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Tonight in Toronto, we are being hit with what is said to be the worst storm in decades. That seems pretty far fetched (I guess we'll see in the morning!), but regardless, I cancelled my plans to see a movie and am toasty warm inside, with this new Johnnie Walker expression. The Gold Label Reserve (with no age statement) replaces the Gold Label 18 Year Old. As you may know, the old 18 Year Old bottling is discontinued, as is the Green Label 15 Year Old blended malt (so if you have bottles of these put aside - hang onto them! Old and discontinued Johnnie Walkers are among the very few blends that increase in value over time). There is also a new 18 Year Old called "Platinum". I've had the old 18 Year Old (as well as the new Platinum) during a Johnnie Walker flight at Spirit House, and I remember liking it quite a bit, but I have no tasting notes to refer back to.
So why the change? Well, the most obvious answer is - they are running a little thin on older stocks - they have to use whiskies in this that are less than 18 years old. And with sales of older age-statement whiskies rapidly growing in Asian markets, they are being shipped there, leaving European and North American consumers with more NAS (No Age Statement) whiskies. This is not necessarily a bad thing - I'm not one to summarily equate older whiskies with quality - but it's an interesting (and sensible, from a financial standpoint) shift in distribution patterns. But enough of the business - back to the spirit!
The colour is a dark reddish gold. Surprisingly, the nose is a little more closed than you might expect. Caramel, honey, vanilla, crisp maltiness, and some clean grain. Minty notes as well. There are oranges and some other fruity notes. A whiff of smoke in the back, but only just. With water, a bit more smoke, with some sawdust. Simple but lovely.
In the mouth, this is incredibly silky smooth - absolutely beautiful mouthfeel. There is both brine and white pepper - this seems to have more Talisker influence than other Johnnie Walkers. But otherwise there is not a lot going on - it's very smooth, with many of the same fruits, caramels and vanillas that are on the nose. Very luxurious, however - incredibly easy to drink!
Very warming on the finish, but at the very end a little rough, with more sea salt and spice. It is nicely balanced but the taste and mouthfeel really do stand out. Again, I don't recall too much of how the old 18 Year Old tasted, though Jim Murray (who rates the new Reserve a 91.5) says the nose is heavier than it's predecessor. If memory serves, I preferred the old 18 Year Old but of course I cannot be sure. I would love to hear from anyone who has compared both - and also anyone who might have more insight into the reasons for this change in bottling.