There is a sadness when a good malt is discontinued.
There are many possible reasons, of course. The organic nature of whisky makes it impossible to guarantee that a malt will be possible to produce. There could simply be a shortage of the flavours required to make it. Distilleries might have insufficient stock of a certain age. There could also simply be for commercial reasons that a distillery stops making a whisky. It could be any of the reasons. It could be all of them.
Whatever it was, this fate befell the much lauded Johnnie Walker Green Label in 2012. The shelves emptied, whisky lovers mourned the passing of a good malt, and that was that.
Green Label was first introduced in 2005. Like the rest of its family, it is a blended whisky, an intricate jigsaw pieced together for consistency and accessibility. We have said before that blends are not blands, and this is certainly far from flavourless.
Blends are usually misunderstood because of the looseness of its classification. A blended whisky allows for combinations of grain and malt whisky to be used in its creation. Many blenders can (and do) add more of the cheaper grain spirit, to improve their profit margins.
Critically, you can also choose not to use grain whisky. You can, indeed, make a blended whisky purely out of single malts of differing provenance.
And that’s what the Green Label is. A blend of single malt whiskies from the distilleries under Diageo’s belt. Does that make it inferior to a whisky made from malts from a single distillery? Or superior?
Or perhaps we should reserve judgement, cast aside our first impressions and look at the whisky for what it is.
To be sure, the concept of blending single malts is not entirely new. Monkey Shoulder and, we suspect, the top drawer Johnnie Walker Blue Label, are made entirely of malts.
In this case, we are fortunate, because we don’t have to guess what went into the whisky; the folks at Johnnie Walker have told us what the components of the blend are.
Naturally, they didn’t tell us how much of each was used, and how old each whisky is, but we know that all the malts are at least 15 years old.
It’s interesting to look at the whiskies that make up Green Label individually, and compare them to the nature of the married malt. After all, the hallmark of the whisky blender’s craft is combining distinct components into a harmonious whole.
Cragganmore: spicy, with strong lemon and orange overtones on the nose. The palate is full of honey, sweet citrus fruit, a little spice, and finally finishes with a touch of oak.
Talisker: the only whisky from Skye is a maritime delight. The salt and sea are integrated into a peaty nose. The palate has brine, orange, spice, iodine and pepper.
Caol Ila (Islay): a peaty, phenolic nose that has sweet hickory barbecue leanings. The palate adds notes of cheese and fresh grain and dried fruit balances it all out. A punchy whisky with a sharp finish.
Linkwood (Speyside): light floral fragrances, with honey, apple, and light cedar flavours.
Johnnie Walker Green Label
The Green Label has the distinctive angular bottle and slanted label of its siblings. It retains the original Green Label’s look and recipe. It is for most part a resurrection of its former self, not a new whisky taking on the mantle.
Nose: It starts teasingly with fruit blossom notes. The scents transition into orange and lemon, and then slowly melts into spice. It concludes with a puff of smoke and trails off with an oaky note.
Palate: A blast of freshness. A sweetness of honey, lemon and orange that slowly takes on a pepper flavour. It moves into the midpalate with a distinct oakiness. Then, leaving the best for last, it finally expresses smoke.
Finish: A long and satisfying one, full of oak and peaty flavours.
The flavours of the other whiskies are clearly defined and recognisable in the Green Label. It takes on much of the nose of the Linkwood, the honey and citrus from the Cragganmore and Talisker. The Caol Ila and the Talisker add the customary Johnnie Walker peat and oak.
Overall, we find the blend very pleasant and easy to drink. The components are in a blissful marriage, with none clamouring for attention at the expense of the others. At the same time, there is plenty of depth and variation in flavours to keep the tongue busy.
The Green Label gives much, considering its very reasonable price of $101.
A marvellous return to form.
Johnnie Walker Green Label is priced at $101 (75cl bottle) and available at selected retail stores and e-commerce partners.
For more information head to https://www.johnniewalker.com/en-sg/.