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Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve

Review: Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve   89.5/100
a review by Chip Dykstra (AKA Arctic Wolf)
Posted on November 24, 2012

A few years ago Johnnie Walker Gold Label carried an age statement of 18 years. Back then it was called The Centenary Blend. The newest bottles of the Gold Label no longer carry that age statement. Coinciding with that particular change is a bit of a name change as well. Instead of Johnnie Walker Gold Label – The Centenary Blend, the newest version is now called Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve. Based upon what I can glean from the Johnnie Walker website (and the back of my bottle), it may not be only the ages of the individual whiskies in the blend which have changed, the actual constituents of the blend appear to have changed as well.

“GOLD LABEL RESERVE is blended from casks of Whiskies that have been specially selected from the Master Blender, Jim Beveridge’s Private Reserve.”

Of course this means that my previous review for Johnnie Walker Gold Label – The Centenary Blend is rather obsolete, a fact which was quickly pointed out to me by my good friend Jason, of Jason’s Scotch Reviews, when I recently re-posted that particular review. Jason asked me if I could review the new blend, and after a quick email with the Alberta Diageo Agent, a new bottle for review found its way onto my review queue.

Note: I should point out a few things about the labeling which might help us understand the Gold Label Reserve better. It is not what is on the label that I notice, rather it is what is not on the label. First off, as I said earlier, I see no age statement at all. It has been suggested to me by other whisky aficionados that the blend is now 15 years old; but the bottle does not confirm that assumption. Another omission is the word ‘malt’. I can find it nowhere on the label. If this blend is meant to be solely a blend of malt whiskies, I am relatively sure that it would have been labelled as a “Blended Malt”. 

I infer from the labeling that the Gold Label Reserve is intended to be blended to a specific taste profile, and the company may or may not use younger whiskies in the future to achieve this flavour profile. Additionally they may or may not use grain whiskies in the blend to achieve this desired flavour profile. On the first front, I am disappointed, I like clear age statements and like to be reassured that the whisky will not diminish over time under the guise of blending to profile. On the second front, I am delighted, as a I personally believe that a higher quality of whisky can be achieved if the master blender is not restricted solely to malted whisky.

In the Bottle 4.5/5

The presentation for the Johnny Walker Gold Label has undergone a bit of on overhaul. Whereas the other older versions of the whisky which carried the name Gold Label rested in the classic square cylinder of the Johnnie Walker whisky bottle, the new bottle is tapered (wider at the shoulder than the foot) and the new bottle is clear rather than dusky gold. I like the new bottle, it has elegance and ‘pop’ on my shelf. However, I think I will miss the charm of the older presentation.

In the Glass 9/10

The Gold Label Reserve demonstrates a vibrant golden amber colour in the glass. The nose is very complex. It seems rather light and gentle first; but as the glass sits, the whisky seems to gain strength and intensity. The initial impressions are of butterscotch, honey and wood spice. Some nice scents of canned fruit drift by the nostrils, in particular peaches and apricots. A bit of home-baked apple pie with touches of cinnamon reach the breezes above the glass as well.

As the smells above the glass deepen, some spicy tobacco and toffee build up from the butterscotch and wood spice. I detect the autumn aroma of freshly harvested grain and a building impression of dark fruit and peat smoke. Light touches of vanilla and honeycomb round out the nose of the well decanted glass.

In the Mouth 54/60

The Gold Label Reserve whisky translates extremely well from the nose to the palate. The entry brings honey and light oak spices forward with some softer caramel flavour arriving soon thereafter. As the whisky transfers through my palate, I taste more richness with canned fruit impressions, some spicy toffee, vanilla and a stronger impression of oak spice. Dried fruit, particularly dates, but also some dried prunes, seem to act as a precursor to a finale of moderately smokey peat which completes the taste experience.

