Whether we like admitting it or not, most of us whisky enthusiasts have gone through a phase of snobbery. At some point or another a fellow (hopefully) well-meaning whisky drinker will have given you faulty advice along the following lines. ‘You should really just drink single malts and ignore blends.’ But that’s dumb. Just take a look at the Johnnie Walker Island Green.
It’s probably not fair to put a blended malt at the center of the blends versus single malts argument. But in this case it represents the largest brand of blended Scotch whisky in the world, so just indulge me. Johnnie Walker Green Label was among the first whiskies I owned. It was a gift from my girlfriend and I remember being very chuffed with it. The Chivas Regal 18 Years was also one of my early whisky discoveries. But for years afterwards these types of big name brands were barely on my radar. Because I’ve been as guilty of the aforementioned snobbery as anyone.
There is so much to discover in the world of single malts that it sometimes doesn’t seem necessary to pay attention to blends or even blended malts. But that would be a mistake. Blends are masterpieces in their own right, play an important role in the world of whisky, and they’re not just for mixing with soda. (Although, a highball can be awesomely delicious.) Actually, many blends or blended malts are of similar or better quality than similarly priced entry-level single malts. We just have a bit of trouble admitting it sometimes.
A prime example of an excellent blended malt is Johnnie Walker Island Green. It’s a smoky variation on the classic Johnnie Walker Green Label with a greater proportion of malt whisky from Caol Ila. The blend also includes whisky from Clynelish, Glenkinchie and Cardhu.
Johnnie Walker Island Green (43%, OB, 2020)
Nose: Relatively strong peaty notes at first of smoke, tar, charcoal, but also a light pepperiness. Caol Ila is certainly making its presence known, but there’s room for other aromas. Gentle herbs and soft citrus notes (mostly sweet orange peel) round out a balanced olfactory experience. Taste: Somewhat waxy but also fairly ashy. There’s some vegetal peat, seaweed and burnt toast. A touch of honey and milk chocolate too. Finish: Gentle and ashy with some sweet malt. Finally a whisper of chocolate.
An honest, really good offering from Johnnie Walker that just oozes balance and never feels engineered. At 50 euro per liter this is a steal.