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Johnnie Walker Green Label: Then vs Now

I have finished re-watching a classic anime called Ghost in the Shell. In case you’re not aware of this anime, it’s set in a cyberpunk future wherein technology has advanced to the point which allows humans to replace their body parts with cybernetic prosthesis. Even the brain can use and be connected to various systems and networks.

One of the philosophical themes the anime tackles is Theseus’ Ship aka Theseus’ Paradox. It’s a thought experiment asking whether an object that has had all its parts replaced is still the same object. In the case of the anime, it asks if the person is still that same person if he/she has received cybernetic parts.

A lot of us have become aware that blends can change over time. Various factors result in the blender not being able to maintain the recipe. In the case of Johnnie Walker Green: increased demand for Scotch whisky caused a shortage of appropriately aged single malt used for the blended malt. This caused the expression to be temporarily discontinued for four years in 2012, except in Taiwan.

I’m not here to tell you outright that the Green Label changed after it came back, but I’m sure it’s something geekier drinkers wonder about. Despite rising demand for transparency, we still haven’t become privy to more intimate details about most popular brands of blends. All I want is to make you ask questions regarding brands, since a lot of them like to boast of how consistent their brands are. But aside from the color, occasional change in presentation, and branding, are they really? Brand loyalty may give you an idea of consistency, but it can also blind your senses to how brands can change over time.

Yes, Johnnie Walker Green Label’s four primary malts of Talisker, Cragganmore, Linkwood and Caol Ila didn’t change. But what about the amount of each of the four that’s used in the new releases? How about the other single malts that make up the blend? Did they remain the same? What about the types of casks these respective single malts aged in? Did they remain the same or did some second-fill ex-bourbon cask matured single malts end up being aged in third-fill ex-bourbon casks?

The Green Label has a small, special spot in my snobby heart. When I was just starting to take whisk(e)y seriously, this one became the first whisky to let me realize that expensive doesn’t equal better. This is due to some online voices expressing that this is the best among the regular Johnnie Walker range due to its being a blended malt… hence, the lack of grain whisky. At that time, the Gold still had the 18 year statement. So, there was a good mix of drinkers who loved the Green, or the Gold 18, or the Blue Label the best (it was either Gold or Green for me).
Aside from that, the Green Label was also my first taste of booze in my former high school. There was a Johnnie Walker booth during an alumni homecoming just after I started college. They were pushing the Green and Gold quite heavily at that time. Yes, I wasn’t enough of a rebel in my youth, but it felt nice drinking Scotch in front of former teachers.

There will be no comparison of prices today, since I can’t remember how much the old Green Label cost me. It was almost 10 years ago when I bought the bottle. Also, thanks to a friend for sending me a sample of the new Green Label.

Johnnie Walker Green Label (Old Version) – Review

43% ABV.

Color: e150.

On the nose: A medium intensity, balanced and somewhat lingering welcoming of peat and smoke. In between that is a certain fruity floral aroma that makes me think of pears mixed with white flowers. With the same intensity as the start, I get shorter aromas of oranges, apples, cereals, toffee, kombucha and ripe banana peel. During some intervals, I get an enveloping smell of wet cartons that I associate with distillery bottlings of Bowmore. It’s accompanied by light aromas of mint, nuts, and nori.

In the mouth: Medium intense tastes of cereals, toffee, apples and nuts. The peat and smoke come out after and are lighter. It also tastes like the peat and smoke oozes out a bit of nori paste mixed with wet carton. In the middle, the heat ramps up. While the heat is taking most of the attention, I get light tastes of apples, honey-flavored granola bar with no fruits, dried apricots, orange gummies, peat, and wet cartons.

Conclusions:

You have to take your time with this. The range of flavors themselves aren’t impressive, but there’s enough of a backbone in this that, despite being stretched, it doesn’t come across as light and boring. In there are all the flavors above that present themselves bit by bit in thin layers.

Score: 6/10

Johnnie Walker Green Label (New Version) – Review

43% ABV. £41.95 from The Whisky Exchange. USD $50 locally.

Color: Honey.

On the nose: This is noticeably not as smokey and peaty as the old version. There are pleasant and short aromas of fruits and cereals. I get light tastes of apples, pears, Doublemint gum, granola with honey, dried apricots, dried apples, dates, persimmon, and kombucha.

In the mouth: No peat and smoke as well. It’s just as fruity on the nose here. I get light tastes of Fuji apples, Granny Smith apples, Doublemint gum, cereals, honey, pears, and toffee. There’s a tingle of peat, smoke and wet cartons lingering at the back.

Conclusions:

A different blend despite carrying the same name. The peat and smoke at the front added an extra layering in the old one. I also liked how the old Green Label became fruitier as the peat and smoke died down. Alas, you don’t experience it here. Maybe the lack of those notes is why I perceive this new version to be more straightforward and easier to enjoy, since it’s just mostly fruits and cereals now.

