recipe to make it cheaper - no more old stocks, lesser distilleries, etc. (BTW, I don't think they ever said that *only* Talisker, Linkwood, Caol Ila, and Cragganmore are used; even so, ramp up the proportion of Cragganmore, and there you go, you get something closer to Cragganmore 12, which would be consistent with the sweeter profile.) That's a shame, since it was such an awesome drink, and since it doesn't take much Talisker (when it was good) and Caol Ila to make this work!

    To note, others and myself found long ago that JWG18 had changed for the worse.

    All in all, and as you point out, for the last few 3-4 years Diageo feared that they were leaving money on the table, and started doing all they could to grab it all. Now the party has turned sour, and people are starting to pat their pockets and button them up, make sure their wallets don't go missing. I haven't had the new JWG15, but from where I stand it whiffs of desperation.


    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Florin, thanks for your astute observations.

      Diageo has cheapened JWG just as they did to the one time stunner of a blend Johnnie Walker Gold 18 yrs.

      Delete
    2. Florin, thanks for your astute observations.

      Diageo has cheapened JWG just as they did to the one time stunner of a blend Johnnie Walker Gold 18 yrs.

      Delete
  5. I had a similar reaction to the new bottling. I enjoyed it well enough, but I thought it was sweeter and less peaty/smoky than I remembered. I didn't have nearly as much experience with the old version as you, so I was questioning if my memory had failed me or my tastes had changed. But your review makes me pretty sure that it was neither. It's JWG that changed.

    Thanks for the review.

    - Josh

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. JWG has changed. Not our memories of it. I try not to be arrogant but I remember how this whisky used to taste as I probably enjoyed 12 bottles personally and I have not a shadow of a doubt that this is sweeter, less peated, less smoky and therefore less complex.

      Delete
    2. You could just add a small amount of a moderately smoky Single Malt like Bowmore, Talisker or Springbank to bring it nearer to your desired taste. Adding a teaspon of smoky Malt (and letting the bottle rest for a few days) often works for me to doll up a whisky that is a tad boring.

      Delete
  6. Too bad! Was excited about the re-launch. I still have a bottle of the original formula in the back of my closet somewhere but with these things I never know which occasion should justify opening it... so it just stays closed.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Jason, thanks for the detailed review. However, I marvel at your "$48-$50" per bottle price range for the US as the cheapest I've been able to find it here in Connecticut is $65-$75 per bottle!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Costco had this at the price point I quoted good ol Costco.

      Delete
  8. Hi Jason, That's an interesting review. I'm fascinated now. A couple questions.

    Did you happen to lay aside any of the earlier production bottles, such that something is available for an A:B comparison ? I ask because the what jumped out at me with the new bottling wasn't any difference between the two, but how exactly the same both releases showed side-by-side at our own group tasting.

    It's possible that what's changed is your tasting perspective over in the last few years. It's also possible that some degree of production variation itself is rearing its head again. Tough to pin these things down.

    What's easier to know is the effect of one other factor that's possibly in play - and it's not a trivial one though often not generally a well known one: a bottle's travel shock. As with wine more than with beer, bottled spirits which go through the vibration and temperature changes possible in the S&H processes can - in the short term - display altered profiles (aroma, texture, flavor) for a month or two. How long had your bottle rested quietly on the shelf at home before sampling ?

    BTW, in the SoCal market this JW Green re-release is priced everywhere higher, at least ten-plus US dollars more at retail. Cheers ! jk

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have not been able to do a side by side comparison with the old and new version but I am absolutely certain that this version is sweeter, less peated and lacking the panache of what it once had.

      My tastes have evolved but I still like what Green Label used to deliver. Poit Dhubh and others are similar and still great.

      Shipping in heat or cold may have an effect. I might by a second bottle to be sure but not for a while.

      Always nice to hear from you. I would have posted your comment sooner but I am in Negril, Jamaica and the WiFi is spotty here at the hotel. Fortunately the weather and rum punch is bang on!

      Cheers!

      Delete
    2. JK you know JWG well. Do try it and let us know your impressions.

      Thanks!

      Delete
  9. I think Florin is on to something with his suspicion that Diageo has ramped up them proportion of Cragganmore in the recent version of JWG. Cragganmore's sweeter profile was definitely consistent with my tasting experience.

    Of course, we could add a little Talisker and/or Caol Ila to the new JWG to achieve something closer to the old flavor profile. But fixing the flavor through self-blending kind of defeats the purpose of buying JWG in the first place.

    - Josh

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well Diageo are free to alter the blend of malts and still call it Green Label. It's the free market and certainly possible. Maybe there are excess stocks of Cragganmore and less than ideal quantities of Caol Ila. It is interesting to note that Green Label is not coming in a box anymore that identifies the key malts.

      What I do know is that it is sweeter than it used to be, not as smokey and not as complex. Of that I am sure and you are correct that a person should not be home blending JWG. If a person is inclined home blend, then grab a bottle of Cragganmore and Caol Ila.

