Category Archives: Taste of the…

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

Gateway Series #7: Dewar’s White Label Blended Scotch Whisky

Dewar’s White Label Blended Scotch Whisky
40% ABV, 80 Proof
Around $30, Available Everywhere

What The Distillery Says:

The long-celebrated Dewar’s White Label was created by John Dewar & Sons first master blender AJ Cameron in 1899 and has been the company’s leading blend for over 100 years. Only the Dewar’s Master Blender can unlock the secrets of this closely guarded recipe, which has been passed down from Master Blender to Master Blender and continues to produce a smooth, perfectly balanced taste that never varies.

A blend of up to 40 single malt and grain Scotch whiskies, White Label’s distinctive heather and honey notes evoke the rich heritage of the Scottish Highlands, thanks to the fine Aberfeldy single malt at its heart.

What Richard Says:
Nose: Citrus (navel oranges?) and wood chips. Water opens up the wood, hides the citrus, and adds a medicinal tinge.
Palate: I know this is going to sound cliche but Dewar’s tastes like Scotch. By that, I mean it tastes like the stereotypical Scotch. You get oak notes, peppery spice, a hint of iodine, and that’s about it. It’s delicate on the front and back of the palate but it zings you with pepper in the middle. Nothing too special about the flavor profile.
Finish: Very smooth. The Dewar’s leaves peppered oak behind and not much else.
Comments: Dewar’s White Label isn’t bad, it’s just not special in any way. I’ve tasted a lot of the newer things that Dewar’s has been developing recently and they are all pretty good. The Signature is exceptional (review to come). However, their standard expression isn’t much to write home about. It’s like the Budweiser of Scotch. I would probably put it down in cocktails, over ice, or with soda.
Rating: Probably Pass

What Matt Says:
Nose: When I first poured this dram, I got a lot of caramel and a little vanilla. However, once the whisky had a chance to settle, there was nothing but nail polish remover. Perhaps pouring this through a wine aerator would open up the nose a little more. A little water brings a bit of peat to the party, but all other notes are muted to obscurity.
Palate: The dominant flavor here is tobacco; there is a subtle sweetness that brings to mind sweet cream. Again, water brings out a little peat. It also helps tone down the tobacco. Unfortunately, the sweeter notes lack the punch to shine through and hang out at the back. Some burn with this one (water helps).
Finish: Long finish of cigar butts and a slight burn at the sides of the tongue.
Comments: Not a bad intro into blended Scotch (partly because of its availability). I cannot recommend that you sip this though. White Label is better enjoyed on the rocks or with club soda. Dewar’s is an especially good intro into whisky for smokers and chics with daddy issues.
Rating: Probably Pass

Overall Rating:  Probably Pass (unless it’s the only thing around and you have some extra soda to get rid of)

Rogue Dead Guy Whiskey

Rogue Dead Guy Whiskey
40% ABV, 80 Proof
Around $40, Available in 30 States

What The Distillery Says:
Honoring unique rogues whose spirit lingers long past their mortal existence.  Dead Guy Whiskey is distilled from the sweet wort of Rogue’s award-winning Dead Guy Ale.  Distiller’s yeast is added and the sweet wort is fermented for 7 days then double distilled in a 150 gallon copper whiskey still and ocean aged in oak.  5 Ingredients:  Munich, C-15, and 2-Row malts, distiller’s yeast, free range coastal water.

What Matt Says:
Nose: Sea foam, vegetal, almost like an Islay or a coastal Single Malt from Scotland
Palate: Viscous, briny (think Jura or Old Pulteney), spice w/ a slight burn.  Warming.
Finish: Vegetal w/ a slight burn.
Comments: Dead Guy Ale is very malty with lots of dark berry notes to my nose & palate.  My appreciation of the beer gave me high expectations for this whiskey.  Unfortunately, I am having difficulty finding any of the “award-winning” qualities from the Ale in the Whiskey.  Served at room temperature, Dead Guy Ale is really nice, with a great balance of fruit and malt (it loses a lot if it gets too cold).  The whiskey is a little heavy on the brine which mutes the cereal and fruit in the wort.  There is not a lot of depth here.  Maybe they should go the Charbay route and throw in some hops.  That being said, Rogue may have created one of the best boiler makers on the planet.  When paired, the Dead Guys really shine.  It’s like one of those perfect terroir tastings where things just come together and create an experience greater than the sum of its parts.  Was that the intent?  You will have to ask the guys at Rogue for that answer.
Rating:  Slightly Below Average unless paired with a Dead Guy Ale.