Safe to say Diageo used less peaty whisky in this so they can use more aging stocks to be bottled as single malts. I don’t really have a negative thing to say about the new version. There are no bad flavors and it’s right for the price. I also won’t fault those who like this more than the old version.

Score: 5/10

New version image courtesy of The Whisky Reserve.

CategoriesBlends
John

John is a cocktail and spirits enthusiast born and raised in Manila. His interest started with single malts in 2012, before he moved into rum and mezcal in search of malterntaitves – and a passion for travel then helped build his drinks collection.

  1. Andrew says:

    Hey John, great write up! – I didn’t know where things were going there at the start the GITS reference!

    I have a soft spot for JW Green – by far my favourite JW and leading me on towards my love of Talisker and Linkwood distillates and a real eye opener for my early stage of the whisky journey

    My understanding is JW Green is a “vatted Malt’ of just those 4 Distilleries it mentions on the box – and astounding that it’s a 15 year age statement for the price. When they re-released it I recall various news pieces where Diageo categorically stated that the recipe didn’t change but I guess the constituent parts might have. I have tried the older variants of it and do think they’re slightly more complex.

    Still, I love it every time I have it and really rate it as one of my favourite blends, especially as you can get it for £30 sometimes here.

    1. John says:

      Hi Andrew,

      Thanks for the kind words. My appreciation for Green Label didn’t lead me to Linkwood, but it made me more interested in Cragganmore. So I guess we share a somewhat similar experience.

      Green Label is often marketed as having 4 main malt components. So that makes me think the 4 just make up the majority of the blend while other single malts make up a minority of it.

      It’s still a good whisky even though even though it’s not the same anymore. The price is still acceptable as well.

  2. Marc says:

    Green label was my Always Go to. I even got my son into whiskey with the Johnny walker Green label . Awesome….. then it went off the market, but if u went overseas, the duty free shops. We’re selling it. But with a slightly different / hard to notice , label….. Saying “island Blend”
    A much heavier peaty / Smokey nose & palate …. But still No word on the Original,,
    Then all of a sudden, Johnny Green, is Back, on shelves, in store, & plenty to go around,, ahhh. Yes, sorry. It has gone up by about $20 per 700ml bottle??? But Mr Walker,,, u neglected to tell ur Loyal Customers, that the Green Label Recipe, had now Changed, and was Completely Different….. I call that , Tactical marketing, Tactical, as in “ Tacky”. When u go pay $80+ for ur Alltime favourite Dram,, only to realise once its opened, that its Nothing at all, like the original,..??? But if it’s too smoky for u, it’s Also, Too bad, ?? As the shop won’t return a bottle cos u didn’t like it ?? Very Naughty. Best thing I’ve learned, Stick to Reputable companies, who put their Buyers of their products…… First,!!!!!

    1. John says:

      Hi Marc, thanks for the comment.

      Companies saying their recipes haven’t changed is one of the most abused lines imo. People who listen to their senses can pick this out. I think the price increase is mainly the result of the market where demand has increased. Being businesses, it’s not surprising that a giant like Diageo would take advantage of it.

      If you don’t like what they do, then just stop buying their products. Though it’s almost impossible to do so since they own so much of Scotch’s space. I feel your frustration btw.

  3. Joel says:

    Great review, John. I’m glad I’m not the only one who finds the “new” Green Label much less peaty and smoky than the old version. I thought I was losing my mind. I’ve also had people tell me I’m imagining things and that I’ve been drinking too much Laphroaig and Ardbeg to notice the smoke in Green Label. It’s still fine for what it is, but as you noted…it IS different.

    1. John says:

      Hi Joel, aside from us, there are a lot of other people who have noticed the change in the Green Label. So you’re really not losing your mind. But I think this also shows why you should always trust your senses. Other people’s are not only different from yours but yours could also be better.

  4. Saurabh says:

    Frankly speaking I never saw this particular brand in any shelf at any liquor store in Delhi (India). Blue Label yes but it’s too fu***ng expensive!

    1. John says:

      Hi Sanjay, unfortunately, I think you can only get at auctions now. I’ve had this bottle for at least 10 years. I just recently found it in my stash.

  5. Nash says:

    Sorry, scoring a JW Green label a 5 and 6 score is simply idiotic in my opinion.
    This can stand alongside great peaty whiskies out there ie. various single malt expressions from Ardbeg, Lagavulin, Laphroaig, Talisker, Bowmore and Caol Ila.
    I also have both the old and many new bottlings as well as the JWG peatier brother, JW Green Island.
    The JW Green is priced along the lines of above mentioned single malts entry 10/12 to in my parts.
    I think this and the Highland Park 12 are great intros to peaty whiskies.

    1. John says:

      Nash,

      Try some better blended malts like Douglas Laing’s Rock Island or Wemyss’ Peat Chimney. It’ll make you think this comment of yours was idiotic. I don’t see how a way less peaty new Green Label can stand up to the peated single malts you mentioned.

      I would have agreed with you if the HP 12 stayed the way it is before they did the Viking rebranding. Now, it’s just an unbalanced peated mess.

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