The Sochi Olympics has just started, but one illustrious Scotch whisky has already brought home the gold. A form of Johnnie Walker Gold Label has returned to the market.
Johnnie Walker’s introduction last year of the 18-year-old Platinum Label resulted in the phasing out of its Gold Label mark of the same age. Now, the blended Scotch whisky maker has reinstituted the color code and the relative pricing, but without the same maturation standard.
Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve debuts as a no-age-statement blend that effectively fills the same price niche abandoned by Johnnie Walker Gold Label 18 Year Old (the latter sold for about $85 and the former goes for $87). The new 18-year-old, Platinum Label, sells for $110. One rung down is Johnnie Walker Double Black at $42.
The whisky has arresting packaging—the entire bottle is covered in reflective gold—and has previously been available only in duty-free travel markets. First released on a more general level late last year, the company positions it as a festive and celebratory bottling.
Like the previous Gold Label, this iteration isn’t as markedly peaty as other Johnnie Walker releases, such as Red, Black and Blue Labels, nor the extra peated Double Black. Both Gold Labels also a share a fruity, sweeter profile.
The latest iteration of the Gold blend brings a preponderance of Clynelish, a single malt with extensive fruit and honey notes. Johnnie Walker has been associated with the Highlands distillery name since at least 1916, when it acquired a stake in the facility that was then called Clynelish. In 1969, a new Clynelish distillery (the source for the current Gold Label) was built nearby and the original was renamed Brora. Interestingly, Brora, at one time, made heavily peated whisky when a shortage of Islay malt existed. The old distillery was shuttered in 1983, but some examples are occasionally seen on the market as Diageo, owner of Johnnie Walker as well as several malt distilleries, makes special releases of its Classic Malts Selection.
The new bottling’s other connection to Clynelish? In 1868, gold was discovered in the Kildonan Hills, from which the distillery’s water source flows.
Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve
(80 proof, or 40 percent alcohol by volume; no age statement; $87 a 750-milliliter bottle)
APPEARANCE: Rich amber color, sort of wheaty, fat legs.
NOSE: Light dried fruit notes greet you. Later, some honey and cereal join the bouquet.
PALATE: Flavors of flowers and fruit are the palate's first impression. Developing into a hard-candy note, it shows caramel and toffee as well as the honey from the nose. Some spices arise further on and give the impression of a cinnamon graham cracker.
FINISH: Spices enlarge on the finish and create a heartier balance even while peat is all but absent.
Oliva Serie G Churchill (7 inches by 49 ring gauge, $5.42, 87 points, February 2014 Cigar Aficionado). Sharply and squarely pressed, this Churchill produces a flaky ash as it burns. Initial notes of straw and hay are joined by hints of walnut and vanilla. Makes a well-balanced pairing with the Johnnie Walker. Milder bodied on its own, the cigar takes on more savory notes, rich wood and even leather when joined by the spirit. In return, the whisky's honey and spice becomes more pronounced, while it loses some of it fruit character. A very good pairing.
CAO Flathead V660 Carb (6 inches by 60 ring gauge, $8.25, 89 Points, December 3, 2013 Cigar Insider). Sharply box-pressed, this near-black lonsdale is woody and floral in character. Touches of anise and toast lead to a short finish. The whisky's floral character enhances the same on the cigar, while the spice of Johnnie Walker expands under the CAO's influence. The cigar becomes sweeter, but the floral and fruity notes of the whisky are slightly dampened. Not as successful a marriage.