...where distraction is the main attraction.

Monday, March 11, 2013

NOT Single Malt Report: Out with the old......Johnnie Walker Gold Label

This one is difficult to write.  I'd take a belt of Gold Label if I wasn't at work (trying desperately to sneak out this post).

Gold Label used to be my favorite Johnnie Walker.  I used to recommend to folks that instead of buying Blue Label, one should just get two bottles of Gold (and if there's some money left over get a Green Label too).  Actually, let's take this beyond the Johnnie Walker line.  Gold Label used to be one of my Top Ten whiskies, period.  It was a well-textured, honeyed, lightly sweet, graceful whisky -- mostly thanks to the 18 year old Clynelish within.

When I'd started this site's whisky reports, I couldn't wait to get to Gold Label.  It had been a few years (approximately 2008) since I'd finished my last bottle but I was willing to wait until the right time.  Then I saw that Diageo was retiring Gold, replacing it with Platinum Label.  As some of my readers know, that made me mad (in two parts).  So, in early December of last year, when Costco was selling Gold Label for a ridiculous $55, I picked up a bottle for a last hurrah.

But to my increasing dismay, I discovered Diageo removed the hurrah from the blend.

Ownership: Diageo
Distilleries: Many, including Clynelish and Cardhu
Type: Scotch Blended Whisky
Age: at least 18 years
Blend: single malts and grain whiskies
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
Chill-filtered? Yes
Caramel Coloring? Yes
Bottle Code: L2257DM000 / 08131509
Bottled: September 2012

I'd originally opened my bottle when I was with my brother in Vegas.  After finding the whisky oddly uninspired, I decided to leave the bottle alone to see if three weeks of half whisky / half oxygen would help it out.  It didn't, even after an hour in the glass.

Color -- Dark gold
Nose -- Pretty muted. Some fresh apples, sherried butterscotch, smoked lemon peel, vanilla.  A citrus note develops more over time.
Texture -- Watery
Palate -- Lots of grains, caramel sauce, distant wood smoke but not much of it, orange zest, honey, and lemon pepper.  Again, more time, more citrus.
Finish -- Brief. Vanilla, honey, a little citrus. That's all.

If I'd tried this blindfolded and was told it was a single grain whisky, I wouldn't have questioned it.  I take no issue with well-aged grain whisky, but Gold Label isn't grain whisky.  There's supposed to be some malt in there.  Perhaps the blend used to be 40% malt?  Is it possible that it now has 20% malt?

I found it odd when the official Johnnie Walker site and official tasting videos started recommending keeping one's bottle of Gold Label in the freezer, as of two years ago.  That's the sort of advice usually given for vodka, which is made entirely from grains in a continuous still......similar to grain whisky distillate.  Freezing booze thickens a thin liquor and helps blanket over rough edges by numbing the drinker's tastebuds.  There was no need for that with the Gold Label I used to enjoy.  But now, I'm half ready to throw my bottle in the freezer.

This bottle was filled in September 2012, several months after Diageo had announced the Gold's demise.  Could this have been the last of it?  Could they have sold Costco the dregs?  Were they trying to stretch that 18 year old malt as far as it would go so that they could fulfill final distribution agreements?  No matter what was done, this parting was made easier.

All that is Gold does not glitter.

Availability - Gradually decreasing, but still at all or most liquor specialists
Pricing - $70 at the lower end to $100 courtesy of the price gougers
Rating - 78


  1. Ouch, I think I got my bottle around the same (late last year) which means similar batch. Well, I could always beef up the Gold Label with something peaty like Laphroaig 10.

    1. Brilliant! It does need to be resuscitated by something with character. At least my bottle does. I think Florin found his recent bottle lacking too.

      Thanks for your idea though. I may need to tinker with it.

    2. UPDATE:
      I attempted a little blending. Gold Label with Laphroaig Quarter Cask (4 to 1 or 80:20 ratio). Basically enough Laphroaig to coat the glass. But the powerful Islay still overwhelmed the Gold Label, showing how weak the blend had become. I did get some white fruits, cinnamon, and cigarette smoke from the combo, but the rest was all LQC.

    3. You might need to start with small drops or a spoonful. Of course adding another single malt (non-Islay) might add more balance.

    4. Yeah, as Florin noted below, Gold Label probably can't take the Laphroaig muscle. I'll report back if anything else works.

  2. I did find my JW 18yo Gold lacking, but I wouldn't recommend adding Laphroaig in this case, it just lacks the backbone for it. Maybe some Speyside with character, like Clynelish, Glen Garioch, a cask strength Glenlivet, or even a 17yo Old Pulteney. Or let it be and drink those other good whiskies instead, like I do! :)

    1. I'm going to let it be......unless I hatch another harebrained scheme.

  3. The last Gold I had was in 2003 or so. It was fine then. Yet I think I STILL would take a basic Clynelish 14 over the Gold (of any era) and keep the change. In addition, I also recommend the Berry Bros. cask strength bottle of Clynelish 14.

    1. That Clynelish 14 from BBR is great! I picked up the last bottle carried by the local Total Wine & More. I only discovered the official bottling of the Clynelish 14 two years ago; may Diageo always keep that one in the regular rotation.

  4. I decided to grab a Johnnie Walker sampler pack (200 mL bottles of Black, Gold Reserve, Platinum, and Blue) just so I can get Blue Label off my whisky bucket list (price was $99.99 which is the usual Diageo overprice). So far I've opened the Black and Gold Labels with Black Label being a calibration blend since it's one I've had before. The new Gold Label Reserve is interesting when tasting after Black because I detected absolutely no peat whereas Black Label's peat is very noticeable. In fact, the new Gold Label is very sweet and smooth meaning it's probably designed for newcomers. If I had to guess, the new Gold Label has more Speyside and Highland single malts in the blend. The Platinum and Blue Labels will be saved for later.

