...where distraction is the main attraction.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Taste-Off: Dewar's White Label vs. Johnnie Walker Red Label


We all knew this was inevitable.

My past experiences with these two blends have been less than positive.  Specifically the one on the left.  But it's been a very long time since either of these whiskys found their way into my glass.  With time healing any wounds resulting from those previous drinking......events, perhaps it was time to match  up Dewar's White Label and Johnnie Walker Red Label and try them side by side.  Sort out the negatives and identify the positives.


That sound you didn't just hear was me sighing at my misguided optimism.

Here is a picture me, mid Taste-Off:

Kristen's mom took the picture then texted it to me with the caption:
This is what happens when tasting Dewar's.
I read that and immediately thought of the spoken wisdoms of one Walter Sobchak (of Lebowski fame), and decided to amend one of Walter's meditations to fit this event:

You see what happens, Larry?

You see what happens, Larry?

Do you see what happens when you drink Dewar's White Label?!
(your hair falls out and you wear a silver bow around your head while watching the Muppet Christmas Carol)

I'm going to skip the usual Taste Off pomp and circumstance, and go directly to the notes. Because.


Ownership: Diageo (boo)
Distilleries: 35 whiskys; though I was recently told by someone in the know that unpeated Caol Ila was the main malt element
Type: Scotch Blended Whisky
Age: at least 3 years, doubtful that it's much older
Blend: single malts and grain whiskies
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
Chill-filtered? Yes
Caramel Coloring? a ridiculous amount

JW Red Label has been around since 1906, though for its first few years it was called Special Old Highland.  The blend's recipe and quality has certainly changed over the years, as noted by some Malt Maniacs (especially Oliver, see this post!).  I used to think that it was an eight-year-old blend, but I don't know why or how that misnomer entered my consciousness.  The JWRL malt is very very very young.

Selling millions of cases every year this is the highest-selling blend in the world.  I'm sorry, world.  :(

Color -- For infant whisky it is weirdly dark and reddish. How much colorant did they pump into this thing?
Nose -- Generic citrus, light sherry, rotting cream, vanilla beans, and maple syrup.
Palate -- Not peat smoke but more like old used "tobacco" rolling papers, vanilla, granulated sugar, a light bitterness
Finish -- Vanilla, light bitterness, light sourness. Leaves an unidentifiable funk on the tongue.

Nose -- Soil, apple juice, marshmallows, hay.
Palate -- Old peat ashes, dirt, cardboard, vanilla, and the light bitterness.
Finish -- Ashes, mouth drying bitterness, sadness.

Further comments to follow below.


Distilleries: many, main malt component likely Aberfeldy
Age: at least 3 years, doubtful that it's much older
Blend: single malts and grain whiskies
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
Chill-filtered? Yes
Caramel Coloring? Yes

Last year at this time, I did a report on Dewar's 12 year-old Special Reserve blend and discovered that it wasn't terribly special.  But it's positively gorgeous when compared to White Label.  This quality problem is unfortunate since Aberfeldy (their main malt) is pretty good on its own.

Their website notes that Dewar's is The Drinking Man's Scotch.  Then I am clearly not a drinking man.

Color -- Apple juice
Nose -- Sour ethyl, apples, vanilla, fruit cocktail juice, wet cardboard
Palate -- Bitter, generic cereal grains, mild chocolate, mild vanilla, Bitter
Finish -- Bitter! Bitter. Oh so very bitter. Not interesting, palatable bitter. Instead, arsenic.

Nose -- Ethyl, gumdrops, generic cereal grains, a little sherry peeks out, whipped cream
Palate -- Bitter, but less so. A little maltier. Some maple syrup. Not much else.
Finish -- Just, off. A weird sweetness, like aspartame. And also bitter.

The nose isn't awful.  But I cannot imagine their blending team tasting this and saying, "Yes, this is how we would like to represent our brand."

Further comments to follow below.

After adding water to these two fine blends, I discovered that I couldn't bring myself to finish either of them, so I blended them together in even amounts (about 0.5oz each).  Yum, right?

Nose -- citrus, sherry, Red Label dominant
Palate -- vanilla, sherry, meh
Finish -- mercifully short

Still couldn't finish 'em off, so I dumped the remainder over some ice cubes.

Bland peat, imitation vanilla extract, aspartame, and lightly bitter

Continuing to drink this became too masochistic for me.  The sink was forced to consume the rest.

Final comments:

Johnnie Walker Red Label
What can I say?  It won the Taste Off.  Congrats.

The nose is more inviting than the palate.  The finish is pretty hideous, so much so that I would hesitate even recommending the use of this for mixing and cocktails.  Many of the blends at its price range are better, or for $5 more there's Glenfiddich 12yr or Tomatin 12yr.

This is light years from Black Label's quality.  But it is better than...

Dewar's White Label
Who is this for?  Seriously, who is this for?  Aside from its disagreeableness, and bitterness, it's also sort of......boring.  At its price range, I'd recommend buying anything else.  Even vodka.

If you were to receive a bottle of this as a gift, what is it good for?  Fending off home intruders.  The bottle glass is pretty sturdy and the whisky gives it some heft and momentum when braining a robber.

But the Red Label is even better for self defense with its right angles.

So, again:
Johnnie Walker Red Label  >  Dewar's White Label
Though that is faint praise.  There's not much that White Label betters.

Okay, I guess I thought of something:
Dewar's White Label  >  Tequila-induced Fire-Ass
But not by much.


