Johnnie Walker

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Johnnie Walker
Walker's Kilmarnock Whisky (former)
JWalker 2015 logo.png
Type Scotch Whisky
Manufacturer Diageo
Country of origin Scotland
Introduced 1820: Grocery store
1865: Scotch blending
Discontinued White Label
Variants Red Label, Black Label, Double Black Label, Swing, Swing Superior Label, Pure Malt Label, Green Label, Island Green Label, Gold Label, Gold Label Reserve, Platinum Label, XR 21 Years Label, Oldest, Blue Label, Blue Label King George V, The John Walker
Related products Ballantine's, Buchanan's, Chivas Regal, Cutty Sark, Dewar's, Vat 69

Johnnie Walker is a brand of Scotch whisky owned by Diageo that originates from the Scottish town of Kilmarnock, a large burgh in East Ayrshire, which is where the brand's creator, John Walker began making and distilling the whisky in the Johnnie Walker Bond located in the town centre. It is the most widely distributed brand of blended Scotch whisky in the world, sold in almost every country, with annual sales of the equivalent of over 223.7 million 700 ml bottles in 2016 (156.6 million litres).[1]

With the advancement of technology and the ability to monitor operations in real time on a global basis, the brand's owners, Diageo, found that a restructuring programme was required across Scotland with a view to upgrade and expand bottling capacity and in anticipation of future growth in demand for its brands, [2] including an evergrowing portfolio of Johnnie Walker blends. Analyses showed that production in the brand's original home in Kilmarnock would need to be moved to Diageo plants in Leven, Fife and Shieldhall, Glasgow. On 1 July 2009, Bryan Donaghey, Diageo Managing Director for Global Supply Scotland, announced that Diageo intended to cease production at the plant in Kilmarnock. Protests at every level notwithstanding, the Johnnie Walker plant situated in Hill Street in Kilmarnock closed its doors in March 2012. [3] (See Closure in Kilmarnock, Scotland below)

History[edit]

Alexander Walker, son of John Walker, inherited the business following his father's death

Originally known as Walker's Kilmarnock Whisky, the Johnnie Walker brand is a legacy left by John "Johnnie" Walker after he started to sell whisky in his grocer's shop in Ayrshire, Scotland. Surprisingly, John first sold this whisky, a self-created and distilled malt whisky, in 1850, only seven years before his death in 1857. [4]The brand became popular, but after Walker's death it was his son Alexander Walker and grandson Alexander Walker II who were largely responsible for establishing the whisky as a popular brand. Under John Walker, whisky sales represented eight percent of the firm's income; by the time Alexander was ready to pass on the company to his own sons, that figure had increased to between 90 and 95 percent.[5][6]

During that time John Walker sold a number of single malt whiskies—notably his own Walker's Kilmarnock. In 1867, he launched Johnnie Walker's first commercial blend and called it Old Highland Whisky. He then made the astute move of engaging ships' captains as his agents to carry his whisky wherever ships could sail. Before long, his unique blend was available around the globe.[7]

Alexander Walker introduced the iconic square bottle in 1860. This meant more bottles fitting the same space and resulted in fewer broken bottles. The other identifying characteristic of the Johnnie Walker bottle is the label, which is applied at an angle of 24 degrees and allows text to be made larger and more visible.[8] There were no advertisements at the time, and it was important that the whisky's growing following could identify it at a distance. [9]

In 1893, Cardhu distillery was purchased by the Walkers for £20,500 to protect the stocks of one of the Johnnie Walker blends' key malt whiskies.[10] This move took the Cardhu silky smooth single malt out of the market and made it the exclusive preserve of the Walkers.[8] The Cardhu's output was to become the heart of the Old Highland Whisky and, subsequent to the rebranding of 1909, the prime single malt in Johnnie Walker Red and Black Labels.[11]

From 1906 to 1909, John's grandsons George and Alexander II expanded the line and had three blended whiskies in the market, The Old Highland 5 Year Old (YO) ; the Special Old Highland 9YO and the Extra Special Old Highland 12 YO. These three brands had the standard Johnnie Walker labels, the only difference being their colour, White, Red and Black respectively. They were already being referred to in public by the colour of their labels. [12] In 1908, when James Stevenson was the Managing Director, the slogan "Born 1820—Still going Strong!" was created, along with the Striding Man logo, a figure used in their advertisements to this day, etched by illustrator Tom Browne, in honour of the founder, and given the same name. Soon thereafter, the re-branding was finalised and kept simple, in that the public names were retained. In 1909, The Old Highland 5 YO was renamed the Johnnie Walker White Label, now a 6 YO; the Special Old Highland 9YO became the Johnnie Walker Red Label 10 YO and the Extra Special Old Highland was renamed Johnnie Walker Black Label 12 YO. [13]

Sensing a promising opportunity for their brands in terms of expansion of scale and variety, The Walker company became a shareholder in Coleburn Distillery in 1915 and Clynelish Distillery Co. & Dailuaine- Talisker Co in 1916.[14]. Such a strategic expansion was made solely to ensure that the output from the Cardhu, Coleburn, Clynelish, Talisker and Dailuaine distilleries would play a major role in the definition of the extant Johnnie Walker Blends and those slated to follow.[15]

Johnnie Walker White was dropped during World War I.[16] In 1932, Alexander II added Johnnie Walker Swing to the line, the name originating from the unusual shape of the bottle, which allowed it to rock back and forth.

