Johnnie Walker Red Label is an inexpensive and easy-to-find blended scotch whisky that’s good at best but reliable in a pinch, a solid mixer that fits in anywhere from dives to craft-cocktail bars, and any home bar as well.
Classification blended scotch whisky
Distillery Various: It’s a blend, says the brand, of up to 30 malt and grain whiskies.
Cask Undisclosed, almost certainly ex-bourbon and sherry
Still Type various
Aged no age statement
Awards Silver, 2020 San Francisco World Spirits Competition
Red Label is inexpensive, reliable, and easily found.
It’s a fine scotch for mixing simple cocktails, especially highballs, and it also works in a pinch as a sipper.
It’s a solid entry-level whisky but isn’t terribly exciting for more advanced drinkers.
Color: Bright golden orange
Nose: Malty, herbaceous, lemony, an interesting and varied group of aromas
Palate: Very easy (some would say “smooth”), with rich butterscotch, malt, vanilla, and pear notes, along with raisin-like fruitiness that may indicate it was partially aged in sherry casks.
Finish: Oak, spice, and hints of smoke move to the fore, but not overbearingly so: This is still a rounded and gentle whisky. Malt and raisin notes also linger on the back of the tongue.
Whiskies may come and go, but Johnnie Walker’s flagship Red Label blended scotch endures. In fact, it doesn’t just endure, it thrives: According to the brand, at least, it’s the best-selling scotch whisky in the world. It’s so ubiquitous, spotted everywhere from home bars to sleazy dives and upscale cocktail bars, that it’s easily taken for granted, and for many of us, it’s hard to remember the last time we tried it.
If it’s been a while, Red Label is certainly worth revisiting. Irving Berlin once said, “Popular music is popular because a lot of people like it.” The same applies to whisky, and this whisky is most likable indeed, both for the wallet and the palate. A blend of 30 malt and grain whiskies from throughout Diageo’s Scottish holdings, Red Label is meant for mixing, although it’s not a bad sipper either. For basics like a Scotch & Soda, a Scotch Old Fashioned, or a Rusty Nail, Red Label imparts a pleasantly sweet, malty flavor with fruity notes and a modest amount of spice. And it won’t run you more than $25 or so a bottle.
For whisky buffs, there are so many new and exciting brands hitting store shelves and bars every month that Red Label can get lost in the shuffle. But for all the excursions into the unknown, it’s worth “coming home” to Red Label every now and then. For a cheap and reliable whisky, it’s hard to top.
Johnnie Walker— or, rather, his sons—had been blending whisky since the mid-1800s, but it wasn’t until 1908 that the brand cleaved itself into two whiskies. Red Label was, at the time, aged for at least nine years (it’s now an NAS) and meant for mixing with soda, while Black was aged for 12 years and intended more for sipping. Since then, of course, many more “labels” have sprung up, from Green to Platinum.
The Bottom Line
Is Red Label the most thrilling whisky in the world? Not hardly. But for a cheap and reliable mixing whisky, this is an excellent choice.