Review: Johnnie Walker Red Label Blended Scotch Whisky / by Jason Hambrey

Distiller Multiple (Scotland)

The world’s number one Scotch by bottles sold. A very iconic blend and in so many cases people’s first whisky experience. I like that Johnnie Walker doesn’t use age statements as the key to their branding (though they do affix an age statement on black label and platinum label), but, rather, the whiskies are known by label colour. Many people assume that older is better, which simply isn’t the case – it’s different. And, in some cases, too many years in oak can bring on some very unlovable oak bitterness. All this to say, I like the branding as it promotes the fact that the whiskies are different, age aside. For a blend, especially, it is true that the whiskies could be very different between the cheaper and more expensive versions as there may not even be any repeat component whiskies that make the blend (though this is unlikely).

John Walker, much like many of the early whisky blenders, was a grocer. Likely his expertise came from blending teas and even rums. His son was even apprenticed as a tea blender, and much of the blending techniques and principles for things such as tea and coffee are transferable to whisky. He would blend his whiskies and sell them right from his shop, and gradually as popularity increased so did the distribution of the whisky.This particular bottling dates back to 1867 where it was bottled as Special Old Highland Whisky. in 1909 it was rebranded as Johnnie Walker Red Label in line with the movement of branding, for which Scotch whisky was at the forefront with names such as Johnnie Walker and Dewar’s. Wikipedia features an excellent graph of Johnnie Walker blends and their start dates and original names, which I found quite neat.

Review (2014)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2013

Nose: I find it interesting often to see the first aroma that hits my nose as I pour the whisky into my glass, before I have even finished closing the bottle or put my nose closer than 6 inches to the glass. For this one, it was distinct bartlett pears. As I stick my nose in, peat comes off quite clearly, along with some hard caramel candy, burnt brown sugar, caramel, liquorice, orange…slight vegetal note of leeks and a bit of celery.  Reasonably complex and quite well balanced. Honey comes out more and more as the glass sits. Some of the aromas don’t quite hit the button for me (the vegetal ones I mentioned above don’t quite mesh with the other aromas).

Taste: Mild, taking a while to get going…sweet at first with peat coming in and a candied nature (with the citrus and caramel and honey) throughout before the smoke picks up and dominates towards the tale end with just a touch of heat. There are some spices at the end of tingling white pepper and a touch of maltiness. I do really like the build up of peat smoke and the touch of dryness and spice at the end with a little bit of salt, but the beginning isn’t a whole lot to speak of, and the middle is a touch flat.

Finish: As the smoke fades we are left with the mossiness of peat balanced by a nice bit of light fruit and some brown sugar. It fades fairly quickly into a thin touch of peat and some mineral notes as well as a touch of the vegetal note I picked up on the nose. There is a touch of bitterness, as well, and a few sour notes which aren’t the nicest. It could be improved, but is quite decent nonetheless. It picks up a bit as you drink more, but it is still quite frail.

Value: Low. I’m just not much of a fan of this, even if it isn’t expensive for a Scotch.