Review: Johnnie Walker Red Label

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If you’ve been to any bar anywhere ever in the US, there’s about a 95% chance there’s a bottle of Johnnie Walker Red on the shelf next to the Dewar’s and J&B.  I’m not just about buying $100 15 yr old scotches on this blog, I’m here to try everything, give my honest opinion and let you decide if it’s something you want to try.  Now that being said, the fact that the official Johnnie Walker site has a list of cocktails to make right after briefly going over the flavor notes of the Red Label is probably not a great sign that this is a great sipping whisky to enjoy on its own.  What is impressive about the Johnnie Walker brand, is that even though it is the most widely distributed blended scotch whisky in the world the flavors continue to be consistent year after year for each of it’s different labels. Created in 1909, the Red Label is Johnnie Walker’s lowest priced bottle, and is a ‘non-age-stated blend’ of up to 30 different grains and malts.  This means that it uses whiskies of all different ages to make it’s signature taste, and the exact recipe always changes so they don’t age any specific part for any specific amount of years. The Johnnie Walker site says that the Red label is “a combination of light whiskies from Scotland’s East Coast and more peaty whiskies from the West, expertly balanced to create an extraordinary depth of flavour.” It has been the best selling Scotch whisky in the world since 1945, but has primarily been used in mixed drinks. 

Look, I didn’t go into this expecting to be blown away at the great value, but I also would absolutely keep a bottle of this on hand in my bar. 

Preparation: As with all scotches, the smell and first sip are “neat”; meaning no ice, water or any other mixer, just the whisky on its own. After that I added a little bit of water for subsequent sips, and finally to get the entire range of flavors, I added ice in the last few sips.

Smell: Initially I get a strong aroma of oak with some notes of butterscotch.  You do an alcohol smell that is a little stronger than you would expect from a 40% ABV.  There is also a little smoke aroma that likely comes from whatever heavy-peat malts went into the blend.

Palate: The initial flavor is strong alcohol, but once you are used to it you’ll get some pleasant flavors of raisin, dried fruit and oak.  The Red Label was more on the sweeter side than I anticipated, after smelling the oak and smoke initially, but that can be attributed to the blending just being stronger on the fruit side.  I was actually surprised that there was not as much of a burn up front with this scotch, I expected it to be a little harsher with it’s low price point.

Finish: Here is where the smoke and burn starts to hit.  It’s a thin finish, but you get the hints of smoke to go along with the alcohol burn that is to be expected in a $25 bottle of scotch. 

With Ice: This is a scotch that improves with a little ice.  It takes away the harshness of the burn and adds to the smokiness in the finish.  I’d also have to agree with the website in that this scotch is even improved more with a little ginger ale or whatever your favorite lemon/lime soda may be. 

Overall: Look, I didn’t go into this expecting to be blown away at the great value, but I also would absolutely keep a bottle of this on hand in my bar.  The Red Label had surprising complexity for it’s low price, bringing both a sweetness and smokiness to a ‘not-too-harsh’ after taste.  It is perfect for someone looking to dip a toe into the scotch drinking world, either over ice or with a couple of mixers so that they can experience what a smoky drink tastes like and get some experience looking for undertones and secondary flavors in their drinks. 

Distiller: Johnnie Walker

Cask: Blended (Multiple)

Price: $20-$30

ABV: 40%

Color: Amber

Region: Multiple

Age: Multiple (Est 3-9yrs)

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