Review Stub: Johnnie Walker Gold Reserve

Just some quick notes on a whisky I had a chance to try last night.

Being afforded the chance to try JWGR last night, I thought that I would finally see why JW produces whiskies that so many people seem to enjoy for their smoothness despite the lack of complexity. Unfortunately, I’ve only managed to be further puzzled as to the unyielding popularity of this rather dull brand.

Nose: Sweet fudge notes, but very subdued, and almost non-existant. There are probably other notes here, but I’m really straining to find them. Grain alcohol, yes, but that’s not worth hunting for…

Palate: Surprisingly rough and jagged. Grainy fudge, sweetness, a little like a toffee candy, but with that unfortunate alcoholic tinge that I haven’t been able to shake with blends and other run-of-the-mill malts at low ABV. Somewhat waxy as many reviews have promised, but not really all that superb in that respect. If there is anything Clynelish in this dram, it’s been buried under whatever other additives are in the glass.

Finish: Medium long. Sweetness, vaguely fruity and lightly smoky, but I’m really straining to notice those notes.

Grade: C

For less money, you can pull the same complexity out of the Macallan Fine Oak 10yo, but I wouldn’t suggest it. For the roughly same palate, but with that extra coastal sea salt freshness, the Laddie Ten has the JWGR beat on all fronts. Not only that, but you would still save ~$25 to boot (keep in mind that it’s 50cl less, but at 46%).

This reaffirms that, until a really good blend accidently happens my way, I’m sticking to exploring single malts.

“Should’ve Grabbed the JWB”: Grant’s Family Reserve

As an all-important first admission, I am not a fan of blends. However, this is not to say I dislike all blends, but rather that I haven’t met a blend thus far that I have truly enjoyed. Admittedly, I haven’t tried any of the Compass Box blends, and I hear they are very good, so I am clearly missing out. I have also heard great things about Douglas Laing’s “Big Peat”.  This review is on a blend that I didn’t particularly like, which is done, in part, to show the reader that there are whiskies I don’t like. Recently, the evidence has been strongly against such a statement, and that is because, when spending what little of my good, hard-earned money that I can actually set aside for Scotch, I tend to research each purchase thoroughly, and usually end up with something B or higher. With the holiday season approaching, however, I am likely to get a gift bottle here and there, so in those cases, we may get something I don’t particularly enjoy. On to “Grant’s”.

I purchased a 20cl bottle of this whisky when heading off to a party about a year ago. I scribbled some notes throughout the evening, and found them this week. With my recollection of the event, I concur with my past self.

Nose: (undiluted) Alcohol. Maybe some cinnamon or nutmeg, but for the most part, malt, grain and alcohol. Dilution cuts the alcohol a bit, and the cinnamon and nutmeg come through some more, but not much. Really nothing here.

Palate: Just malt and alcohol, with sprinkles of cinnamon, nutmeg and clove. Those kind of christmas spices, but if you really want to taste those on a budget, buy your self some Aberlour 10.

Finish: Nothing but blech.

Grade: D

Well, this is a mixer if I’ve ever tasted one. Of course, that’s not to say it would make a particularly good mixed drink, but that pairing it with something else would make it more tolerable. In this price-range and volume (20-37.5cl) Johnnie Walker Black all the way. Heck, I’d even take Ballantine’s Finest. You may wonder why this doesn’t get an F. An F is reserved for a whisky that is not just unremarkable water and alcohol, but is actually offensive. Adam and Chris @ LAWS have noted some whiskies that actually smell and taste like soap, varnish, garbage, rotting food, and yes, vomit. We must reserve a grade specifically for those abominations.

A Musty Malt, Shrouded in Mystery: Oban 14

Oban 14 is a top-shelf standard at any run-of-the mill pub. It shares the stage with Lagavulin 16, often together at the top, often alone. At such establishments, too, it is often $10/oz, a price at which many seem to believe much too high for its quality. To some, it is a delicious classic, to others, it is merely ordinary. My view tends to be somewhere in between.

Nose: Sweet and salty chocolate and vanilla notes, Florida Orange Lifesavers. Toffee, nutmeg and tobacco. Musty and mossy. Black licorice. A very perplexing dram. A Highland, yes, but a dark one. Different from it’s bright West Highland brother (Ben Nevis). A few funky notes on the end, something a tad like sulphur.

Palate: Pleasantly oily. Velvety. Sweet, salty, and very malty. Citrus (orange and lemon). Chocolate and vanilla. Caps off in a big billow of cigar smoke. Not as smooth as it could be, something a little rough at the beginning. It gives the impression of being jagged.

Finish: Long, sweet, nutmeg, a tad musty and earthy. Also, something unique: an oily palate that finishes with almost a jelly-like coating on your tongue—much like melted black jujubes.

Grade: B

Before trying this Oban, my thoughts wrestled with the usual “Here’s another big-name dram with low ABV… It is probably going to disappoint.” Of course, I could probably say that it is disappointing for the price, but abstracting from the price, it goes a bit beyond ordinary. I have heard that Oban 18 is much better, and I can see how a few more years in the barrel could bring the smoothness of maturity, and some additional balance to this dram. As it stands, though, the Oban 14 is good, but underwhelming for the price. That is, a solid B as a raw score that drops further if we consider a price/quality measure.

Note: It is quite a deal at the moment at the LCBO. You can get a small bottle (200mL) for $24. Not only is this a great price to try it at, but it’s actually cheaper to buy 800mL worth of small bottles than to spend $110 on a 750mL regular bottle.

Coming up later in November and in December, we have reviews of Ardmore Traditional Cask and Glenmorangie “Lasanta”. I also hope to review part of Auchentoshan’s Duty free line, ‘Springwood’, ‘Heartwood’ and ‘Cooper’s Reserve’ if the rumour of their arrival to the LCBO turns out to be true.