In a recent mega bottle share from someone else’s collection, I managed to get my hands on these two old blends. Generally blends aren’t too special, but when they were made several decades ago, you get into an entirely different realm of whisky.
Based on my information, which mostly consists of some random Google searches, puts the Red Label in the 1970s, and the Black Label in the 1980s. I would have loved them to be older still, but you can’t have it all, can you?
Generally, when getting into these older blends, there are some things to remember:
- The balance between malt and grain is much more in the middle than nowadays. Nowadays it’s virtually all grain.
- Production processes were quite different, especially for the malt components.
- These things have been in glass for decades, which does impact the flavor to some extent. The lovingly called OBE (Old Bottle Effect).
In short, their modern counterparts are generally pretty shit compared to these oldies. If they have been stored well, of course.
Johnnie Walker Red Label, 70 proof, 26⅔ fl. Ozs., 1970s
Quite tired, is my first impression. And I’m not talking about myself. There is quite a lot of bready grain influence, some malt and other grains. A bit of iron and minerals, which is mostly the Old Bottle Effect, I think.
The palate has a lot of maltose sweetness, with quite some vanilla and oak. The iron is present here and gives it a bit of a harsh edge. The sweetness becomes a bit much the longer you let it swim, but the sharp edge becomes rather peppery and that helps.
The finish is a lot more classical for 1960s blends. Lots of malts, some minerals, and more dark bread croutons towards the end.
These old English bottles have fluid ounces and imperial proof, which translates to 40% (*1.75) and the contents becomes something like 757ml.
This one is, even though it’s from another era, still an entry level whisky. Of course, it’s miles ahead of current Red Label, and the OBE is a nice addition to the flavors this has to offer. Still not flying too high, but very drinkable and enjoyable.
Johnnie Walker Black Label, 12yo, 40%, 75cl
White bread, apples and grapes. Lots of ‘white’ fruit. A touch of minerals with magnesium and chalk. Rather closed off, but there is a bit of sweetness to be detected.
The palate is surprisingly dry, with hints of old fruit, cork and wood. Corky apple, leathery apple and pear skins. Quite some grain and a whiff of black pepper.
The palate shows the first whiff of smoke, I expected that earlier. The peat is slightly dry and peppery, with some hints of engine oil and wood. Steampunk whisky?
As with the Red Label, the current version can’t hold a candle to this one. Unless you really want that peaty edge, which I think is much more pronounced in the current bottling. Maybe the decades in glass and the OBE has made it disappear.
Strangely, the whiskies are rather similar and I think this is mostly because they must have been distilled not too far apart. With this being bottled in the 1980s, which most of the whisky industry being mothballed, I think they didn’t use too active casks and tried to go for a bit of a lighter blend, which results in much similarities between this and the Red Label.