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Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve

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Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve

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Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve

On my way uploading my tasting notebook here, today we have a review from Jan 2015 that took place at Platea, Madrid.

During those times, as I've mentioned elsewhere, it was trendy to serve scotch on iceball, and at the bar they had this huge "Macallan Ice Ball Machine" that cost about 900 € just to ruin your sip. No wonder I've never seen one of those again in the next five years.

But honor to whom it's due: it was mesmerizing to see that oversized, heavy, copper paperweight melting away a full block of ice just to leave a glass-sized sphere.

OK, so this review is for the "reserve" Gold Label, no age statement. It pours intense golden with an ocher cast, boasting scents of caramel and crème brûlée alongside recently mowed lawn and orange peel.

First contact with the tongue is smooth, less sweet than the nose forecast. Midpalate is oily and robust, leading to a very smoky, medium to long-lasting finish. Not bad at all.


With older stocks supposedly dwindling, even giants like Diageo are rethinking their portfolios. As with so many other whiskies, Johnnie Walker Gold Label 18 has been rebranded. It’s now called Gold Label Reserve. The Reserve is apparently blended from stock that’s roughly 15 years or older. But age isn’t everything, and the quality might still be there. Let’s find out.

Nose: Fresh, fruity, and floral. Sliced apples, pears, banana, honey-roasted nuts, butterscotch, sea air, heather, a pleasant graininess. All very high pitched and refreshing.

Palate: Soft mouthfeel, almost watery. The floral Clynelish influence is apparent. Honey flavoured breakfast cereals, butterscotch, cream, nutmeg, cinnamon, and sliced apples.

Finish: Butterscotch, white pepper, nutmeg, faint anise, heather, floral notes, hay, cereal, malt, and cream. The short finish goes down smoothly enough, but there’s no challenge here.

I see what Diageo is trying to do here. This would go down well in a club setting or a casual social scene. Superficially, it looks and tastes premium. However the Reserve is definitely on the soft, smooth, and safe side. Despite being weak, I actually like the flavours. Unfortunately there’s zero edginess, and it offers nothing to challenge or excite the single malt enthusiast. It’s light and watery. While I was never in love with the 18, this one is definitely a step down. It’s still “stylish,” but It’s also thinner, weaker, and just plain uninspired. If you’ve gotta go Gold, pick up the 18 if you can still find it.

@hunggar, thanks very much for your very clear and descriptive review. I liked Gold Label 18 yo, but have passed on buying a bottle of the Gold Label Reserve. Sounds like I would like this, for the very light moods, perhaps.

I find it STRATEGIC that Diageo would defer from providing an age statement on supposedly 15 yo Scotch. That tells me that they plan a lot more NAS releases in the future, and want to be sure that people get used to the idea. Of course, they may also think that memories of the 18 yo GOLD STANDARD might also make 15 yo seem diminished.

Someday I hope to taste this, but I won't be buying any of it prior.

Still got a bottle of 18yo the centenary blend, but I'll probably won't open it. Maybe the old gold label will become a collectors item some day and I'll be able to trade it for a better bottle. The gold label was my favorite Johnnie Walker blend, but its successor the Reserve is just not worthy of bearing its name.


Nose: Starting with citrus, quite a bit actually,then off to sweeter realms with barley sugars and some smoke.Malt and a hint of toffee & sherry.

Palate: Spicy with initial a bit of pepper, then some creamy malt and smoke. Rather smooth, and the body is medium.

Finish: Medium with lingering malt, smoke and wee bit of sultana.

All in all a nice blend, and a good start. I’ve had this quite a few times in the past, but evidently, it didn’t leave a mark. It’s a good blend, but a bit expensive IMHO.

In my humble opinion, most of the Johnnie Walkers are overpriced and underwhelming.


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.

Great review. It's nice to see you are making lemonade out of lemons (hard weather). Do you remember all of those great old films where characters came in out of a snow storm to a nice warm fire and a glass of good scotch? I do. Even though I am only in my forties.

I do take exception with one small point you mention in your review, which is more of an after thought than a part of your review: Why is it "sensible" to ship older stock to Asia and leave westerners with no age statements? I don't see your logic. Are the Asian paying more for it? If not, then I think consumer loyalty should be rewarded, not betrayed, especially when the price of the Gold has remained the same (has it not?) despite the fact that it's now younger whiskies.

I am not at all happy with Scotland's distilleries sending their older whisky to Asia, even if it is blended single malts, etc. It's insulting to me, especially when I am charged the same. I'm not the sort of consumer to roll over easily when my brand loyalty is so easily shrugged off to new and emerging markets.

I just bought a bottle of Highland Park 18 that does not at all taste as it should. It makes me wonder if Highland Park is shipping the best bottles to Asia. At any rate, I have heard that Highland Park quality has been slipping. If they are indeed shipping their best product to Asia then to hell with them!

Thanks again for your well written review. It's refreshing to see that many Canadians like you do indeed know how to write well. So many Americans have grown lazy about the written word. It's a sad trend here that is definitely linked to a sabotaged educational system and a mass media that is also purposefully dumbing down the population with horrible grammar, usage, and vocabulary. George Orwell's vision for the future was not prophetic; it was well informed (from the inside, as it were). His father worked for the Ministry of Opium and his bread and butter was made writing propaganda for the BBC (British Brainwashing Corporation).

Well done, Talexander! Stay warm! You certainly have some great bottles to heat up your insides. I hope you also have a fire to brighten your house, or at least a good furnace.

@rigamorole, thank you for your kind words! I'm glad you enjoyed the review. And please check out @Victor's reviews - he is based in Maryland, is a wonderful writer and a good friend. I've had the pleasure of sharing innumerable drams with he and his wife @Dramlette - you will be very impressed with his writing style, insight and love of whisky. I hear what you are saying about writing styles in general, and it is as true in Canada as it may be in the US - but being both a whisky nut and working in the film industry, I have so many American friends and colleagues who are eloquent, intelligent and highly cultured.

And I totally understand what you are saying about my comment re: the sensibility of sending the older age statements to Asian markets. I think part of me meant that to be a little provocative but I can see it from their point-of-view. I tried to qualify it somewhat by saying that I do not summarily equate older whiskies with quality. If there are markets that purchase - either for enjoyment or investment - whiskies with older age statements - and are willing to pay a high premium for them, which they are - then as a business decision it is a wise one. As for brand loyalty - I think it is too early to tell. Will those who love Johnny Walker miss the old 18 Gold and be pissed about being stuck with the new Gold Reserve? I really don't know. If they are, and if Diageo loses customers over it, I am wrong (and Diageo will have made a grave mistake). But throughout the history of whisky, brands have changed and evolved (and devolved) over time. Now, as a consumer, I agree with you - in a perfect world, all expressions would be available equally to all consumers. But unfortunately that is not the reality of the business. And perhaps the new Gold Reserve will be embraced by Johnny Walker fans, and be preferred over the old 18 Gold. I really don't know. Time will tell. I know @Victor and @Dramlette love the old 18 Gold, so I'm keen to read a comparison review!

I'm sorry to ready the HP18 is not up to snuff. It's still one of my favourites, but admittedly I have not sat down and gone through it with any detail....

And yes. Orwell was right. Goddamn him.


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