Johnnie Walker Red Label Review [In Depth]

Johnnie Walker Red label Whisky

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Johnnie Walker Red Label Whisky Details

Distillery: Johnnie Walker (Diageo)

Type & Region: Blended Scotch Whisky, Scotland

Alcohol: 40%

Composition: Blend of malt and grain whisky

Aged: NAS

Color: 0.9 (amontillado sherry)

Price: $20-25 (750mL)

From the company website:

Flowers that bloom into flames. Johnnie Walker Red Label is the world’s best-selling Scotch Whisky. And is made for mixing, both in exhilarating cocktails and with your favorite people. It brings together whiskies specially chosen for their bold, vibrant flavors that add a fiery kick to any mix.

red johnnie walker overview

If you’ve ever had Scotch, you’ve probably had Johnnie Walker in some form – Red, Black, Double Black, Green, the list goes in. The brand as a whole is one of the best selling whiskeys on the plant, outdoing even America’s Jim Beam and Jack Daniel’s.
Go to any liquor store that sells whiskey, and you’re highly likely going to spot it. In Japan, it’s in every liquor store (minus the ones that only sell Sake), convenience stores, bars, restaurants, everywhere. Shoot, you can even just say “Red Label” and it’s immediately clear what you mean. Diageo has undoubtedly done a superb job with distribution and marketing.
For knowledge’s sake, I also want to briefly mention some Scotch terminology just in case you don’t know, to help you better understand what Johnnie Walker Red Label Whisky is – a blended Scotch Whisky.
This means a few things:
  • Blended – comes from multiple distillers. Single means one distillery
  • Scotch Whisky (with no mention of malt) – mix of Scotch made from 100% malted barley, and Scotch made from other grains (called grain whiskey)
  • No age statement – at least 3 years old
This means that Red Johnnie Walker is a mix of single malt and single grain whiskeys from across Scotland that’s at least 3 years old.
As ubiquitous as it is, it also makes it easy to gloss over. So with this bottle, I want to find out if this mass-produced and popular Scotch itself is any good in the Johnnie Walker Red Label review. And by the way, I’m reviewing this neat.
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johnnie walker red label smell

That first whiff of Red Johnnie Walker has creamy honey, vanilla, dried strawberry, apricot, peach (stonefruit), starfuit, roasted grains, and a hint of roasted oak. The sherry influence comes out at first with strawberry, and over time more of the bourbon cask-aged whiskey starts to come through with the stonefruit and starfruit.
I haven’t had this in years, and I’m pleasantly surprised right off the bat. It isn’t complex, but there’s some variety and the dark fruit is a nice addition. I thought that this was also lightly peated, but I don’t get any of that.
After swirling, I pick up a little more roughness, so it needs some time to rest. After that, I smell creamy honey and vanilla, pear, a hint of dry strawberry, dried grass, and floral sweetness.
That mix of sherry and bourbon-aged Scotches comes out again, but now I get hints of this burnt oak that confuses me. It teeters on the edge of being harsh, but it’s not quite there. It comes and goes, so it’s not so bad, emphasis on “so”.
But overall, Johnnie Walker Red Label is a bright, vibrant, and fruity-forward Scotch that smells alright, although it has a bit of a harsher side and is not anything noteworthy or unique.
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johnnie walker red label taste and aftertaste

With the first sip, I get honey, vanilla, biscuit, starfruit, strawberry, peach, roasted oak, roasted grains, and something lightly bitter (maybe oak) that feels out of place. Red Johnnie Walker has the creaminess I expect from Scotch, with a gentle hint of smoke.
Unfortunately, the flavors start to fall apart a bit compared to the somewhat promising scents. Some of the fruity vibrance disappears, and this slightly bitter and dry taste arises. I’m not sure if it’s from the oak, peat, or something else, but it’s starting to worry me that this might not be so good.
After “chewing” I get honey, vanilla, pear, roasted oak, roasted grains, gentle floral sweetness like honeysuckle, a little grass, and more of that slight bitterness I don’t really like. The mouth feel is somewhat creamy as expected, and there’s a bit more of a subtle smokiness that isn’t in the scents.
The 40% ABV really sticks out though because of the watered-down flavors. And although the flavors lean towards being lighter and thinner, they’re not quite flat and boring. The gentle fruity zing helps, but that bitterness is odd, problematic, and out of place.
Light and honey, vanilla, starfruit, and oak follow into the finish. It’s a little oaky and dry, which I didn’t expect given the generally fruity personality. It’s similar after “chewing” as well. It fades away quickly, leaving a light mintiness.
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Johnnie Walker Red Label Whisky Rating

Bottom Shelf Plus
I haven’t had Johnnie Walker Red Label Whisky in a long long time, and overall I had a decent experience drinking it. The mix of bourbon and sherry cask-aged whiskeys comes through in the array of dried berries, pear, and starfruit, adding some character to the experience.
And as you might expect with Scotch, especially bourbon-aged ones (predominately in this case), it has that creamy honey, vanilla, and floralness that comes with the territory.
Unfortunately, it smells a lot better than it tastes, and taste matters the most. Much of the fragrant fruitiness gets pushed out of the way (although it’s still there), in favor of this bitterness I can’t fully explain. It’s like bitter oak mixed with smoke that’s a little harsh and unpleasant. I wonder if the grain whiskey is the reason for it.
And sure, I wish the ABV was higher so I could get more amplified traits, but that’s not the point. The slightly bitter oakiness / something is my main critique, and it’s just unpleasant enough in combination with the thinness to push this down to “Bottom Shelf+”.
You get what you pay for, and often some of those unpleasant traits come with the territory. If I were going to drink blended Scotch, or just Scotch in general, I wouldn’t choose to drink this, although I predominately drink bourbon and rye anyways. It’s not terrible, so I’d certainly drink it again if there were no other options, although I really hope that there would be other options.
And yes I know that I drank and reviewed this neat, which might be considered the “wrong” way because it seems to be intended for mixing. The website mentions “mix” so many times it’s as if they don’t want you to drink it neat in fear of something unpleasant happening. I can’t comment on how this goes in a cocktail, which is what Diageo wants you to do, because that’s not what I cover.
At the end of the day, Johnnie Walker Red Label Whisky is decent, affordable, and accessible, and oftentimes that’s all what people want. The whiskey nerd in me sometimes forgets that, but there’s a whole world out there that just wants to enjoy a drink, relax, and not overanalyze it. I’m not one of those people. Then again, there’s always Johnnie Walker Black Label to pick up the slack.
Alex author
Meet the Author: Alex

I have far too much fun writing about whiskey and singlehandedly running The Whiskey Shelf to bring you independent, honest, and useful reviews, comparisons, and more. I’m proudly Asian American and can speak Cantonese, Mandarin, and some Japanese.

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