There is a legend. A legend written in ancient scrolls, and passed on by jaded whisky nerds in the dark corners of neighbourhood pubs and internet forums.
Johnnie Walker. 18 years old. But no, not “Platinum”. No. And not “Reserve”. Ugh (spits). No, (lowers voice) the Centenary Blend. The old Johnnie Walker Gold Label. The one that came out before the cocaine schnaafing ad executives and lawyers latched on to the brand. Sort of. If you don’t count Blue Label. But whatever, that’s not the point.
The point is Gold Label 18 was the stuff of legends, cut down in its prime. And now? A forgotten treasure.
And I managed to recover one – from an ancient vault guarded by rattlesnakes and pitfalls and noxious gasses and forbidden curses. Which is to say, I bought it from some guy on Gumtree.
The first surprise is in the distinct whiff of sherry, much unlike the usual Johnnie Walker style… It’s mixed in there among ripe tropical fruits, citrus zest, banana and that butterscotch goodness I associate with Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve and the new Gold Label. Nice!
Ah, the sweet, sweet taste of a retirement home. The second surprise is that Gold 18 shares the Blue Label musty, dusty, old-furniture and mothballs taste. Or perhaps an old library. It’s tough to describe, but you get this sense of having licked the charred wood veneer of an antique cupboard, one that once held old-lady perfume. Again, this is more exceptional and delicious than it sounds.
You also get some rich malt right at the back of the palate. But despite the intense taste, like many old malts it’s also deeply difficult to unpack, with subtle layers upon layers that add up to a supremely skilful piece of blending. Fruity, warming, spicy, zesty. Velvety smooth, slightly sweet, dripping in maple syrup and toffee. Potent at bottling strength, but almost certainly too delicate to expose to any significant amount of water. Just like an old person.
It rides and rides and rides. Dark orange chocolate all the way out, and bitter enough to remind you that it’s a grown-up drink.
In a way, it sucks getting one’s hands on these older bottles that are almost certainly never going to pop up again. Although Green Label – Johnnie Walker’s 15-year-old blended malt – managed to get resurrected from a premature death, the replacement of Gold Label 18 with the equally aged Platinum all but ensures that we won’t see this one finding its way back onto shelves.
It’s wonderfully, dangerously drinkable, luxurious and utterly lovely! It’s a crime that this one was (for real) discontinued, and it goes without saying that if you find one, snap it up!