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Johnnie Walker Red Label 1980s

Make Whisky Great Again

5 188

WReview by @Wierdo

23rd Apr 2021


Johnnie Walker Red Label 1980s
  • Nose
  • Taste
  • Finish
  • Balance
  • Overall

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Review is of a 50ml sample kindly provided by @RianC from a bottle he secured at auction.

I had a strange mixed anticipation when I poured this whisky and let it sit for 20 minutes.

Firstly, I was keen to try it after the bottles owner waxed lyrical about how good it was.

It's always nice about trying something from a bygone era. Literally decades earlier. Spirits is one of the few hobbies that lets you consume things from the past free of the risk of botulism.

But counterbalancing that I couldn't help remembering I'd had a glass from the father-in-law's bottle of Johnnie Walker Red last Christmas. And it was bloody awful.



The nose on this jumps out at you. Easily as good as many respectable modern single malts. It's kind of fruity with barley citrus and a straw note. Makes you think of meadows. The nose changes over time too. 10 minutes into the glass I start getting digestive biscuits. Another 5 minutes and I'm getting black pepper.


Some peat on the palate. That is there immediately on the arrival. I didn't pick it up on the nose at all. But it is there and it lingers through the development into the finish. Dry, ashy peat. More peated than a modern JW Black I'd say. I really wasn't expecting that. There's more barley, a little bitter oak. It's less fruity on the palate than on the nose. In fact it's much more savoury. The only fruit present is a slight bitter apple note.

Finish is relatively short.

Mouthfeel is quite thin and the only thing that spoils the party is some slightly over bitter tanins on the finish.


Really enjoyable whisky this. In a blind tasting you'd easily assume this was a 12 year old single malt.

Incredible to think you'd pick this up in any supermarket at the time for say £15.

As they keep telling us it seems whisky WAS better back then!

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RianC commented

@Wierdo - really glad you liked this, and it is reassuring to know I wasn't imagining the quality! Just wait till you try the Black Label stuck_out_tongue

The barley note you reference I picked up as well. And I was also surprised by the level of peat in this blend. I think it's clear to see the quality of both grain and, to a lesser extent, casks that were being used back then. Interestingly, I opened a half bottle of Black Label from the late 80's/early 90's and you can definitely see how the grain component is inferior to these slightly older bottles.

Man, if we could get blends this good now, I doubt I'd buy many malts ...

3 years ago 3Who liked this?