Johnnie Walker is the most sold Scotch whisky in the world by a large margin. In 2020, according to this report, Johnnie Walker sold double the number of cases as Ballentine’s, the next closest competitor. This is largely due to the fact that Johnnie Walker has two Scotch whiskies in the top three most sold bottles – their black label and red label. In this article, then, we are going to compare Johnnie Walker Black vs Red, so we can see how two of the most popular Scotches stack up against each other.
We’re going to cover some of the differences of Johnnie Walker Black vs Red, including price, taste, and how to drink it among other differences as well. Before we get there, let’s look at how Johnnie Walker got to be the leading provider of Scotch in the world.
Johnnie Walker History
John Walker and his family sold their family farm after his father’s death to open up a grocery store in their hometown of Kilmarnock, Scotland. After the Excise Act of 1823, which loosened the laws around whisky distillation, John walker began selling spirits out of his grocery store. At the time, blending malt whiskies and grain whiskies was illegal, so he sold blends of malt and grain separately. However, he had no recipe of his own, so he was simply mixing the spirits based on custom orders.
It was John Walker’s son and grandson that really brought their whisky to the lime-light. Under John Walker, whisky accounted for roughly 8% of sales. Following his death in 1857, Alexander Walker took over and, shortly after, 90% or more of their sales came from whisky. Over the next century and a half and after mergers and acquisitions, Johnnie Walker found their way under the umbrella of the largest alcoholic beverage company, Diageo.
What is Johnnie Walker?
Before we get into the differences of Johnnie Walker Black vs Red, let’s look at exactly what Johnnie Walker is. Johnnie Walker is a blended Scotch whisky. To understand what this means, you must understand what it means to be scotch and what it means for a whisky to be blended.
What is Scotch?
Like most liquors, there are laws in place that qualify, or disqualify, a distilled beverage as being Scotch. Below are those qualifications:
- It must be produced in Scotland
- Bottled at a minimum 40% abv (80 proof)
- It must be made with malted barley (can use other grains as well)
- Aged minimum 3 years in oak casks
These are the base requirements to be considered a Scotch, but there are different types of Scotch as well. While Scotch can be classified by the region it was produced in – Speyside, Campbelltown, Islay, Highlands, or Lowlands – it’s more specific to use the type of Scotch. The 5 types of Scotch are below.
- Single Malt Scotch: Made at a single distillery from 100% malted barley
- Single Grain Scotch: Made at a single distillery from cereal grains (with some malted barley as well)
- Blended Malt Scotch: 2 or more single malt Scotch whiskies from separate distilleries mixed together
- Blended Grain Scotch: 2 or more single grain Scotch whiskies from separate distilleries mixed together
- Blended Scotch: A blend of malt and grain Scotch whiskies from different distilleries
What is Johnnie Walker Summary
Since Johnnie Walker is Scotch it must meet all the requirements of the first list. As a blended Scotch, this means that each bottle is a mixture of malt Scotch and grain Scotch. While you can use a mixture of all types of Scotch, Johnnie Walker uses a blend of on single malt and single grain, not blended grain or malt. Every bottle of Johnnie Walker, then, contains different single malt or single grain Scotch whiskies that have been aged at least 3 years.
Johnnie Walker Black vs Red Differences
Now that we’ve covered the basics of Johnnie Walker, we can discuss what differentiates Johnnie Walker Black vs Red. Obviously, with these two liquors being produced by the same brand and under the same company, there are a lot of similarities, but there are also key differences.
The most glaring difference is the age. Johnnie Walker Red Label is an NAS (no age statement) Scotch. All this really means is that the youngest Scotch in the blend is 3 years old since that is the bear minimum requirement to be a Scotch. There may be much older whiskies in the blend as well.
Johnnie Walker Black Label has a 12 yr age statement. An age statement goes off of the youngest whisky in the blend. Therefore, the youngest whisky in Johnnie Walker Black Label is 12 years old, and it still may contain whiskies that are older.
They’re are certainly other differences between the two blended Scotch whiskies, such as taste and price, but these are products of the difference in age and something we are going to cover next!
Johnnie Walker Black vs Red Taste
Now, let’s get into the real information you are looking for. How does Johnnie Walker Red Label Taste? What does the Black Label taste like, and which is better?
Johnnie Walker Red Label Taste
Johnnie Walker Red Label is the youngest and cheapest of the Johnnie Walker selection, so it’s likely to be the least appealing – at least to the seasoned whisky drinker. With that being said, it’s the most sold whisky in the world for a reason.
