Whisky and Words Number 43: Dewar’s White vs. Johnnie Walker Red

In the previous post, I mentioned Dewar’s old full-page magazine ads, with the Scots Guard soldier or some other Scottish kitsch. I also mentioned the ubiquity of White Label, the fifth largest selling blended Scotch in the world and top selling Scotch in the U.S.


Dewar’s web site claims the White label is “The World’s Most Awarded Blended Scotch Whisky.” This post is going to answer the question, is it any good for sipping? And to give it some spice, we’re setting the White up against a competitor, the Red, from Johnnie Walker.

The Dewar’s packaging, like the ’12’, is in a classic style, again heavy on the heritage with “True Scotch” announced just below the “White Label”, rendered in some old-timey font. Boy howdy, glad to see we don’t have a fake scotch on our hands. I have a warm feeling inside (and I haven’t even tried any), like when I get the Domino’s box with ‘Real cheese’ emblazoned on the side. Lower down we see the ‘Gold and Prize 500 medals’ claimed. I guess they are including silver, bronze, even iron medals? Who knows.

A little of the Red.

The Johnnie packaging is more sophisticated and laid back, with the minimalist slash label characteristic of the brand, with the Red Label underscored by ‘Blended Scotch Whisky.’ Johnnie Walker doesn’t feel the need to claim it’s ‘true’ because, frankly, the laws of Scotland ensure that for us.

Let’s get to the lowdown. First off, we’re just above a Jackson in price – $23 for the Dewar’s, $22 for the JWR locally. So a small premium over the sub-Jackson whiskies I reviewed here. That was 2015, but those are still in the sub-$20 category.

So what do you get for a bit more than $20? On the Dewar’s side, a decently smooth malty nose, not too much sting if you breathe deep. Not a hint of smoke or peat, but traces of hazelnut, prune and highland spice from the ex-bourbon casks. Oddly a little smoke comes over the palate, which is a bit sweet (think Turkish toffee) but not overwhelmingly so; there is just enough spice from the oak to keep it from being a dessert whisky. For $23 you don’t get much finish. It’s sweet, a bit of spice lingers at the side of the tongue, and a bit harsh on the back of the throat.

The JWR does have noticeable smoke on the palate, as one would expect from its constituents, and that is one thing I appreciate in the Johnnie Walker products. It’s nose does not have the depth of the Dewar’s with respect to malt, and I wonder if there is more grain alcohol in JWR. There are a few more notes on the palate, though the smoke is muted, and we get a quick, unremarkable — but smooth — finish.

Dewar’s ‘White Label’ Blended, 40% ABV

Nose: Mild but pleasing malt, hazelnut, prune, fresh oak spice.
Palate: Spice and treacle with the treacle winning out, touch of strawberries and the faintest whiff of smoke.
Finish: Short. Sweet, tannins, a harsh end-note.

Johnnie Walker ‘Red Label’ Blended, 40% ABV

Nose: A hint of smoke, a little malt and oak, not much else.
Palate: Mildly sweet, Lyle’s syrup but diluted, red apple, just a touch of tannins to balance.
Finish: Short. More diluted Lyle’s, tannins, a light hint of peat smoke.

Bottom Line: The Dewar’s beats by a nose — literally. It has a tad more nose, and delivers a bit more in the palate as well, with it’s almost aromatherapy-level of smoke showing up. The heavy sweetness may put off some, of course, and Johnnie is overall a more refreshing, neutral sip with a smoother finish. Neither one is going to make you go out and buy some for sipping straight of course, but if you’re on a plane, there’s always Dewar’s White Label, and it’s alright over ice. Especially if you are stuck in the middle seat.

Looking for more head-to-head comparisons? Check this review for a comparison of:

  • Cutty Sark Original
  • Duggans Dew
  • Grant’s Family Reserve
  • Ballantine’s Finest
Smooth yet unremarkable

Author: H.W. MacNaughton

Technologist and communicator. Into technology, jazz, Formula One, sci-fi and any good writing about real stuff.

One thought on “Whisky and Words Number 43: Dewar’s White vs. Johnnie Walker Red”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: