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Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve

Review: Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve 90/100
a review by Chip Dykstra
February 15, 2021

Johnnie Walker is one of the most iconic whisky brands in the world. With its unique square bottle, and the labels tilted off-center, the company has created a strong brand image and its spirit is considered by many to be the quintessential Scottish whisky.

When I reviewed the Gold Label in 2012, the Johnnie Walker website had this to say about their whisky:

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

It’s eight years later now, and Johnnie Walker has updated the website information which now reads as follows:

Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve is a Gold Medal award-winning blend created by Master Blender Jim Beveridge to celebrate nearly 200 years of the art of blending. Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve is created using award-winning whiskies – including fruity Highland malts and lighter Speyside malts for sweetness and spice, combined with those from the Scottish islands for our signature smoky finish.

Apparently that ‘Private Reserve’ of Jim Beveridge has either been depleted, or it is now being used for other whiskies. The point is that is it obvious to me that if the description of how the whisky is produced has changed, then the taste profile and quality of the blend may have changed as well. It is probably a good time for a fresh review.

The Gold Label Reserve Blended Scotch Whisky has no age statement. We can infer from the placement Gold Label Reserve somewhat higher up the rungs up the Johnnie Walker Ladder than the Johnnie Walker Green Label which is age stated at 15 years, that this may be a good starting point for an approximation of the whisky’s age. There may be some younger whiskies in the blend, but there are probably older whiskies in the blend as well. The pricing in my local market would seem to support that logic as well as the Gold Label is about 10 % more expensive than the Green Label.

Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve is bottled at 40 % abv..

In the Bottle 5/5

Johnnie Walker Gold Label arrives in the typical square bottle shape, designed in 1920 by Alexander Walker. The shape is distinctive to the brand, and was designed to be ergonomic, allowing more bottles to be packed into a square area with less chance of breakage. A key aspect the bottle presentation is the slanted label which is tilted about 24 degrees off-center. The angled label was designed to catch the attention of shoppers when the bottle sat on the shelf next to the other whisky bottles.

As well, every bottle of Johnnie Walker Scotch features the Striding Man logo which artist/cartoonist, Tom Browne created on the back of a menu card while at lunch with the Walker Brothers in 1908. The logo portrays a man walking forward, which has come to symbolize forward thinking and the pursuit for excellence for the brand. Diageo, the owners of the Johnnie Walker Brand have also created “The Striding Man Society” which is a members club for Johnnie Walker drinkers.

I find the presentation very professional. I should note the whisky is usually sold with an attractive gold display box which adds ambiance to the whisky shelf.

In the Glass 9/10

Colour: Amber

Legs: Thich(ish) legs drop from a stubborn crest.

Nose: Butterscotch, honey and wood spice, accents of canned fruit (peaches and apricots), vanilla, cooked apples, and hints of cinnamon. As the glass breathes we notice spicy tobacco and toffee and a welling up of wood spice, fresh grain and chaff, dry fruit (raisins and prunes) and some peat smoke. A light honey-like sweetness seems to have developed as well as hints of almond/marzipan.

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 impressions of canned fruit, some spicy toffee, vanilla and a firmer impression of fine oak spice. Dried fruit, particularly dates, but also some dried prunes, seem to act as a precursor to a finale of moderately smokey herbal peat which completes the taste experience.

Like other Johnnie Walker whiskies I have tasted, the Gold Label Reserve is very complex. Additional sampling sessions revealed cooked apples with cinnamon, honeycomb impressions and an impression of leathery malt barley. When I added ice to the glass I began to notice flavours of black tea and chocolate and a firmer impression of dry fruit beside the herbal peat. The ice seems to temper an light grassy impression which had been developing within the dram as well.

In the Throat 13/15

The exit features herbal and somewhat grassy flavours of peat and heather. As the peat smoke fades, impressions of menthol, wood spice, toffee and honey seem to appear and then gently fade away. There is some heat from fine oak spice; some will appreciate the wood and grain spice in the finish, others may wish for a smoother landing.

The Afterburn 9/10

My perceptions of Johnnie Walker Gold Label have not changed significantly since my tasting eight years ago. My score has increased by half a point which is due to an added appreciation of the overall Johnnie Walker retail presentation. This is a dandy whisky, and at its price point in Canada, seems to be a better value than many of the higher priced Single Malts I see on the whisky shelves of the local retail stores.

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)

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