The company joined Distillers Company in 1925. Distillers was acquired by Guinness in 1986, and Guinness merged with Grand Metropolitan to form Diageo in 1997.

Closure in Kilmarnock, Scotland[edit]

When the brand's owners, Diageo, announced its decision in 2009 to close all operations in the town of Kilmarnock, despite it being the birthplace of both John Walker, the creator of Johnnie Walker, and the Johnnie Walker brand and whisky itself, it met with backlash from local people, local politics and then First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond. News of the planned closure attracted widespread media attention and condemnation. Despite petitions, public campaigns and a large-scale march around Kilmarnock and pressure placed upon the Scottish Government to persuade Diageo to change their minds, Diageo continued to forge ahead with the closure. When a global company is rationalising its costs in a recession to produce savings of £120m, heritage and sentimement, even when an important part of the brand identity of the world’s most popular whisky, must take second place to economics.[17] As matters stood, 80 percent of Johnnie Walker was already being bottled at Diageo's other Scottish bottling facilities. [18] On 9 September 2009, Diageo stated that they intended to press ahead with the move away from Kilmarnock and that the matter was "closed". [19]

The Johnnie Walker plant, the largest employer in the town of Kilmarnock, closed its doors in March 2012.[20]

Blends[edit]

For most of its history Johnnie Walker only offered a few blends. Since the turn of the century, there have been several special and limited bottlings.

Standard blends[edit]

