I just got back from a week in New York City – spent seven days tramping all over Manhattan Island, seeing the sights. We had fabulous weather and came home knackered every day. And yet, after the crowds, and with the noise and the time change, it was great to unwind with a nightcap at the hotel. We were spending major $$$ on a rarely indulgent vacation (food, shows, museums), so we bought a bottle of whisky at a local shop instead of heading to the hotel bar for a $15 cocktail. The pick for the week: Johnnie Walker Black Label. That whisky, for the few souls who have read through the reviews below, serves as a benchmark for me — a case of a mass-market product done consistently well. And in a week where we didn’t want to have to over-think our whisky, it was a natural choice. Good enough to feel we were still treating ourselves while reasonable enough in cost (though with that Manhattan tax, a bit spendy) to not kill our daytime budget. I had written of JW Black here that it had a nose of light peat, with honey, peaches and sherry notes. The palate I find fairly complex, repeating the peaches with a dash of vanilla, white pepper and earthy oak. I note a touch of watermelon as well. The finish is its weakness, as it is rather quick. You get some honey and oak tannins to balance. Bottom Line: JW Black is hard to beat for the price. It is $40 for 750 ml at home; we found a liter bottle for $62 in Manhattan – about 20% more expensive.
Let’s Go Green
So, on to the Green, a limited run in the U.S., having been discontinued back in 2011, according to ScotchAddict, and re-released in February of this year. It was an under-the-radar release in honor, again according to ScotchAddict, of the tenth anniversary of the expression. The Green is a 15-year old blended malt, and is comprised of Talisker, Caol Ila, Cragganmore, and Linkwood according to ForPeatsSake and ScotchAddict. All of these malts were at least 15 years in the cask. So, first difference from the Black: This is all malt whiskies–pot-stilled, in batches, from malted barley. Whereas the Black Label has a fair percentage of grain whiskies in it. Some folks are fond of grain whisky, but I am a malt man. I had high hopes, especially as I like Talisker and Caol Ila’s 12-year versions, both of which are very up-front with their taste–medicinal and peaty. The second difference: 43% ABV, so the Green is bottled a bit stronger. And finally, less colorant. You’ll note from the masthead photo for this post, the Green is lighter and frankly, more natural looking. That’s no guarantee, as JW don’t say whether they add e150 to either dram, but you can bet they do. So, let’s see what we’ve got.
Johnnie Walker Green 15 y.o. blended malt
Nose: Oak, light peat, earthy, wet rocks, a little maritime air.
Palate: Much more going on than the Black Label: a deeper floral and melon (others taste oranges) flavor that rolls into red apple on the sides of the tongue. Very smooth, this will offend no one, as smoke is entirely missing.
Finish: The floral and melon lingers, and instead of the Black’s caramel sweetness we have a much more complex finish, with time-mellowed tannins in balance. Just a hint of peat and the barest whisper of smoke in the finish.
Bottom Line: This is a premium blend and the focus by the distiller is on smoothness and gentle Speyside fruit, with the island malts used as a very subtle backdrop. Considering there is Talisker and Caol Ila in this blend, it is very mellow. I’m not getting any of the medicinal notes found in the 12-year versions of those, and I can’t believe it is all gone after another three years in cask. I’m not familiar with Linkwood, but Wikipedia puts it in Speyside, and a producer of 2.5 million liters a year. That is a lot of whisky and I suspect it’s used as a low-cost base for the blend.
I haven’t tried Cragganmore (another big–at 1.5M liters/year–Speyside distiller) either, but over at ScotchNoob they reference it as “the gentle base” for Johnnie Walker Black. These two must be playing the same part here and comprising the majority of this blend. Very bottom line: For the price*, I would not drink it even if I could get it regularly, as I could just buy a bottle of Talisker 12 and get a more lively dram.
If JW Green were a lady (and yes this is very straight-guy centric, but that’s me) she would be in heels, a high necked gown, pearls, and an expensive coiff; she expects her man to pick her up in a Cadillac. Talisker 10, on the other hand, is wearing Mary Janes, bluejeans and a calico blouse; she’s energetic and ready for a bike ride or spin in her Miata. Sort of a Ginger vs. Mary Ann decision, and I’m Mary Ann every time. However, I would definitely keep JW Green around for guests. Like my other ‘guest Scotch’ (Macallan 12), Johnnie Walker Green Label is bound to be recognized and appreciated by the majority of Scotch drinkers. And, unlike my faves Talisker and Ardbeg, unlikely to repulse the uninitiated 🙂 *My bottle was bootlegged from California (as it is not carried in Oregon). The Green Label was $65 for a bottle. Talisker is $80 around here (updated 2022).