Two of the world’s bestselling blended Scotch whiskies, both the Ballantine’s Finest and Johnnie Walker Red Label are the standard expressions from the core range of both iconic Scotch whisky houses.
With centuries of rich history and legacy, industry defining impact and millions of cases of Scotch sold, both Ballantine’s and Johnnie Walker presents formidable products in the Finest and Red Label respectively.
Let us pit the two heavyweights in a head-to-head comparison to find which brand has the upper hand, Ballantine’s Finest, or Johnnie Walker Red Label?
Established by George Ballantine in 1827 in the city of Edinburgh, Scotland, the Ballantine’s brand started out as a grocery store that dealt exclusively in whisky and catered to a wealthy clientele. Over the years, George Ballantine was joined in the business by his three sons, George Jr, Archibald and Daniel Ballantine, as the brand itself moved towards creating their own blends.
The brand slowly progressed towards their identity today as business continued to thrive under George Jr., even as George Sr. embraced retirement in 1881. The business was acquired by Barclay and McKinlay in 1919, and later by Canadian firm Gooderham and Worts in 1937.
The brand’s current distilleries, Glenburgie and Miltonduff were acquired as Ballantine’s began its journey towards the pinnacle of the world’s penchant for Scotch whisky. It soon became Europe’s highest selling, and the third largest brand in the world by 1986, and today, it continues to be the second highest selling Scotch whisky worldwide with the Ballantine’s Finest leading the charge and being the brand’s most popular and widely sold expression.
Johnnie Walker Red Label
Johnnie Walker too gets its name from its founder, John Walker and started out as a grocery store in Kilmarnock, Scotland. John dealt in a number of types of liquor such as rum, brandy, gin and most importantly, whisky.
John Walker passed in 1857, and a few years later, the Spirits Act of 1860 unshackled whisky dealers and blenders by removing the prohibition of blending malt and grain whiskies together. John’s son, Alexander ‘Alec’ Walker, and grandson, Alexander Walker II took over the family business creating their first proprietary blend in 1865 and named it ‘Old Highland Whisky’.
Subsequently, they introduced a two more blends into the core range, named Special Old Highland and Extra Special Old Highland. The expressions were known by the colour of their labels, and soon, the company too adopted practice, through which the Special Old Highland came to be known as the Johnnie Walker Red Label. Although it carried an age-statement of 10 Years earlier, it was soon re-introduced as a no-age-statement blend.
Choosing the Best
A fair comparison between the two expressions since both Ballantine’s Finest and Johnnie Walker Red Label are no-age-statement blended Scotch whiskies, and are the standard entry-level expression from their respective brands; the two also share an uncanny and similar success, being exceptionally popular variants across the world.
All Ballantine’s blends are created with fingerprint malt whiskies coming in from their Miltonduff and Glenburgie distilleries, whereas their grain whiskies arrive from the Strathclyde distillery. This quintessential Speyside heart of the Ballantine’s blend lends a breath-taking repertoire of flavours to the whiskies with the grain whiskies bringing in an unparalleled smoothness.
Ballantine’s Finest is a remarkably smooth drink, with the Speyside whiskies from Miltonduff and Glenburgie lending it a rich, and sweet flavour profile. This makes Ballantine’s a particularly well-suited drink to be enjoyed neat.
A number of distilleries are owned by Johnnie Walker that meet the brand’s mammoth requirements of single-malt whiskies such as Clynelish, Cardhu, Coleburn, Talisker and Dailuiane, while the source of their grain whiskies is not well known. Johnnie Walker Red Label although boasts of a noticeable peaty character indicating the presence of some amount of spirit from Islay.
Johnnie Walker Red Label too is a fairly robust drink but is more often than not used with mixers and is a really popular base for cocktails owing to its affordability and quality as compared to other whiskies in the market. Although it is not a whisky that would be considered off-putting, it is sadly not one to create loyalists either.
In our opinion, the Ballantine’s Finest tips the scales in its favour over the Johnnie Walker Red Label with a delightfully smooth drink, desirable balance of flavours and a premium quality priced to perfection.