What Richard Says:
Nose: Musty like old mildewing clothes with notes of vegetable matter and rancid grapes.  It is not very appealing.
Palate: It tastes better than it smells.  It has coastal notes similar to a roughened Jura or Old Pulteney.  This isn’t terrible but it just doesn’t make me want to drink it straight.
Finish: This finishes a little rough around the edges but that isn’t surprising given the youth of the whiskey.  The lingering notes are unfortunately a much more unpleasant version of the palate.
Comments: I didn’t get to try this with their beer to compare but I wouldn’t buy this myself.  I applaud the effort of innovative micro distillers but definitely needs more work.
Rating: Probably Pass.

Overall Rating: Probably Pass.

Gateway Series #6: Jameson Irish Whiskey

In the last Gateway Series review, we published our review of Bushmills. This time around, Jameson is on the bill. We actually did the tasting side by side, but we agreed so the story is not all that interesting. We both came down solidly on the side of Jameson. An anticlimactic end to a somewhat epic rivalry with political, social, and religious overtones…

Jameson Irish Whiskey

What The Distillery Says:
World famous for distinctive flavor and smooth characteristics. Triple distilled from the finest Irish barley and pure spring water; then matured in oak casks. Carries hallmark of quality which has made it the best selling Irish whiskey around the world.

What Richard Says:
Nose: Creamy on the nose with subtle notes of honey.
Palate: Creamy mouth feel, much more so than Bushmills but the flavor is equally mellow and muted. There are not many pronounced flavors.
Finish: The finish rivals Jack Daniels in smoothness. This lightest oak notes linger for the briefest moment.
Comments: What the best thing about Jameson? You can get it almost anywhere. There’s a reason I singled it out as part of the “4J” bar. Over time I’ve actually reversed course in the Jameson versus Bushmills debate. I find that I prefer Jameson more now than I used to. It’s creamier and offers a little more flavor. Not much mind you but some. Not enough for me to stock this at home, but I’ll have a dram if you’re buying.
Rating: Average

What Matt Says:
Nose: Richer than Bushmills. There are notes of honeysuckle and something floral I can’t quite place (heather?).
Palate: Sweet and smooth. Caramel cream candies.
Finish: Smooth and fleeting.
Comments: Unlike Richard I have always preferred Jameson to Bushmills (and Black Bush to either). There is just a touch more to it. And, yes, you can get it anywhere. Not always a bad thing in my book.
Rating: Average

Overall Rating: Average (a slight step up from Bushmills Original)

Gateway Series #5: Bushmills Irish Whiskey

Bushmills Original

What The Distillery Says:
The cornerstone of our family, it’s a blend of our own triple distilled malt whiskey with a lighter Irish grain whiskey.  Making it an approachable whiskey with a rich, warming taste of fresh fruit and vanilla.

What Richard Says:

Nose: Woody and peppery with vegetal/grassy notes.
Palate: Uber-mellow on the palate.  It’s a very cereal taste with the minutest hint of sweetness and pepper.
Finish: Peppery grains but very smooth.  You get some of the wood on the finish too.
Comments: I cut my whiskey teeth on a bottle of Bushmills Original so it holds a special place in my heart.  That said, I’ve come a long way in terms of development and experience in appreciating whiskey.  I ask for a lot more from my dram now that this whiskey can provide.  Is it bad?  No. It’s very consistent and drinkable but nothing make me take notice either.
Rating: Average

What Matt Says:
Nose: Not much on the nose.  Everything is subtle.  Notes of caramel and wet coffee grounds.
Palate: Not very bold.  Cereal, sweet and peppery with a hint of cucumber skin.
Finish: A little spice, very little burn and a little bit of wood.
Comments: Like Richard, I was introduced to Bushmills early in my whiskey education.  And, also like Richard, I now ask more from my dram.  In my youth, I sought anything that I could palate neat and was not too expensive.  I was not looking for complexity or nuance.  This was long before I before I began proselytizing the Way.  Bushmills will always taste the same though and there is something to be said for that.  A mediocre dram you can count on.
Rating:  Average

Overall Rating:  Average