Age statements – who needs ‘em? Value for money – whatever. Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve (not to be confused with the legendary Gold Label 18-year-old) is the whisky of choice for douchebags at hotel bars in Joburg or as bottle-service by trust-fund teenagers in nightclubs. And, like the infamous Blue Label, it’s got more than its fair share of ludicrous ultra-marketing – Diageo even recommend you stick a bottle of this in the freezer, for crying out loud.
But is it any good? Let’s suck up our pride and take a look:
Understated, and little disappointing given my love of its cranky grandad. The nose is more reminiscent of the Red than the Black – younger, less smoky. But a very pleasant creaminess which rises to the surface. Vanilla and caramel.
It’s still Johnnie Walker, from top to bottom. Not nearly as smoky, but that peppery and spicy twang is still there (albeit muted). And some surprising new, subtle flavours: butter, cream, glazed oranges. Very easy – no hint of the Red’s harsh bite, and sweeter than expected. Uncomplicated though… Simple. The finish is short, orange peel bitter. Ludicrously easy to glug. Like Irish whiskey, you can drink this stuff like juice.
That buttery nose is heightened somewhat, and predictably more floral. A slightly unpleasant rubberiness. I finished my third tasting with a block of ice, and it held up pretty well compared to the Black (which drowns like a musician on the Titanic). In terms of taste the floral quality that emerges isn’t overpowering and the creaminess stays along for the ride. Prefer neat, but could rock it with ice or water.
I’ll admit the whisky snobs got to me. I wanted to hate this blend. I needed to feel the Diageo rage coursing through my veins, eyes twitching beneath my tin-foil hat, desperately clutching a 1997 bottle of Green Label. How dare they release all these clearly inferior NAS blends? “Double Black” – pssh, they’re not fooling anyone. I imagined taking a sip and spitting in disgust, like a mouthful of brake fluid or Famous Grouse.
Alas, one sip of the Gold Reserve was all it took for that particular line of snobbery to be dispelled. Yes – it’s got no age. Yes – it’s overpriced. Yes – it’s styled as a “luxury” party drink, ordered by people who are probably going to mix it with Coke Zero.
But it’s good. A rich, drinkable Scotch. Not challenging – not in the slightest, and a one-trick-pony. But I like the Johnnie Walker style, and would chug this without any hesitation. As for buying a bottle… only at a major discount, and even then my eyes would drift down to the Black Label covetously.