Gateway Series #8: Johnnie Walker Red Label

Johnnie Walker Red Label Old Scotch Whisky (Blended)
40% ABV, 80 Proof
$20-25, Available Everywhere

What The Distillery (Blender) Says:

Johnnie Walker Red Label is a rich, full-bodied blend of up to 35 of the finest aged single malt and grain whiskies.  Bursting with character and flavor, it’s the favorite of millions of people all over the world.

Its vibrancy makes it perfect for mixing – something few other spirits can do without losing their true character.

Red Label was first unveiled in 1906 by Alexander Walker as a powerful combination of spicy, smoky malts and lingering, lighter grains.  He called it “Special Old Highland Whisky.”  In 1909, Alexander renamed it “Johnnie Walker Red Label” in deference to his consumers who were already using “Red Label” as shorthand when ordering the brand.

What Richard Says:
Nose:  Apples and caramel.  Kind of like the candied apples you get at the county fair but not quite.  With water the nose opens up a slightly woodier character.
Palate:  Wow, this stuff is really boring.  It’s nearly flavorless.  There are hints of tobacco and wood but they are the faintest hints and then they’re gone.  JW Red doesn’t really taste bad, it just doesn’t have much of a taste at all.
Finish:  Relatively smooth (I would hope so with a palate that dull).  There is a little burn on the sides of the tongue and it leaves the mouth tasting medicinal.
Comments:  Scotch for the young’uns who just want to get drunk.  A mixer to add alcohol content to something else.  Not really worth your time.
Rating: Probably Pass

What Matt Says:
Nose: Smoke, leather, nail polish remover, caramel and vanilla.  Turns sour with water (smells like hangover vomit).
Palate: Less burn than Dewar’s White Label, but there is not much here.  Smokey (charred oak as opposed to the tobacco in Dewar’s) and a little sour.  With water, the texture firms up and some burnt toffee notes open up.
Finish: Nothing on the center of the tongue, but the burn lingers around the edges along with the sourness.  Water brings out the toffee notes in the finish as well.
Comments: I enjoy much of Johnnie Walker’s line, but something about the Red Label turns my stomach.  Dewar’s White Label is nothing special, but there is nothing stomach churning about it either.  If it’s a choice between this and Dewar’s, go with the Dewar’s every time.  If this is the only whisky in the house, drink beer or volunteer to be the designated driver.  
Rating:  Probably Pass

Overall Rating:  Probably Pass

2 thoughts on “Gateway Series #8: Johnnie Walker Red Label”

  1. I have a 1906-1908 Johnnie Walker red bottle full, never been opened. What do you think the value is, or where do you think I could find the value? Thanks, Diane

  2. Diane,
    We’re not much for collecting here. We prefer to drink what we have. Therefore, we don’t know much about appraisal. However, Johnnie Walker did not use the term “Red Label” until 1909. Before that, Red Label was called “Special Old Highland”. If the label is red but is says “Special Old Highland”. Then it may be from the period you quote. If it says “Red Label,” it comes from a later period. Either way, you may have a piece of history on your hands. The large auction houses usually have one or two people who specialize in wine and spirits. Apart from that, you can try the folks over at . They could at least point you in the right direction. I hope that helps.

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