      Delete
  10. Ever consider that it may be simply bottle to bottle variation? My first bottle of HP 15 was great. My second is not the same at all.

    As a test, I took two bottles of new JWG and had two friends blind taste them. Both agreed that one was smokier and the other sweeter. They had no hesitation in declaring them different. Those were my thoughts as well.

    Barely reasonable at $50 is a bit over the top, don't you think, in a world where 12 year old single malts (around me), start in the mid $40s and can be $70? Good 15s seem to start in the $64 range.

    It may be different, but your memories of a better scotch make this come across a bit more negatively than I believe it should. JWG seems to me a good, drinkable scotch that will appeal more than just a few scotch drinkers. They should not hesitate to try it and reach their own taste and value conclusions!

    Bob K

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There should be little variation in bottles from the same year production run. Your HP 15 that was great was from a batch that was not the same as the second bottle of HP15 maybe a year or two later. There can be variation but a master blender works very hard to prevent a noticeable change in flavors. Not always possible because all whiskies blended into the final product are an organic/non-static substance, but they can in general maintain tremendous consistency.

      This Green Label is a real let down. Newbies will enjoy it because it is smooth and unchallenging. More experienced drinkers will think, hey at this price point, I should just pick up a good single malt.

      JWG is sweeter now and I think this was done on purpose to appeal to a broader fan base by Diageo.

      All I know is that I will not buy another bottle where there are better alternatives at that price point.

      Delete
    2. Guilty of being a newbie!

      The two HP15s were purchased within 2 months, from the same store. Really disappointing that they differed. As a newbie, I wondered if that were par for the course.

      On my post on the Newcomer Recommendation thread, you can see my local prices. Very little is $50 or less, so if you have some great recommendations for scotch at that price point, I am all ears!

      Even if I might disagree from time to time, love your blog. Keep it up.

      I will be in Scotland tomorrow. Any suggestions to try while there? My travels will prevent me from bringing any back, so more excuse to drink there.

      Delete
    3. I am not sure where you live but around $50 in some parts of the US you should be able to pick up: Glenmorangie Original, maybe Nectar D'Or, GlenDronach 12, Glen Garioch 12 and for a peaty alternative Bowmore 12. Prices do vary widely so I maybe wrong where you live and prices are not going down. That is for sure.

      A final thought on Green Label: It really needs to be taken with a little water (teaspoon to a double) to make it more complex. Consumed straight, it is unexciting.

      Thanks for commenting!

      Delete
  11. Well... If that's the case Jason... I'll stay with the JW black. I won't try to source the green.
    AL

    ReplyDelete
  12. Maybe they had less Talisker to use for the blend this time? Because I definitely got that hint of pepper that Talisker brings in the old bottling. But it is not existent in this version. Good but not great like it used to be. Good thing I have Lagavulin to lift my spirits after haha

    ReplyDelete
  13. Like I said it was different lol. I have cases of the old and several bottles of the re-release. Its lost that smoke quality and has become sweet! Occassionally I still find the old but I will avoid the new green. It should say now with splenda!

    ReplyDelete
  14. Jason, The Benromach 10y represents a stylistic cousin to the old Green Label. It's priced stateside right around where the old version was as well. It's mildly treated by both Bourbon and sherry barrel, which produces for my palate d a nice effect on its peated Speyside distillate. One could do far worse when trying to replace Greenie with a home blend of Talisker, Caol Ila, Linkwood, Cragganmore, Glen Elgin and Dailuine. Best of all, it's a high value well-made single malt and a good dram of its own accord, to boot. Recommended. Cheers ! JK

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Fortunately, Benromach 10 years is available where I live so I will get a bottle and schedule it for an upcoming review.

      I was in Jamaica, started a new job and got the flu all in quick succession. Hence, I have been tardy in posting a review. Will do so shortly.

      Hope all is well on the West Coast!

      Delete
  15. Single Malts are so expensive in Ontario over $100 dllrs usually that I ask friends in the USA to bring me some which is so much cheaper. Maybe that is why sales are weak. I will try to find a bottle of JWG if available in Ontario the LCBO is really bad at stocking but if it is $50 maybe then I can afford one. I am a poor pensioner you know.

    ReplyDelete
  16. How do know if I have the new batch or the old jwg I don't feel reluctant to open it to find out

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. When did you buy the bottle?

      Delete
    2. The new version comes in bigger, heavier bottles -- a similar size/weight to a JW Blue bottle, while the older version came in a bottle that was similar to JW Black. Also, the new version does not come packaged in a green cardboard box (like the older version did).

      The new version also has a plastic pourer in the spout, but you probably can't see that until you open the bottle.

      I hope your bottle contains the old version. But if you bought it recently, I doubt it.

      - Josh

      Delete
  17. "operating under the mistaken assumption that a single malt is always of superior quality to a blended malt."

    "that made me think this could easily pass for a single malt in a blind tasting."

    Why would it matter if it could easily pass for a single malt or not if it's a mistake to think that a single malt is always better than a blended malt?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. i was just trying to convey the idea that a single malt is not always superior to blends, whether they be pure malt or blends with grain whiskies.

