1.26.2013

Johnnie Walker

Overview
Johnnie Walker is the most widely-distributed brand of blended Scotch whisky in the world. Dating back to 1820 in Kilmarnock, Ayrshire, Scotland, Johnnie Walker is sold in nearly every country in the world.

Johnnie Walker Striding Man Logo | Image Credit: Wikipedia

This is the first Scotch whisky I ever tasted. In this post I'll explore the history and products associated with the Johnnie Walker brand.



History
In 1820, John "Johnnie" Walker began selling "Walker's Kilmarnock Whisky" in his grocery shop in Ayrshire, Scotland.

In 1857, John Walker died leaving his son Alexander Walker and granson Alexander Walker II in charge. It was under their leadership that Walker's whisky became a popular brand.

In 1865, Alexander Walker produced their first blend, "Walker's Old Highland." Prior to 1860, it was illegal to sell blended whisky.

In 1870, Alexander Walker introduced the now iconic square bottle. The purpose of this was reduce the number of broken bottles and allow more bottles to fit into the same space.

In 1877, Alexander Walker registers the slanted Johnnie Walker label. This unique label was angled at 24 degrees to allow the text on the label to be made larger and more visible. It became the signature of Walker's Old Highland Whisky.

From 1906 to 1909, the grandsons of John Walker expanded the line and introduced the now iconic color labels: White Label for Old Highland Whisky (5 Years Old), Red Label for Special Old Highland (9 Years Old) and Black Label for Extra Special Old Highland (12 Years Old).

In 1908, products were re-branded and re-named from Walker's Kilmarnock Whiskies to Johnnie Walker Whisky. In addition, the Striding Man logo was created which is still used in advertisements.

In 1909, the Walkers rename their whiskies in deference to their customers' habit of identifying them by their colored labels. Johnnie Walker White Label, Johnnie Walker Red Label, and Johnnie Walker Black Label were born.

In 1920, the famous square bottle designed by Alexander Walker becomes the standard across all blends.

In 1934, John Walker & Sons received their first Royal Warrant which is considered a mark of quality. They remain suppliers to the royal household today.

In March 2012, the Johnnie Walker plan in Kilmarnock was closed as operations shifted to plants elsewhere.


Today, Johnnie Walker is owned by Diageo and boasts sales of more than 130 million bottles annually.


Products
For most of its history, Johnnie Walker offered only a few blends. Recently, however, many new and special edition blends have been introduced. Below is a list of current products ordered by cost (least expensive to most expensive).

  • Red Label: Blend of 35 grain and malt whiskies and intended for making mixed drinks.
  • Black Label: Blend of about 40 whiskies, each aged at least 12 years. A limited-edition Double Black Label was introduced that adds heavily peated malts and is aged in deeply charred oak casks for a smoky quality. 
  • Green Label: Blended malt using only four malts "drawn from the four corners of Scotland" and aged for at least 15 years. It was introduced in 1997 and is rumored to have been discontinued as of December 2012.
  • Gold Label: Blend of over 15 single malts and bottled at 15 or 18 years, or without an age statement as the Gold Label Reserve. Created in 1920 to commemorate 100 years of business and officially included in the product lineup beginning in 1995.
  • Blue Label: Premium blend with no age statement. Blended to recreate the character and taste of some of the earliest whisky blends created in the 19th century. Bottles are numbered serially and sold in a silk-lined box accompanied by a certificate of authenticity. It was introduced in 1992 and is one of the most expensive blended Scotches on the market.

Johnnie Walker Product Range | Image Credit: Wallpapers Studio


Swing
Johnnie Walker Swing was originally created by Alexander Walker, grandson of John Walker, during the golden age of travel in 1932. On transatlantic voyages, barmen desperately stowed loose bottles on racks to prevent breakages caused by the pitch and roll of stormy weather on the high seas. The unique glass decanter of Johnnie Walker Swing allows it to sway back and forth without losing its balance. 

This blend features a high proportion of Speyside malts, complemented by malts from the northern Highlands and Islay. Up to 35 individual whiskies are used in the creation of Johnnie Walker Swing.

Johnnie Walker Swing | Image Credit: PPD 


Sources
Johnnie Walker by Wikipedia
Johnnie Walker Swing by Johnnie Walker
Johnnie Walker Timeline by Johnnie Walker

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