Saturday, March 2, 2013

Review: Johnnie Walker Green and Gold

Grab them while you can, if you don't mind the already inflated price tag; Diageo has quietly discontinued the best offerings in their lineup. Without much fanfare, Diageo has decided that the vatted 15 year old Green label and the blended 18 year old Gold label were taking up space on their product line, and I suspect tying up whisky that could be put into higher or lower end offerings. I suppose it makes business sense to focus on the high volume more affordable Red and Black, or the high priced (and I hear way overrated) Blue label, as well as shifting focus away from higher aged products, and indeed, age statements in general...but it's still a shame to lose these two great offerings.

Johnnie Walker Green label
15 years old, 43% ABV
Price: Variable at this point, $85 was the last I saw on a shelf

Now known as "blended malts," vatted malts are a sorely under-represented segment of the market. There's a lot of potential in the marrying of different flavors.The Green label is principally blended from four different malts, Clynelish, Talisker, Caol Ila, and (I think) Cragganmore...the four corners of Scotland, according to the label, though other malts are present in varying amounts, and indeed, it's hardly an equal vatting, as there's not a ton of Caol Ila smoke. Still, it's a great mix:  the flavors individually wander about the tongue, and I can easily pick out various aspects in different parts of the profile. I get a fair bit of sweet toffee from the Cragganmore and a really nice waxy character from the Clynelish, but not a ton of smoke from either the Talisker or Caol Ila. Perhaps my growing fondness for peat monsters has spoiled my pallet in that regard. The flavors really mingle without being over-mixed, which is a neat trick. For such a carefully crafted and engineered product, it doesn't have the over-balanced character of the Black label, with different aspects of the flavor profile rolling around the tongue. Bottled at 43%, the Green has a nice chewy body, and an appealing bigness that's sorely lacking in the Black label. Quite a nice dram indeed, and makes me wish that vatted malts had a bigger market segment. 80 points (B-)

Johnnie Walker Gold label
18 years old, 40% ABV
Price: variable as well, though I've seen it for as low as $90

The Gold label is a really great example of just how good a high quality blend can be. 18 years in the barrel really smooths out the rough edges, and lets the grain whisky gain a nice creamy custard flavor, which blends very appealingly with the malts. Minus the grain, this is probably a very similar blend to the Green, though the label reports 15 (undisclosed) malts, blended to Alexander Walker II's "Centenary" recipe, fashioned to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the company.

Much like the Green label, I find plenty of sweet Speyside toffee and caramel, and that Clynelish "soapiness," as well as a fair bit of nondescript smoke. I think the stronger smoke alone makes this my favorite Johnnie Walker product, and I'd like to point to the peppery granite note of Talisker or the briny, medicinal Caol Ila, but I just don't think it's quite strong enough to discern one or the other. Much as with the Green label, the flavors really mingle without anything getting lost. The texture is smooth to a fault, much like the JWB, but I think it works better here with a whole lot more flavor to keep things from getting boring. Still, it could use a bit more alcohol and a bit more body, though I guess that's not really the point of this release. Enjoyed on it's own terms, it's a great dram; a small step up flavorwise from the Green, but just a small step down in texture...smooth to a T, rather than chewy and full. 80 points (B-)

I was pleasantly surprised at how much I ended up enjoying these two. They're definitely quality products, and shame on Diageo for discontinuing them. Well, at least Compass Box is still blending and vatting.


  1. These are two great scotch whiskies.

    I always considered the "nose" of Gold Label among the best of all scotch whiskies, regardless of whether single malt or blend.

    I have bought a bottle of the new, no-age statement Johnnie Walker Gold Label and can report that it is very disappointing and a mere shadow of the former 18yr age stmt gold label. A real disappointment in all senses of the word.

  2. These two whiskies will be dearly missed. To make things easier for us it seems that Diageo has already knocked down the quality on the recent batches of JW18 Gold. I tried a bottle purchased in December from Costco (so of recent production, not a dusty) and it was not the JW18 Gold that I remembered. This bottle was dominated by grain spirit and without the elegance and depth on the nose that I so loved in bottles past.

  3. @Jason - I didn't know Diageo was putting out an NAS Gold, I figured they were just getting rid of it altogether. That's even worse.

    @Florin - Given how good I thought this was, I must have gotten an older bottling. Or my palate really sucks =)