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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.

I've got an open 18 myself, and a spare one in the vault. I like it considerably more than the Reserve, although for me it's still on the soft side. Personally, I prefer the Green or even the Swing if I had to pick favorites from the range. But you are of course right, this is not a worthy successor to the 18. Thanks, @Pandemonium.


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.

I just don't see what the hoopla is all about regarding the Green Label. Sheep Dip Hebridean was a much better Islay single malt blend, in my estimation. In fact, I've made some of my own vattings that taste better than Green Label to my own taste buds.

Here's one of them: 3/8 Caol Ila; 2/8 Talisker; 1/8 Laphroaig QC; 1/8 Lagavulin; 1/8 HP12. Let the blend sit in its own bottle for three weeks with 1/3 air in the bottle. Don't open it at all. After three weeks, you won't be disappointed, believe me. The Caol Ila is remarkably flexible and binds all of the other parts together in a delicious way without dominating after the wait time in the bottle is over. I recommend vatting when your bottle of Caol Ila is running low. For me, that's the best time. A mellowed Caol Ila vats better, especially if you want to try a vatting in which you do simple 50/50 with non-Islay malts, such as HP12 or Ardmore. For me, Caol Ila is the easist Islay to vat without weird "harmonics" ruining the end result.

I'm interested in trying Peat Monster. I'm going to try and buy that and Spice Tree today. I passed both up last week and regret it.

@rigmorole. Good suggestion, I'll give home blending a try. Our problem up here in BC is one of availabity. We don't have a lot to choose from thanks to the government monopoly on liquor distribution and sales. They currently list 130 single malts and 48 blends. Each size of each JW or Chivas etc counts as one. So, for instance, 4 of that 48 would would be the 4 bottle sizes of JW Red, same for Black, same for Ballantines Finest (3 sizes) etc. I wish we had access to Sheep Dip, Black Bottle, BNJ, Blue Hanger etc. but we are stuck with what we have got. I usually grab a couple of interesting bottles when I'm down in Hood River, Oregon visiting the in-laws. Good selection and good prices in Portland.

I think @talexander has a better selection, but equally high prices, on the other side of the country in Toronto (otherwise known to those who live there, but not anyone who lives anywhere else in Canada, as the Centre of the Universe)...I'm kidding @talexander, I'm kidding. We're all in this together. Cheers.

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