Review : Johnnie Walker Red label

We’ve hit the JW Black Label in our last post and also briefly compared the Dewar’s White Label to the Ballentine’s Finest. But having said that, we’re not leaving the youngest sibling from the JW stables aside without a fight and surely a worthy competitor at that; yes today we’re diving into the JW Red Label. This bottle and its contents is inarguably one the most popular scotches worldwide and proudly stands toe to toe with the Ballentine’s Finest, if not a notch higher.

The blend initially known as the ‘The Special Old Highway’ is made of over 30 whiskies, from both the East and the West coast regions of Scotland. This grain and malt blend doesn’t come with an age statement but the fact that it is readily available in over 200 countries speaks of its popularity quotient. There isn’t any reliable documentation that speaks of the kind of oak barrels used in the aging process nor is there anything that suggests whether they add artificial colorings or flavorings. The darker than usual color of the whisky, considering the average age not to be beyond 3-5 years, does seem to direct me to think the addition of E150 caramel is very much a possibility, but you really can’t say nor do I want to pass any kind of judgment.


ABV: 43% / 86 Proof

Eye: Light Amber

Nose: At first you get that sweet malt and burnt sugar only to be later overpowered by the smoke and spice that runs right through. As the smoke mellows down you begin to get the nuttiness, the pepper and a slight hint of cinnamon accompanied by sour apples, grapes and a wee bit of sulphur.

Taste: The sweet and smoke seem to be dancing against each other, with the smoke once again outshining the former. The Red label is light, fruity with caramel and spice echoing about. At 43% you don’t get that much of a burn but you do recognize the immaturity and youthful nature of the whisky.

Finish: Sweet and mildly spicy; long and dry.

Adding a few drops of water brought in nimble traces of honey and fruit, with the smokiness still very much omnipresent but less intense. However on the palate, the smoke and peat were for more translucent, while the initial sweetness and cinnamon took precedence over the spicy pepper.

The Red Label is definitely young and lacks the richness its older siblings might have inherited. But that JW signature smokiness does make an entrance, although in a much more pubescent form. I find this whisky placed right after the sweeter blends (like Vat 69 and Black Dog) but before the ‘maltier’ blends or the lighter Highland/Speyside single malts.

So does it obliterate the Dewar’s White Label or the Ballantine’s Finest? Let me put it this way, the Red Label did put up a good fight however the Dewar’s crawled out battered and bruised. In the end, the underdog won the bout, DWL : 2, JWRL : 0, BF : Ran the opposite end squealing!

Don’t get me wrong, the Red does uphold the JW pedigree and makes a good choice for those family gatherings where you need to be conservative on the pocket but yet give the guests a great tipple! And although globally it might be preferred to be used as an ingredient to the cocktails, I don’t see any harm in having it neat or with a few drops of H-2-O.



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