It’s fair to say that Johnnie Walker Red Label is not well thought of amongst whisky enthusiasts. In fact, it is the butt of many a joke. The rest of the Johnnie Walker range, starting with the always solid Black label, are often seen as good value blends, with the 15 year old Green label blended malt a particular favourite for many.
I must admit, I can’t remember ever trying Red label. I simply bypassed it as a cheap and inferior product based on price point and reputation alone. When I saw a sample of a 70’s bottling at a good price, I decided it would be a good side-by-side. We are often told whisky was better in the olden days, so let’s see if that is the case with this standard and ubiquitous blend.
I went into this with a very open mind. I wanted to be pleasantly surprised and actually enjoy this whisky. Red label has had enough of a bashing and I suspect that many, just like myself, have never actually tried it.
Let’s start with the 70’s bottling, which is at 43% ABV, which is worth noting, as the sample of the current version is a the minimum 40%, which some may say doesn’t make it a completely fair test, but we will work with what we have.
Johnnie Walker Red Label 1970’s bottling
Colour : Gold
Nose : Slightly sweet and fragrant confectionary; Barley sugar and strawberry laces with licorice. Green apples, bitter toffee and honeycomb. Quite good.
Palate : OK, things start to fall apart here. Very bitter at the start, but that only continues to build, with a little sweetness trying to fight it’s way through (and failing). Sour lemon, rubber bands, lots of spicy pepper and salt. The finish continues with the spice and salt along with some cream, but things get even more bitter and oaky.
Conclusions : The nose shows some promise and I was hopeful, but the palate is pretty dreadful and I honestly couldn’t finish the dram.
Score : 2/10
Johnnie Walker Red Label current bottling
Colour : Deep golden caramel
Nose : Quite sour on the nose, perhaps a little apple, with something plastic and slightly rubbery; Lino? A little caramel, but otherwise not a lot going on.
Palate : Alcohol. Bitter and rather watery. Cardboard and oak with a little peppery spice. Bitter caramel and a creamy, salty, oaked finish. Not very pleasant.
Conclusions : One of the worst whiskies I have ever nosed or tasted. It has nothing going for it. I don’t like wasting whisky, but this has to go down the sink.
Score : 1/10
Final thoughts : They must use some of most tired, knackered casks you can think of to mature the components of this blend. It’s hard to believe a whisky could be made so poorly. Perhaps if you pair it with a strong flavoured mixer it will just about mask out the horror of the whisky. It isn’t marketed as a whisky to be sipped neat, so perhaps I am being too harsh, but there are many blends in the supermarkets that are cheaper and of much better quality. The only thing going for this is the Johnnie Walker branding, which is a powerful enough reason for some consumers. The 70’s bottling gets an extra mark for the nose, which was rather good, but it’s hard to even score a 2 when you can’t drink it all.
Pictures courtesy of Master Of Malt and used with permission