Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Malt Mission 2007 #33

Johnnie Walker Red Label
Old Blended Scotch Whisky
40% abv

Now here is a face everyone will recognise. Just the sight of the bottle means 'whisky' to so many people, it is the ubiquitous whisky in home bars the world over. It is so recognised it has currency as a status symbol in many countries and has appeared in the recent King Kong remake, Wedding Crashers, in Leonard Cohen's "Closing Time", and more...

So what's the story?

In 1820, John Walker established his grocery in Kilmarnock. By the mid-19th century, they were selling “Walker’s Kilmarnock Blended Whiskies” on a wholesale basis. Alexander succeeded John after his death in 1857. With the change in law now allowing the blending of malt and grain whiskies under bond, he developed a flourishing business in blending whisky, registered the name “Walker’s Old Highland Whisky” in 1867. By 1886 they had sales offices from England to Australia to America and they were exporting to over seventy countries worldwide. So they bought a distillery, Cardhu, in 1893 to maintain supply for their increasingly
successful whisky. In 1906, a black label was given to the 12 yr old Extra Special Old Highland Whisky to distinguish it from the the Special Old Highland Whisky, which used a red label. “Johnnie Walker” was registered as a trademark in 1908 and a year later Tom Browne created the famous strutting monocled character, “Born 1820—Still Going Strong”.

The trademark square bottle still used today began in 1870s, and sales of Red are around 8 million cases, more than any other whisky, while Black doesn’t do too poorly with a whopping 3.5 million. (All JW does about 20million cases per year) There products are now sold in 120 countries. In order to maintain supply for its European demand in the later 70’s, they stopped all UK sales and exported every Red label. Bells and Grouse became increasingly popular and JW has never been able to make a return to dominance the UK where Bells and Grouse rule the roost.

Has grains between 4 and 6 years old and malts between 5 and 10, including (possibly) Aultmore, Benrinnes, Cardhu, Clynelish, Dailuaine, Caol Ila, Glenkinchie, Glen Ord, Inchgower, Royal Lochnagar, Talisker, and Teaninich, to name just a few... I mean, a dozen.


Prominent grain sweetness, applesauce and vanilla. Attacks up high in the nose. Thin but with a few waves of malt depth offering the toasted taste of rough oat cakes, weak burnt smell, spent matches from yesterday, and wood.

Starts well with exciting hot grains and pepper and clementine skin, but never delivers much beyond sweet barley spirit with the slightest touch of honey and peat making it discernible as 'whisky'. Finish lingers but it is not an exceptionally pleasant one.


Although there is good flavour movement in that impressions change throughout the drinking experience, the impressions just aren't that...well,
impressive. Whisky that ice wouldn't hurt. Or coke.

Malt Mission #31
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AlanLaz said...

I was at a JW "Experience" and were instructed to mix the Red Label with Coke or Ginger Ale. Drinking it neat wasn't even at option, not should it have been.

Anonymous said...

Hi there,

I just found your was a great read! A while back i started brewing my own whisky i found it great fun. I even designed my own whisky labels and had them printed by a british labels company, they looked so good.

Jason Debly said...

It just seems to be in vogue to bash Johnnie Walker Red. It is a peculiar phenomenon to watch people at first support success, and then turn on the successful. Johnnie Walker Red is such an instance.

This is not a high quality scotch blend, but it certainly is not the worst on the market either. It is a cheap blend that provides a pleasant flavor profile of peat, smoke and pepper. If you are at a wedding and just casually chatting, this whisky is perfect. However, if you are having a fireside chat with your best friend, mentor or someone who knows good scotch, then this is not the stuff.

I drink it neat all the time and enjoy that way.

To each his own.