A bitter, grassy peat-like note on the finish provides the only glimmer of semi-enjoyable flavor
Everything. There are next to no redeeming flavors to provide even a sliver of enjoyment to this dram.
As the most popular (by volume sales) scotch whisky in the world, and second highest selling of any whiskey only to Brown-Forman’s Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey, Johnnie Walker needs little introduction. The blended scotch brand is the face of worldwide spirits behemoth Diageo’s operations in Scotland.
Diageo owns over two dozen malt and grain distilleries scattered throughout Scotland, but only a handful of malt distilleries are marketed and bottled as single malt distilleries by their owner. These include household names like Lagavulin, Talisker, Oban, and Clynelish. The other distilleries under Diageo’s ownership receive far less fanfare, and rarely see their whisky bottled as a single malt (or single grain) outside of independent bottlings. Unless you have taken your scotch whisky hobby beyond what you typically see in mainstream liquor stores, you likely have not heard of distilleries such as Linkwood, Caol Ila, Glen Ord, Glen Elgin, Auchroisk, or Blair Athol. Behind the scenes, these workhorse distilleries quietly churn out more whisky each year than more prolific “name brand” distilleries. The reason for their anonymity is that the vast majority of what they produce is put into blended scotch, such as Johnnie Walker.
In the scotch whisky industry, the term “blended” simply means that the contents in the bottle are the product of more than one distillery. There are three types of blended scotch whisky:
- Blended Malt Scotch Whisky: contains only malt whisky from two or more different distilleries
- Blended Grain Scotch Whisky: contains only grain whisky from two or more different distilleries
- Blended Scotch Whisky: contains both malt and grain whisky from two or more different distilleries
Most scotch blends, including most of the Johnnie Walker range, fall into the third category and contain grain whisky as the majority component. The reason is simple: grain whisky is often much cheaper to produce than malt whisky. It would however, be a mistake to assume that grain whisky is automatically inferior to malt whisky in taste or quality. When a proper cut is taken from the still and aged in quality casks, grain whisky can be delectable (Compass Box Hedonism is a good example of this). In fact, by mash composition and distillation method, grain whisky is quite similar to American Bourbon.
There is much more to say about this topic, but we’ll save it for another day and get right to the review. The Red Label is the cheapest of the Johnnie Walker line, and is not advertised as a whisky meant to be sipped neat. The Red Label is crafted to be a cheap mixer, plain and simple. But as Whiskey Enthusiasts, we leave no stone unturned, so I purchased a 50 ml bottle of Red Label for $2.99, poured it into a glencairn, and put together a formal tasting review.
- A blend of both malt and grain scotch whiskies from several undisclosed distilleries
- No age statement
- Chill filtered and caramel colored for uniformity
- Bottled at 40% ABV
Nose: Sour cream – or curdled milk maybe? Glue/rubber cement. Permeated by a touch of saline. Dense and creamy, but lacking sweetness, instead characterized by a slightly unpleasant sourness.
Palate: Industrial/chemical tasting, like it was created at a glue factory rather than a whisky distillery. The development, if you can call it that, is best described as industrial funk. Sour milk. Lactose-laden vanilla. Pungent glue.
Finish: Dry, peaty/grassy bitterness provides the first reprise from the sour glue notes, allowing this miserable dram to finish on a slightly less miserable note. Thankfully the finish is short.
Buying Recommendation: Run Away! Let me choose my words carefully: There is no reason to ever purchase this whisky, or even accept a free pour, with the intent to drink it neat. For the love of God, spare your taste buds the misery. This isn’t just bland or boring, it’s gross. You don’t finish the glass and think, “well that was a waste of money”, you finish the first sip, start scraping your tongue, and chuck your whisky-filled glass out the nearest window. Maybe it works better as a mixer. I don’t know, and I don’t intend to find out.