Single malt whisky - tasting notes

18 Sep 2013

Johnnie Walker Red Label vs. Johnnie Walker 12 Year Old Black Label

Tasting notes by Ruben Luyten - Posted in * Blends

Johnnie WalkerJohnnie Walker Red Label is the world’s best-selling Scotch whisky. It’s sold in almost every country, with yearly sales of over 130 million bottles. That’s almost 10% of the entire whisky industry.

In 1865 Alexander Walker, the son of John ‘Johnnie’ Walker, created Walker’s Old Highland, a house blend for his grocery store. The iconic square bottle was introduced in 1870, with a label angled at precisely 24 degrees.

In 1906 a black version of the bottle appeared, although it wasn’t until 1909 that the words Red Label and Black Label were added. Being part of the multi national Diageo group, the original Johnnie Walker plant in Kilmarnock, closed its doors in 2012 and production is now at different Diageo plants like Roseisle.

Johnnie Walker Red Label is a blend of grain and malt whiskies from around 40 different distilleries: Cardhu, Aberfeldy, Cragganmore, Linkwood, Glen Elgin and Royal Lochnagar among others. Black Label also relies on Talisker, Caol Ila and Lagavulin.

As the best-selling whisky, Johnnie Walker deserves a review on this blog. We’ll compare Red Label and Black Label side-by-side. Update: I’ve compared it to Johnnie Walker Double Black as well.



Johnnie Walker Red LabelJohnnie Walker Red Label
(40%, OB +/- 2013)

Nose: not bad actually, quite lively. Most prominent are a vague fruity sweetness with honey and herbal, heathery overtones. On the other hand the majority of the body is taken by malty notes and a slight alcoholic tang. Mouth: again quite pungent, more artificial and industrial than the nose. Young sugary malt. Lots of ginger and pepper. Faint hints of potpourri. Quite harsh. Finish: short, most of the flavours are gone but a tangy herbalness remains, alongside a subtle hint of smoke.

It’s too easy to say cheap blends are no good; Johnnie Walker Red Label is not all bad. It just doesn’t provide the complexity and smoothness in order to be savoured on its own. Only get this if you’re into a cheap Coke combo. Around € 15 in my local supermarket.

Score: 65/100



Johnnie Walker Black LabelJohnnie Walker Black Label 12 Year Old
(40%, OB +/- 2013)

Nose: immediately nicer, the fruity aspect is rounder and jammier. Some brighter citrus as well. Talisker provides a peppery note. Aniseed. Sweet vanilla biscuits. Maybe not as smoky as I expected. Less alcoholic. Nice enough. Mouth: quite some toasted / roasted flavours now. Maybe not real peat, but ashes, liquorice and toasted bread. Nice sourish fruits. Again a peppery kick. Some creamy toffee. Finish: medium long, rather sweet / caramelly again with some mixed spices.

Johnnie Walker Black Label is a decent step up from Red, a step worth taking at any time, even with the added cost. Provided you’re looking for a sipping whisky rather than a simple mixer and you’re not expecting too much of the promised smoke. Around € 25 in my local supermarket.

Score: 74/100

Johnnie Walker Red Label vs. Johnnie Walker 12 Year Old Black Label 1.5 Ruben Luyten 2013-09-18
  • Gal(WhiskyIsrael)

    nice stuff. very brave on the Red label. it’s very, rough.. Black is solid stuff

  • Arild Een

    Would be nice if you could work your way through the other “labels” too, Ruben. I like the Green a lot but also fancy the Black. The Blue is out of reach but last time I tasted it (2007) it was pretty good.

  • WhiskyNotes

    Will do, Arild: Double Black, Gold Label, Platinum and Blue Label are lined up. The Green Label isn’t part of the line-up any more so samples are difficult to find. Maybe I’ll revisit that one later.

  • WhiskyBrother Marc

    I heard somewhere that Lagavulin no longer contributes to any blend and that instead 100% of the output is for release as single malt? Anyone know/heard any different?

  • WhiskyNotes

    In any case Diageo still mentions Lagavulin on their JW pages. I suppose it doesn’t hurt them to be a little vague about these things.

  • MARS

    I have always found the red label awfull. It is this whisky who keeped me away from whisky for a long time. The black label is much better. And the green, gold and blue are good enough to be drinked alone without ice. (at least, to my taste)

  • WhiskyNotes

    I have to say my 15 year-old memories of Red Label were much worse as well. Maybe I had a lucky batch, or maybe their standards are now higher. It was not very good but it wasn’t awful either.

  • Vee (South Africa)

    I have always been a JWB fan but recently over the last year the taste has not been the same. I generally drink it with ice and it used to be smooth but not anymore furthermore I feel much worse the next day like I have the FLU. It might have been a bad batch but my friends also say the same and we now stay away from it.

  • Jee

    Lately there are fake Johnny Walker Black everywhere. They buy the empty bottles & box from their sources & mix cheaper stuff & you can’t tell the difference because they are master blender so everything looks genuine. So unless you really know the taste of a genuine JWB, you are throwing away your labor. JWB is the most imitated brand of any whisky. I decided to buy other brands that most people don’t want. That way at least I know I am getting real whisky. Screw the taste. Who liked the taste of their first shot of whisky or first cigarette ? No matter what most people say about taste. In the end if it doesn’t give you the buzz, you want buy even JW Red or totally cheap stuff. Just my 2 cents.
    To top it, JW people can’t seem to keep a standard bottle label or Alcohol %. Some are 40% & some are 43%. Labels & Caps are also different in different countries. That makes even harder to recognize a fake from real.
    Just google fake JWB & you will know what I mean.

  • PiggDogg

    JW Red – only for mixers; otherwise, avoid. JW Black – always good & respectable quality neat; always a good & respectable experience neat; nearly always available at every single bar and restaurant (at least in New Orleans & probably worldwide); at least everywhere when I have been at a bar (I hardly ever to this) or restaurant (I do this with some frequency), JW Black is at a respectably moderate price when compared to more expensive Scotch single malts. When you are out on the town, considering the availability, the quality when compared to alternatives, and the quality when compared to price, JW Black is the choice.

    If you don’t have to be parsimonious with your money, buy expensive stuff everywhere, on the town or for your home. However, if you work hard and have to be conservative with your hard earned bucks, get JW Black when you are on the town. Then, spend the bucks saved for buying bottles of good single malts and blends to be shared only with those who can appreciate good spirits to be tasted in the quite, comfort, and nice ambiance of your living room where the more expensive stuff & even JW Black can be properly savored and be given their proper attention.

  • SDMF

    Very good opinion. Note taken.



November 2015
« Oct    

Coming up

  • Lindores 2015 festival bottling
  • Amrut 2009 (cask #2701)
  • Glenlivet 1981 (#9468 for TWE)
  • Lagavulin Distillers Edition (2015)
  • Talisker Distillers Edition (2015)
  • Laphroaig 32 Year Old
  • Glen Grant 65yo 1950 cask #2747 for Wealth Solutions
  • Mortlach 1959/1960 (G&M Royal Wedding)

1932 notes by Ruben

WhiskyNotes - Ruben LuytenThis blog is my personal collection of impressions, written while searching for the ultimate single malt whisky.