Like other Johnnie Walker whiskies I have tasted, the Gold Label Reserve is very complex. Further visits to my glencairn glass revealed baked apples with cinnamon and cloves, some nice honeycomb impressions and some light malty undercurrents in the flavour profile. That smokey peat which ends the taste experience seems lightly herbal and somewhat medicinal reminding me of Talisker Whisky. This finale of peat seems to overwhelm the other flavours for a brief time, then it melds into the other flavours rather than dominates them.

In the Throat 13/15

It should be obvious from my description of how the whisky translates through the palate, that the finale is rich with herbal flavours of peat. As this smokey herbal peat smoke fades, fleeting impressions of woodspice, toffee and honey seem to reappear and then gently fade away.

The Afterburn 9/10

The Johnny Walker Gold Label Reserve is a dandy whisky. It does not have that suave smoothness which the older Gold Label whisky carried, and it seems to have a bit of a heavier punch of peat smoke in the finish. If you are one of those, (and there are many) who preferred the old Johnny Walker Green Label, to the Gold Label, then I think you will be pleased with the changes especially with that punch of peat smoke at the end. If you are one of those who prefers a more suave whisky experience, then the new blend will be somewhat less than what you are expecting.

I happen to have been a real fan of the more suave experience which was the older Gold Label, and as a result my score of 89.5 for the Gold Label Reserve is somewhat lower than the 92.5 which I gave the Centenary Blend.

You may read some of my other Whisky Reviews (click the link) if you wish to have some comparative reviews.


As always you may interpret the scores I provide as follows.

0-25 A spirit with a rating this low would actually kill you.
26-49 Depending upon your fortitude you might actually survive this.
50 -59 You are safe to drink this…but you shouldn’t.
60-69 Substandard swill which you may offer to people you do not want to see again.
70-74 Now we have a fair mixing rum or whisky.  Accept this but make sure it is mixed into a cocktail.
75-79 You may begin to serve this to friends, again probably still cocktail territory.
80-84 We begin to enjoy this spirit neat or on the rocks. (I will still primarily mix cocktails)
85-89 Excellent for sipping or for mixing!
90-94 Definitely a primary sipping spirit, in fact you may want to hoard this for yourself.
95-97.5 The Cream of the Crop
98+ I haven’t met this bottle yet…but I want to.

Very loosely we may put my scores into terms that you may be more familiar with on a Gold, Silver, and  Bronze medal  scale as follows:

70 – 79.5    Bronze Medal (Recommended only as a mixer)
80 – 89.5     Silver Medal (Recommended for sipping and or a high quality mixer)
90 – 95         Gold Medal (Highly recommended for sipping and for sublime cocktails.)
95.5+            Platinum Award (Highest Recommendation)


5 Responses to “Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve”

  1. Spirtigirl said

    Thank u for the review! I think i will try next time!

  2. Tebogo said

    A thoroughly informative review indeed. I do, however find some discomfort in the fact that you rated Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve   89.5/100, whilst you rated the Johnnie Walker Black Label  93.5/100 on an earlier review.

    I cannot in any way argue against your ratings since I’m only familliar with one of the two (JWB) and came to this blog since I am contemplating purchasing the gold reserve for the first time this weekend. One would however naturally expect the gold to be a step up from the black just as the drinks’ positioning in the market seems to suggest.

    Thanks for the review still, it may even make the weekend just abit more interesting.

    • Hi Tebogo, thanks for the comment.

      When I review a whisky (or rum), I ignore the marketing hype, and I ignore the price. My scores reflect only my enjoyment of the spirit. And as you noticed, I apparently enjoyed the Black more than the newer Gold Label Reserve. You might be interested to learn that I am not alone in my viewpoint that the Johnnie Walker Black is superior to the Gold. Jim Murray, in his Yearly Whisky Bible, regularly scored the Black higher than the Gold Label. And in fact, the Black is considered by many other whisky writers to be one of the very best whisky blends in the world.

      All the best!

  3. Great review, thank you. I cannot wait to try it.

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