Johnnie Walker Red Label

Johnnie Walker Red

I do like a cheap blended Scotch on Malt. Blends are the backbone of the whisky industry, and many people’s first interaction with aqua vitae. So it’s time to review another one.

I’ve looked at other Johnnie Walker whiskies and found them – from Black Label to Blue Label – to have been very enjoyable indeed. Even the great Charles MacLean declared his love of blends and Black Label in this interview from a little while ago.

Johnnie Walker Red Label is huge. The blend was released as Red Label first in 1909, although before that it was known as Walker’s Special Old Highland Red Label. This was a time where whiskies were transitioning from being promoted as family merchant names into more marketable brand names. Other random facts: Winston Churchill use to drink a bit every day, and it was featured in Superman 3, where Superman drinks a glass of Red Label after being exposed to synthetic kryptonite.

Since then Johnnie Walker Red Label has become the best-selling Scotch Whisky in the world. It is composed of “35 of the finest aged single malts and grain whiskies”, and many sources suggest it is designed for mixing, which probably isn’t a good sign when it comes to drinking for appreciation.

Tasting notes

Johnnie Walker Red

Colour: deep gold, but quite bright.

On the nose: Simple stuff. Green apples. Sour cream. Honey. Candle wax – burnt candle, in fact. An undertone of ash, like an empty ash tray.

In the mouth: creamy, with plenty of young grain giving it a velvety texture. Much of the nose in fact. Peppery. Honey again. Not much else going on. The smoke isn’t a lovely sweet peated note, again more of that strange harsh ashy note. Toffee. Not at all complex.


It’s pretty rough and ready. In fact, well… it’s not very good. If this is people’s first experience of Scotch whisky, you’d forgive them for thinking it’s a bit rubbish. I’d recommend you nudge people up towards Black Label, Gold Label or even Green Label. Those are all terrific blends. In fact, Johnnie Walker Black Label is one of the best-value whiskies on the planet.

But the Red Label is unpleasant stuff. I dare say that Churchill was drinking a better recipe than this.

  1. Carissa Hickling says:

    Yeah the Red just doesn’t cut it for me! If I gotta go Johnnie Walker then Green or Platinum… Spice Journey was also so-so.

  2. Josh Feldman says:

    It used to be much better. Somewhere in the 1980s the major grain component changed – to the detriment of the whisky.

  3. Drunkmeister says:

    After mmany liters of chivas,four roses,etc…i drank once red label…just to try it. I feel i need to puke imideately after i put it in my mouth. Never happened before… black label…other story.

  4. Angelo says:

    First of all I’m 77 years old and have been drinking scotch since my late 20s. I’ve tried a number of brands such as Cutty Sark, J&B, Chivas, Dewars, Inver House, Glenfiddich, Glenlivit, etc. I had never tried Johnnie Walker Red. I was on a cruise recently & I bought a bottle of Red to try it. It has to be the most disgusting scotch I have ever tasted. I don’t know what they could have done to make it taste so bad. Even Inver House which is about the cheapest scotch you can buy runs rings around it. Last Johnnie Walker I’ll ever try.

  5. Jason says:

    Just came across your review. I have tasted Red Label from the 60s and it is a much better whisky with a darker and more robust character, and a distinct Laphroiag character. Totally different to today’s blend.

  6. Daniel Peel says:

    Surprised by all the hate. I bought an airplane bottle to try it and was expecting the worst. I was pleasantly surprised. Sure, it’s a one note scotch but the one note isn’t bad. And it goes down smooth. Will it be a staple in my private whiskey bar? No, the double black has that covered. But if I wanted a dram at a bar and this was the only scotch they had I’d be happy to drink it.

  7. Tim ERRINGTON says:

    Tried it, got through half a litre and going to leave well alone, terrible hangover after only a few glasses, no other whiskey has done this before…….

  8. Florin Bogdan says:

    My love for aqua vitae started with Red Label, maybe a long time ago it was much better, sweeter, smokier .
    I love today smoky whisky cause of that Red.
    It may not be exquisite but to puke and all that seems kind of too much, there are much worse spirits out there.

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