Johnnie 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 1860s, with a label angled at precisely 24 degrees trademarked in 1877.
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 and Glen Elgin 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 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.
Johnnie Walker Red Label is meant to be a mixer. It doesn’t provide the complexity and smoothness in order to be savoured on its own. Even though it’s not terrible, only get this if you’re into a cheap Coke combo. Around € 20 in my local supermarket. Also available from Master of Malt or TWE.
Johnnie 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 possible sipping whisky rather than a simple mixer and you’re not expecting too much of the promised smoke. Around € 30 in my local supermarket. Also available from Master of Malt or TWE.