Johnnie Walker Red Label
Availability - Everywhere!
Pricing - $18-$25
Rating - 66

Dewar's White Label
Availability - Everywhere!
Pricing - $17-$25
Rating - 58


  1. Red label and soda got me through my 2nd and 3rd sophomore years of college.

    1. I was going to LOL, but then I :-( 'ed.

      Tanqueray, Skyy, and Goldschlager that got me through most of college, well at least that's the stuff I can list here.

  2. Wow, what drinking snobbery. I guess your taste buds are just too sophisticated. I suppose you have plenty of money to go out and buy premium aged scotch. For us low brow drinkers, we will stick to Dewars and Johnnie walker red.

    1. Wow, my first real troll! Welcome anonymous troll! As I've made clear in other posts, I cannot afford the vast majority of premium aged scotch. From the outside looking in, I seek out bargains, go to tastings, and search for samples. That's what fuels this site.

      I've likely consumed more White Label and Red Label than anyone else I know, but that doesn't mean I can't admit that they're the lowest quality whisky products Bacardi and Diageo release. You can keep on drinking those whiskies, but there is stuff that tastes much better at their price range.

    2. Alright, I will bite.... What is a better scotch whiskey at the same price range than a dewars? I have had glenfindich and glenlivit at my Father's house. (He had mucho dinero) I remember them being smoother but not worth the price difference in my opinion. If money was meaningless than sure I would buy them. But still your review of Dewars and Johnnie seemed a bit harsh. By the way, I don't think I am a troll... I was just responding the this review. I don't know what you wrote about in the past? Sincerely, anonymous.

    3. Firstly, I get a little over enthusiastic about whisky sometimes. And I get over enthusiastic about my own opinions. Ah, blogging. We all have different sets of tastebuds and receptors. You and I may not dig the same thing. I respect your opinion. Plus Johnnie Walker Red and Dewars White aren't shy whiskies, so kudos to you for your choices!

      Secondly, the prices for single malts, never cheap to begin with, are rising like crazy, cutting off most of us from some lovely booze. The companies that own Johnnie Walker and Dewars are largely responsible for this. Thus, admittedly, I get a little tough on their products.

      PLUS prices are different in every state. So your prices may be different than the ones I see. Here JW Red and Dewars White are $20-25.

      Single Malts:
      Here Glenfiddich and Glenlivet 12 are only a few bucks more than JW Red, as is Tomatin. They're all pretty smooth and light. Easy drinkers. Speyburn sits at the same price point as JW Red, but you'd be better of with Red. That's it for malts at this $ point.

      Famous Grouse is a sweeter whisky, but it’s not worth shilling out more than $20-$25 for it.
      I dunno if you have Bank Note or Black Bottle by you, but they’re good at the $20 range.
      In the $15-20 there’s J&B which isn't bad. Pretty good for mixing too.
      $10-$15 range, Lauder’s works on the rocks. A lot of folks like Grant's but I haven't tried it yet.

      Mostly though, I’m a big fan of Irish whiskey.
      Jameson’s, Powers, and Tullamore Dew is usually at the same price as JW Red Label. I love 'em all. Powers is my go to whiskey.

      If you’re a fan of bourbon – which is thankfully still cheaper than Scotch – Buffalo Trace is great. I mean, seriously great. At $20-$25, I like it more than whiskies 3x its price. A lot of folks out here love Maker’s Mark. Bulleit Bourbon or Rye sells for $20-$25 in Cali and is pretty good.

      Sorry for such a long response, I'm clearly long winded. I apologize for name-calling. Yeah, I'm probably a whisky snoot but I do love the stuff. Though I spend too much $$$ on whisky, I cannot afford most of the stuff I sample. Wish I could. But I'll always have Powers and Buffalo Trace.

  3. If your not into reading Oliver's comparison, Ralfy has a great video review comparing 1960s Red Label against a 2010 bottle. Man, I really want to get my hands on an old bottle now.

    1. Yeah, I dig Oliver's post on it. Between that post and Serge's reviews of old blends, I've been hoping to find a dusty Scotch blend hiding somewhere. I found a 20-30 year old dusty of Dewar's White Label but I passed it up since I couldn't convince myself to purchase a Dewar's product.

      I'm going to throw on that Ralfy video after work.

  4. Well, you can always make your own Red Label at home. You just need gin, Coke, iodine, and hair tonic.


    1. Yeah, I love this scene. It fills me with joy. There needs to be more Scotch talk in film. And William Powell is awesome. This, Mister Roberts, was his last film.

  5. life on the lone prairieJuly 22, 2014 at 7:05 PM

    Well, I was just packing for a camping trip and was down to the flask task. Imagine my dilemma, when all I could find to take us to Scotland was Johnny Walker red and Dewar's white. Imagine my surprise when I googled such a question and arrived at this academic research and analysis.
    Thank you, kind soul, for doing our dirty work. Wear your head bow in pride.

    1. Thank you kindly, L.O.T.L.P. I'll wear the bow right now so as to coordinate with my daughter.

      At least with camping flask whisky you get some elbow room, having any whisky at hand is nice. Well, almost any whisky. Red Label should do the trick. Dewars White and Cutty, not so much. Have a great trip!

  6. Apart from times of dearth (notably during the War), I have been taking Johnnie Walker ‘Red’ and Dewar’s ‘White Label’ offerings almost daily for well-nigh a century — thus far to no apparent deleterious effects.