Whisky Review – Johnnie Walker Red Label: Then & Now

Johnnie Walker is arguably the most recognisable and well know Scotch brand in the world and with annual sales of 223.7 million bottles worldwide (2016 sales figures) the ‘Striding Man’ certainly travels far and wide.

The blend contains a wide variety of components from across the whisky spectrum. Over 30 different whiskies is the often quoted figure (although I have also read figures of 40 and over but due to the blending process we can expect a variation)

John Walker established a grocers shop in Kilmarnock in 1819 which, due to his dealings and retailing of spirits, eventually led him into the whisky industry.

The business passed to his son Alexander in 1857 upon his death and ten years later Alexander released ‘Walkers Old Highland Blend’ which would eventually become Red and Black Label.

Many of the initial acquisitions of the Walker family business focused on acquiring the distilleries that produced the key constituent malts of the blended whiskies they made that were becoming so popular to ensure a plentiful supply.

Cardhu was purchased in 1893 (at the time Cardhu was a key component of the Walkers blend ‘Old Highland Whisky’) along with Clynelish and Coleburn in 1915, followed by the Dailuaine – Talisker Company in 1916. Mortlach was added to the portfolio in 1923.

The signature shaped bottle was introduced in 1860 and as well as giving it a unique look the easily packed square bottle shape allowed for more bottles in the box and less breakages in transit (ideal for a whisky that is widely exported)

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John Walker & Sons became part of the Distillers Company Ltd in 1925, which in turn became Diageo in 1997 after being acquired by Guinness in 1986 and later merging with Grand Metropolitan.

 

Johnnie Walker Red Label (2019), blended scotch, 40% abv, from my collection.

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The nose is made up of toffee, woodsmoke, vanilla and some mild herby touches. Quite non-descript and one dimensional.

The palate is slightly woody and a touch sharp. There is a surprising minerality here and some soft tobacco notes.

The finish has some nice touches of faint smoke with plenty of vanilla, black pepper and a little ginger.

Not much to enjoy here. basic stuff and quite plain. Well balanced but rather dull.

 

Johnnie Walker Red Label (1970’s era), blended scotch, 40% abv, from my collection.

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On the nose it is a completely different animal. If I didn’t know it was a blend and someone passed it to me as a single malt then I would be inclined to believe them. The nose feels much richer and has much more depth. Furniture polish and mahogany lead the way but underneath there’s a wave of red apples, red fruits and some old leather.

The palate is flavoursome but over all too quickly. Tobacco, raisins and cedar are interspersed around vanilla and a faint but perceptibly fruity malt.

The finish is very short, quite a cliff edge. Pretty much al of the flavours are on the nose with a little less on the palate and little on the finish. What there is though is wonderful.

 

Very enjoyable. I really cannot recommend enough that more people have a go at some old blends. Massively interesting and readily available at auction for very little money.

This bottle was opened during my Blended Whiskies Then & Now Tasting event.

For information on future events please click here.

You can find more tasting notes and whisky news in the Amateur Drammers Archives.

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