Nose: Light hints of cinnamon and lemon, little nutty
Taste: fairly smooth, Vanilla, cinnamon, butterscotch
Finish: Mild finish, oaky, cinnamon, light fruit and peat
Johnnie Walker Black Label Taste
Johnnie Walker Black Label has noticeably more of an oaky aroma and flavor than that of the Red Label. This is primarily due to the aging as black label has spent a minimum of 12 years in oak casks.
Nose: A little more of a smokey oak and leather smell with hints of fruit and vanilla
Taste: Begins with honey and toffee as a little heat kicks in with toasted oak
Finish: Mild spice with vanilla and cinnamon.
Johnnie Walker Black vs Red Taste Summary
When it comes to the taste of Johnnie Walker Black vs Red, most will tell you that the Black Label is better. That’s because it is. I’m not one to overstate the importance of aging, but the extra years in oak casks simply adds more to the Black Label that the Red does not have.
In our opinion, neither the Red Label nor the Black Label are offensive or extravagant. The red label is a great starter Scotch and is typically meant for being mixed. When it comes to really good Scotch, it should be drank neat, on the rocks, or with a splash of water. Johnnie Walker Black Label can be drunken by itself or as a mixed drink. Although, if you plan to mix it, we recommend just getting the Red Label.
Johnnie Walker Black vs Red Price
While people generally enjoy the Black Label more, Johnnie Walker Red Label is the best selling scotch because of price. Below we’ll list the typical prices for each bottle. Note that this may greatly depend upon location and individual store.
- Johnnie Walker Red 750ml: $19-25
- Johnnie Walker Red 1.75L: $28-35
- Johnnie Walker Black 750ml: $33-39
- Johnnie Walker Black 1.75L: $62-68
Here you can see that the Red Label is roughly $12 cheaper for a 750ml. At ~$22 a bottle for the Red Label, it’s tough to find a better Scotch for the price. Johnnie Walker Black Label comes in at a more realistic price for a sipping whiskey. Most beginning or budget friendly sipping whiskies fall in the $30-40 price range.
Ultimately, when it comes to cost, both the Red and Black Label are fairly priced for what you’re getting. This is a huge reason as to why Johnnie Walker is the best selling Scotch in the world.
Johnnie Walker Black vs Red Value
In this section, we really break down the taste and cost of each bottle to answer the ultimate question: is it worth it? Which should I buy? At the end of the day, this really comes down to personal opinion, so we’re just going to give you ours.
Both Johnnie Walker Red and Black are good starter Scotch whiskies. A bottle of Johnnie Walker Red isn’t going to break the bank in, really, anyone’s budget. If you’re interested in Scotch but not quite ready to drink whisky neat or on the rocks, start here. It’s decent enough to have by itself, and if you don’t like it that’s fine because it’s made to be mixed. It’s not going to knock your socks off and it’s not going to have your head in a toilet.
We also think Johnnie Walker Black is a good introductory Scotch for those who like or want to branch out to whisky neat, and here’s why. It’s a solid Scotch that comes in at a fair price, and it’s not overly expensive so that if you didn’t like it neat, you can still mix in a nice highball. Similarly, it’s probably not going to knock your socks off and definitely won’t have your head in a toilet either.
Johnnie Walker Black vs Red Summary
If you absolutely love Johnnie Walker, then that’s great. It is the best selling Scotch in the world by a wide margin for many different reasons. If you’re new to Scotch, Johnnie Walker is certainly one of the best places to start, and we recommend you go try it for yourself.
Here at Barrel and Brew, we all like Johnnie Walker (the gold label is our favorite), but it’s not quite a staple for us. First, we don’t really ever mix our Scotch and are fortunate enough to not mind shelving out the extra $10-15 per bottle – hence, the Red Label is out for us. Second, at the $30-40 price range, there are SO MANY good Scotch whiskies out there and so many we haven’t yet tried. For ~$33 a bottle, we are more likely to try something new.
Now that we’ve given you all the information and our personal opinions, the only thing left for you to do is go buy a bottle and see how you like it yourself!
If you enjoyed this article, check out some of our others or head here to learn about the most popular Irish whiskeys.
Johnnie Walker FAQ
Below are some common questions asked about Johnnie Walker, much of which is covered in detail above.
Is Johnnie Walker Red or Black more expensive?
Johnnie Walker Black Label is more expensive than the Red Label. A typical bottle of Johnnie Walker Black is about $12 more than a bottle of Red Label. With the additional costs comes higher quality. The Black Label is generally regarded as better than the Red Label.
What’s the Difference of Red and Black Label Johnnie Walker?
The primary difference is their age. Johnnie Walker Red Label contains a blend of whisky that has been aged a minimum of three years. Johnnie Walker Black Label contains a blend of whiskies that have been aged a minimum of 12 years.