    1. I think you're right about the Gold Reserve being designed for newcomers with a little bit of money or someone who wants something with less fight than Black Label. And they're really doing it up here in the US with its release in shiny fake looking gold painted bottles, which (I think) say limited edition on them. Plus it's $49.99 at Costco, last I checked. Platinum may have more spice, peat, and pepper to it or so I've read.

    2. The good news is my 200 mL bottle is clear glass. That gold paint is way too gawdy. Gold Label Reserve is just smooth and fruity which isn't a bad thing but I can get the same qualities in a cheaper bottle of Chivas 12. Well, at least this JW sampler pack gives me four 200 mL bottles I can use later to save samples. Plus they look so cute next to my full size Green Label bottle.

      Also is it me or did Black Label get peatier? I swear the peat is more in your face than the bottle I had, woah, three years ago. Either my peat-dar has gotten sensitive or Diageo upped the Caol Ila in the blend (I'm reasonably sure it's Caol Ila I'm tasting).

    3. Michael, I went ahead an opened the Platinum and I'm not detecting any peat like with Black Label. In fact the Platinum is tasting more like an older version of the Gold Label Reserve with sweet fruits and a little spice. So again another blended whisky that's smooth and sweet. Oh, the Gold Label Reserve and Platinum Label have nearly the exact same color which suggests artificial coloring. Good thing these are small bottles because I am now not interested in full bottles.

    4. I hope Black Label got peatier. It started losing its peat kick a couple years ago and they were advertising Double Black as the new peaty JW. If Black does have more Caol Ila in it now, that's a good sign.

      Regarding Platinum and Gold Reserve, you may be onto something regarding the peat. Serge gave them both the same P rating (3) in his SGP. The way the whole Green/Gold to Reserve/Platinum switchover was being spun by the powers that be was that Platinum was going to have a different smokier palate, thus the 25% price bump over the old 18yo Gold. I'm not sure if that wound up being the reality though. According to their site, JWPL's "flavor profile" is "a complex, luxurious blend harboring deep layers of flavor that perfectly balance the diverse character of the distilleries from which it came and the wood in which it has rested." Which means absolutely nothing.

    5. While poring over the literature, I noticed Dominic Roskrow writing that Caol Ila is the base of Black Label so that one is intentionally peaty with sweetness probably coming from Mortlach or another Diageo Speyside distillery. If Clynelish is the base of Gold and Platinum Label then it's not surprising the sweetness trumps the peat smoke (since Caol Ila is likely part of the blend). It does, however, suggest that Diageo has realized they need a lighter blend within their portfolio.

      I hope to open my mini bottle of Blue Label soon to see how it tastes. Which reminds me, have you tried the Blue Michael?

    6. I've had it a few times, but not in the past five years. That's why I haven't reviewed it on the blog. It's been so long!

      My memories of it are limited. I remember the whisky to be soft and silky, a very easy drinker. But I never understood why it was the priciest. The Green provided the most character, texture, and fun. The old Gold used to be the richest (though my bottle of it last year was not good). The Black handed ice and water the best and it brought the smoke. The Red brought the heaves.

      Anyway, I never understood why Blue cost the same as 4 bottles of Green (or two Greens plus one gold); sorta similar to what you said about Gold Reserve and Chivas 12. It's sort of the Dalmore issue. Just because a company says something is luxury, doesn't mean it's luxurious; the word is meaningless if the product doesn't offer something you can't easily get elsewhere.

  5. I dont know if its me but had a shocking experience in compairing gold reserve gold bottle from costco and the clear bottle 200ml from my jw collection gift set. The clear bottle is way better than the gold bottle from costco. The clear bottle is more intense, honeyed, sweet and u can feel the alcohol intensity. The gold bottle from costco is bland, no character what so ever; it was all over the place (yuck...) and weaker alcohol feel. Did jw blend a far less superior whisky for costco; I really felt cheated. Hope some of you do the same comparisson and post ur experience.

    1. Hey Anon, I'm beginning to get the feeling that Costco is receiving/selling lower-grade versions of whiskies. I know it sounds crazy and is probably impossible to prove. BUT there is a legitimate reason for a company to send better batches out to more respected whisky retailers; that way they get those better batches into the hands of bigger buyers, the whisky geeks who buy lots of bottles and blab about them online thus providing free advertising. Costco exists in the market to sell in quantity, so that may be a way for some whisky makers to get their products out to people they assume have less discerning palates.

      I'm no longer buying whisky from them. My friend and I bought bottles of the former Gold Label (from this review) at different times and different Costcos, but both bottles were very disappointing, nothing like the Gold Label we were used to. Later on, I bought a bottle of High West's Double Rye from my local Costco and it was of significantly lower quality than other batches of Double Rye (other friends have confirmed this batch issue).

      The glitzy Gold Reserve bottle is pretty hideous. I wonder if there was some sort of reaction between the whisky and the glass or the paint. Or it's another case of lower quality Costco batches. I'm sorry to hear that you had a crummy experience with it. Please keep in mind that many of the online reviews of Gold Reserve are from people who received free samples from Diageo's PR arm. Those samples did not sit in the glitzy gold bottle and, may I repeat, they were free. So if your experience seems to be much different than theirs, don't worry too much.

      Though I'm done buying Diageo products, if I get some samples of the Gold Reserve(s) in swaps with friends, I'll do a review. Thanks!