Review: Johnnie Walker Red Label (2023)

Review: Johnnie Walker Red Label (2023)

As I slowly continue the journey of organic erosion and cognitive decline we all inevitably face, I find my tastes occasionally regressing, drifting back to various points of origin. Sometimes it is out of necessity as to what is being served, but there are times when it’s to find out just how much my palate has evolved since that first sip of Rolling Rock or dram of today’s review, Johnnie Walker Red Label, which I first tried sometime during the mid-’90s.

Big Red, the choice of such wordsmiths as Winston Churchill, Christopher Hitchens, and Elliott Smith, was the second Scotch I tried back in college, big brother Johnnie Walker Black Label holding claim to the first. Preferences and popularity claims are subjective as always, but the JW label is also one of the biggest-selling Scotch whiskies in the world, selling almost 23 million cases in 2022. How much of that is Black vs. Green vs. Blue is unclear, but Red Label surely accounts for a hefty portion of the sales receipts.

Blended with malts from over 30 distilleries, it is traditionally advised that Red Label is made for mixing, and it’s not hard to see why. The nose is sweet and full of grain on first approach, with notes of red apple, toasted shortbread, and vanilla. However, the decline starts right away, with a palate of cereal and honey notes slowly drowning in salt and bitter ethanol. The somewhat abrupt finish has faint traces of apple towards the end, but it basically carries forth the astringency from the palate. The experience mellows over ice and mutes some of the pungency.

I really wanted to like this more than I did. It works on the rocks and with mixers, but I wanted this to be on par with its siblings as a standalone. Sometimes the classics aren’t exactly how one recalls them while warmed with the fires of nostalgic memories. If possible, spend a few extra bucks and upgrade to Black Label.

80 proof.


Johnnie Walker Red Label (2023)




Rob Theakston is a contributing editor to Drinkhacker.

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