Even though it's not the most expensive bottle in the Johnnie Walker range, Green Label has long been considered the connoisseur's choice because it's arguably the most interesting.
Let's start with what makes Green Label unique: it's a vatted malt. Whereas anything labeled a "blended scotch" is a blend of grain whisky and single-malt whisky (the nuances of this designation are better clarified elsewhere), Green Label is just a straight-up combination of single malt whiskies. And, it's age-stated at 15 years, so you know what you're getting. Even the pricier Gold Label Reserve and Blue Label don't have that bragging right.
Hell, even the packaging tells you the four malts they're using for the blend: Caol Ila, Talisker, Linkwood, and Cragganmore. The first two are smokey, maritime-forward blends from Scotland's outlying islands. The other two are more delicate Speyside malts: Cragganmore always strikes me as floral, and Linkwood slightly woody and fruity. There's not a stinker among these, and even the stodgiest of critics generally agree that these distilleries know their craft.
Let's begin with the good, since there's a lot of it. The Green Label is a good study in the complexity that's open to blenders in terms of crafting aromas and tastes. For example, the smell of Green Label reminded me quite a bit of the apothecaries in (LA's) Chinatown. You walk in, and you're immediately hit with the smell of tea leaves and earthy roots. There's a mustiness to it all, but one that's not unpleasant. Some time and patience brought out some additional surprises in the form of oyster shells, figs, prunes, and white grapes. That's a lot going on from a series of sniffs.
And rest assured, when you sip this stuff, there's just as much to play with. For starters, I found it fairly peaty at its natural strength of 43% ABV. However, if you add just a touch of water, I think this is one of the best examples of how a whisky can change right in front of you with a minimal amount of effort. When this stuff swims, the peat takes a huge step backwards. Even with about a teaspoon of water in about a 1.5 oz pour, the whisky becomes more fruit and chocolate-forward, and the water even brought out a little graphite.
I found it was easy to hit a bliss point with the Green Label when I added just a little water, almost like the sensation of getting a good massage. As they came through in vague waves, I picked up some sea salt from the Caol Ila, some cedar from the Linkwood, some herbs from the Cragganmore, and a little of the earthy cocoa from the Talisker. Combined together, these elements made for a very relaxing and pleasant whole. For that reason alone, I'd recommend you at least try it.
The only thing keeping the Johnnie Walker Green Label out of three-star territory might just be my own preconceptions of what I want in a whisky. Maybe it's simply hard for me to mix some of my favorites all together. Some days I want the extreme floral nature of Cragganmore; other days, I want to taste the smokey peat of Talisker. And, if I am going to sit down with a blend, then I'd rather the malts form a cohesive whole that's creamy and unchallenging, albeit delicious, like Chivas 18 or Dewar's 12.
So while the Green Label sits at a weird place for me personally, and while I might not be in a rush to replenish my bottle, I do recommend it as testimony that Johnnie Walker can put something nuanced and interesting in its product mix. Having a good amount of familiarity with each of the four base malts, I wouldn't say that Green Label is more than the sum of its parts, but it's certainly a remix worth paying attention to.