Cocktails with… Johnnie Walker Red Label

There’s not too long now before Christmas, and I’m sure everyone’s busy worrying about lists of gifts, wrapping them up, or wrapping up work before the holiday descends upon us in its entirety.One thing DBS & I always like to do around this time of year is explore the various seasonal gift aisles at the big supermarkets and shops, which often yield a variety of spirit-filled goodies. I’m a big fan of these, in particular those that are whisky-related (obviously). A number of them made up my recent birthday wishlist, so I have lots  of new things to try over the next couple of months.

Today, though, I wanted to look at a more substantial offering from the makers of Johnnie Walker. Unlike the scores of mini-and-a-glass sets gracing the shelves, this set provides you with a full bottle of Johnnie Walker Red Label in a lovely red and gold tin. I’ve reviewed Red Label already, here, and, as its made for mixing, I thought I’d ask DBS to make me a couple of festive cocktails to explore how this set could benefit your (or a friend/relative’s) Christmas. But first, a few notes on it neat (straight from the tin!).

Johnnie Walker Red Label

Nose: A mixture of straw, toasted grain, and brandy, with a faint hint of the kind of dry grape that you get with a sherry. The brandy note intrigued me today, because it reminded me particularly of the bitter citrus peel note that you sometimes get via taste in a Christmas pudding.
Taste: Very warming. There was a vivid burst of flavour and warmth immediately, that was followed by a dry woodiness. The warmth followed through to my stomach – very pleasant at this time of year – and, as this fades away, dry wood and grain notes come through more strongly, with a slight, but not unpleasant, metallic edge to them.

Jolly Johnnie

[30ml Johnnie Walker Red Label, 10ml Cointreau, 1 heaped teaspoon mincemeat.]
Add to a shaker with ice and shake hard. Stain into a glass.
The nose was dominated by the mincemeat – ah, the flavour of Christmas! Lots of Christmas spice and citrus fruit. A powerful shot of sweetness hit me almost immediately, before giving way to more bitter, dry notes from the citrus in both the Cointreau and the mincemeat. A perfectly balanced, but not at all dull,  cocktail that’s wonderful to sit and sip.

Hot Toddy

[30ml Johnnie Walker Red Label, 10ml Sugar Syrup, 10ml Honey, 100ml Hot Water]
This drink had a comforting nose of lemon and honey. To taste, there was a soft start, with a kick soon after of sharp, sour citrus, like sherbet lemons. This faded into a rich honey flavour with Christmas spice on the finish. The whisky serves to add warmth and bring all of the flavours together rather than dominate itself, and the warmth ensures that the flavours last for considerably longer. Delicious; a revitalising, rather than a relaxing, toddy.

In Conclusion

This tasting surprised me and reminded me why I liked Red Label so much when I first tried it in a blind Johnnie Walker tasting a few years ago: it’s bold, warming, straight-forward and wonderfully savoury. As a result, it works marvellously in Christmas cocktails by adding it’s long, glowing warmth and balancing out sweetness (allowing you to treat yourself to seasonal ingredients like mincemeat or honey that might otherwise make a drink sickly). If you know anyone who likes a whisky toddy or experimenting with cocktails at Christmas, this could be the gift for them.

As for the tin, it’s a good size for storage of a variety of materials and a great colour to perk up shelves or a cupboard, in particular at this time of year. Here’s a couple of uses that I thought of…

Oh, there’s one more present under the tree…

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Johnnie Walker Premier

DBS bought a miniature of Johnnie Walker Premier for me a little while ago. We were both intrigued by this whisky, which we couldn’t find many notes on. We knew it was a J.W. blend made predominantly for the Japanese market that wasn’t made any more, but, other than that, there didn’t seem to be much information around. As I set about writing this, DBS proposed that this might be a good time to crack it open – I wasn’t going to object!

Nose: This had a smooth, rich nose of golden syrup, honey and the slightest hint of peat or straw. It was a very down-to-earth nose that reminded me of farmhouses or (clean) stables: mainly wood and straw. No harsh ethanol at all.
Taste: Full-bodied, with lots of force of flavour – I got a strong alcoholic tingle across the tongue as I drank. As the alcohol’s intensity softened, the flavour took on a slightly bitter, woody, “grown-up” aspect, with wisps of straw coming through via vapours at the back of the throat. It wraps up with a very dry, savoury finish.

With a drop or two of water, however, Premier really improved, in my opinion. The nose became even sweeter, reminding me strongly of caramel and oats, a little like flapjack, and the taste, whilst still very savoury, was less harsh. The straw notes deepened a little, getting one step towards peatiness, and were more a part of the flavour of the spirit, than vapours evaporating off of it.

I’m very glad to have tried Premier, as it’s an interesting addition to the J.W. collection. My resounding thought was that there wasn’t any sweetness or complex development of flavours here – this is a very straight-forward, grown-up whisky with a lovely, sweet nose masking a savoury taste.

– Mrs. B.

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