      Delete
  18. Jason, I have never tried the old Johnny green, though I have a bottle in waiting on a particular occasion that is coming near (I purchased it based on your prior reviews). I happened to run across a bottle of new release in Costco in California and based on the price I figured I'd pick up another. I decided to open the new bottle and give it ago. I was immediately hit by the sweetness and the first thing that popped into my head was marshmallows. That may be a bit of an overstatement of the sweetness, but it is very notable. I decided to add some water, which absolutely brought out some complexity (perhaps a little iodine and sea salt) and was a definite improvement. At this point I decided to check out your reviews again and found this one which validated my feelings on the new JWG. It is a good scotch and I'd definitely consider it again. Ultimately I'd say it is comparable to a beautiful girl who seems to have almost everything, but is just missing they special something. As soon as I open the old JWB I'll report back with a comparison.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I look forward to hearing your experience with the old Johnnie Walker Green.

      For those of you reading who can't get the old bottling, I have found Linkwood, an obscure single malt, that is an ingredient malt of Green Label is very similar.

      Independent bottlers like Gordon and MacPhail will have Linkwood bottlings from time to time. Problem is they are expensive but are a total delight.

      Delete
  19. It's officially back, Jason!

    https://scotchwhisky.com/magazine/news/latest-news/johnnie-walker-green-label-returns/?platform=hootsuite

    ReplyDelete
  20. You're welcome. Love your posts and reports on the JWG. Keep up the good work!

    ReplyDelete
  21. Jason, in your opinion would the new release be a decent buy at $74 CAD ($77 after tax)?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No, I don't think it is worth it. $60 max. Always grab the Cragganmore 12 before this JWG. It is usually priced the same and is better.

      Delete
  22. The "old" JW Green was one of my favorite drams, but based on your review here, I passed on the screw-top Green when it showed up on the shelves here in Texas. However, I recently saw some bottles that were in the box and had cork stoppers - just like the older Green. The price was $61.00 so I took a chance on it, thinking it might be some old stock that the store had lucked onto to.

    Major disappointment.

    While this bottling isn't particularly sweet, it has nowhere near the complex interplay of flavors and aromas of the old Green and very little peat. I would place this no higher than a good 12-year old blend. Maybe a little better than JW Black, but not by much.

    Paul M.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Glad to know I am not imagining things.

      People will quickly figure out that the relaunched Green Label is not the same one as years past and will move on to something else.

      THanks for commenting!

      Delete
  23. Hey Jason...
    Just looked up some prices.... The Double Black has jumped by nearly $10 to $64.... The Green is a constant $65 ... Now I am completely happy with my std black.... But now those other 2 are pretty much same price.... Which would YOU chose ?

    AL(from OZ)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. All depends on my mood. If I want something that is smoky then the Double Black and if I want something honeyed then the Green. If I didnt know what to have I would probably reach for the Double Black.

      Delete
  24. I tried a bottle of the new version recently. I've never tried the old. I must admit that I enjoyed JW Green very much. It doesn't take me to the mystical heights of my favorite single malts (Royal Lochnagar, Talisker) but it is companionable on a cold rainy day. Yes, it is slightly under-powered--something (a stronger smokiness) is missing between the initial sweetness and the peppery (Talisker) finish. It needs just a notch more smoke or peat. But, I like it very much as is. If you can find it on sale between $30 and $40, it is ideal. At $50 it is slightly overpriced. I think I like it because recent bottles of JW Black have tasted watery, weak. (Something has definitely gone wrong with JW Black!)JW Green is flavorful in comparison. I'll buy it again.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I haven't noticed Black Label getting any changes in taste. Interesting.

      I think Green Label now has less Linkwood and Cragganmore than it used to before the most recent re-launch. Linkwood and Cragganmore are wonderful single malts.

      Delete
  25. Hey friend! The Green here in Canada totally sucks...expensive... in my opinion, it is light...ie., lacking in a full body richness I look for in my drams.
    $80 LCBO

    Cheers my friend!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. At $80, Way over priced for what you get. Better off getting a host of single malts like Highland Park 12, Glenfiddich 15 solera, Cragganmore 12, etc.

      Delete
  26. Jason, the bottle that your review here is from the temporary release in 2015 (screw top and no gold ring around the neck of the bottle). I am drinking right now the permanent (wide release) version of the JW Green, that was introduced in 2016 and it is much better than the 2015 version. In summary the original JW Green was peaty, malty and amazing. The 2015 temporary version was less peaty and sweeter, just ok. The current, 2016 version with the cork and the gold ring on the neck foil is peaty, malty, not overly sweet. It dries mid palate. Cheers.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks! I will have to revisit it.

      Delete
    2. Have you had the Benromach 10? It is a single malt that emulates the versatility and complexity of JWGreen but in a single malt form. Highly recommend it.

      Delete
    3. I have usually had Benromach 10 after a bunch of other malts at festivals, so not really capable of giving a good judgment of it. i need to invest in a bottle!

      Delete