A variety of blends.
  • Red Label: a 40% ABV (70 proof globally and 80 proof in the USA) blend of 35 grain and malt whiskies. It was the largest selling Scotch Whisky in the world by 1945, [21] through the 1960s, [22] and is still the best-selling Scotch Whisky around the globe today, even though its primary use now is for making mixed drinks.[23] [24] The gap has narrowed since with Ballantine's and Grant's closing in.[25] According to William Manchester this was the favourite Scotch of Winston Churchill, who mixed it with soda.[26] Red Label has been reported to be former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney's drink of choice.[27] Duty Free versions are marketed in 1.0 litre-bottles at 43% ABV (75/86 proof)
  • Black Label: a 40% ABV (70/80 proof) blend of about 40 whiskies, reportedly 35 single malt and five single grain whiskies, each aged at least 12 years. Cardhu is the dominant single malt in this blend with its smoothness [28], while Caol Ila 12 YO peated and Talisker 12 YO unpeated provide the hint of peat and background smoke. At least 32-33 other single malts from Diageo's 28 malt distilleries add to its flavour profile, with superfine single grain whiskies from Diageo's Cameronbridge, Port Dundas (closed in 2011, though the few remaining young and aged grain whiskies in barrels are still in use) and North British grain distilleries melding the diverse single malts. North British is operated by Lothian Distillers, a joint partnership between Edrington and Diageo. [29]This drink was the favourite of journalist Christopher Hitchens, and is glimpsed in the 1982 science fiction film Blade Runner.[30]Duty Free versions are marketed in either 1.0 or 1.125 litre-bottles at 43% ABV (75/86 proof).
  • Double Black Label: was rolled out for general release in 2011 after a successful launch in travel retail [31]. The 40% ABV No Age Statement (NAS) whisky was created taking Black Label as a blueprint, adding peaty West Coast malts (specifically the bestselling Talisker 10 YO) and Islay malts to it and maturing it in heavily charred old oak casks.[32]
Johnnie Walker Blue label bottle in a gift box.
  • Green Label: a 43% ABV (75/86 proof) whisky is a Blended Malt, [33] meaning it is made just from single-malts with no grain whisky added. Green Label uses predominantly four malts "drawn from the four corners of Scotland." Each of the malts (Talisker, Linkwood, Cragganmore, and Caol Ila) was selected by the blender for balance. All four malt whiskies are matured for a minimum of 15 years.[34][35][36]
  • Gold Label: a 40% ABV (70/80 proof) blend of over 15 single malts, particularly Clynelish. It was derived from Alexander Walker II's blending notes for a whisky to commemorate Johnnie Walker's centenary. His original efforts were thwarted by a shortage of these malts following World War I. Gold Label is commonly bottled at 15 or 18 years and usually labelled "The Centenary blend". In 2013, Gold Label was replaced by a No Age Statement (NAS) blend, labelled "Gold Label Reserve".
  • Platinum Label: a 40% ABV (70/80 proof) private blend—aged 18 years to replace the original Gold Label in the Asian market, and sold alongside Gold Label Reserve. Though still available around the globe, the Platinum Label has been discontinued this summer (2017) and is being replaced by the Johnnie Walker Aged 18 Years blended Scotch whisky. The two are identical except for the packaging and wording on the label. The same 18 malt and grain whiskies have been used, including Cardhu, Glen Elgin, Auchroisk, Blair Athol and perfectly aged island malts for subtle smokiness, all mated in 18-year-old Lowland grain whisky. [37]
  • Blue Label: Johnnie Walker's premium 40% ABV 70/80 proof [38][39]) blend with no age statement. Johnnie Walker Blue Label is blended to recreate the character and taste of some of the earliest whisky blends created in the 19th century.[40] Bottles are numbered serially and sold in a silk-lined box accompanied by a certificate of authenticity. It is one of the most expensive blended Scotch Whiskies on the market, with prices in the range of US $174–$450.[41]
  • Johnnie Walker Swing: 40% ABV supplied in a distinctive bottle whose irregular bottom allows it to rock back and forth. This type of bottle design was originally used aboard sailing ships. It was Alexander II's last blend: it features a high proportion of Speyside malts, complemented by malts from the northern Highlands and Islay, and is "almost as sweet as a bourbon".[42]
  • Red & Cola: a premix of Red Label and cola, sold in cans and bottles similar to beer.
Johnnie Walker blends, by years of production, and from least expensive to most expensive. While most of the whiskies with name changes are the same, Old Highland and White Label are not the same as Red & Cola.
Age 1865–1905 1906–1908 1909–1911 1912–1931 1932–1991 1992–1996 1997–2012 2013–
young
(blended)
Old Highland Johnnie Walker
White Label
Red & Cola
none given (min. 3)
(blended)
Special
Old Highland
Johnnie Walker
Red Label
12
(blended)
Walker's
Old Highland
Extra Special
Old Highland
Johnnie Walker
Black Label
none given (min. 12)[32]
(blended)
Johnnie Walker
Double Black Label
none given[42]
(blended)
Johnnie Walker
Swing
15
(blended malt)
Johnnie Walker
Green Label
15/18/none
(blended malt)
Johnnie Walker
Gold Label
"The Centenary Blend"
Johnnie Walker
Gold Label Reserve
18
(blended)
Johnnie Walker
Platinum Label
none given
(blended)
Johnnie Walker
Blue Label

Special/Limited bottlings[edit]

  • Johnnie Walker New Explorers' Club Collection: a collection which contains a number of 'series', the first of which is the 'Trade Routes' series, which contains "The Adventurer" (≈US$30) released May 2014; "The Spice Road" (≈US$43) released Dec 2012; "The Gold Route" (≈US$95) released in Mar/Apr 2013; "The Royal Route" (≈US$159) released May/Jun 2013. The Trade Routes series is available exclusively in Duty Free.[43][44] The Explorer's Club of New York took umbrage at this titling and filed suit against Diageo for misuse of its trademark. After a New York judge ruled in favour of the club, a settlement was reached in November 2014 with Diageo entering into a licensing agreement with the club (without disclosing the financial terms of the settlement).[45]
  • Johnnie Walker XR 21: a 40% ABV (70 proof; 80 proof in the USA) blend aged 21 years.
  • Johnnie Walker Black Label: Keep Walking New Zealand: a special limited-edition pack to support fundraising efforts following the Christchurch earthquake in February 2011
  • Johnnie Walker Black Label: Project Black Inspiration: Facebook fans across Malaysia and Singapore had the chance to provide creative input to help shape the new bottle design. Only 200 bottles available worldwide, and only available in Malaysia and Singapore. (2011/2012)
  • Johnnie Walker Black Label: Anniversary Edition (1908–2008): in two different editions (≈US$34).
  • Double Black: a blend that uses peaty west coast whiskies to create a flavour that is more smoky than Johnnie Walker Black Label.[46]
  • Collectors Edition: a collectors' edition of 12-year-old Black Label was released in limited amounts (≈US$43).
  • Millennium Edition: a collectors' edition of 12-year-old Black Label was released in limited amounts in the year 2000 (≈US$130).
  • Odyssey – First bottling: an expensive Blended Malt [47]with the first bottling of the barrel only 250 bottles (≈US$3,000).
  • Odyssey: an expensive general releaseBlended Malt (≈GBP 520-580/≈US$700-800).[48][49]
  • Deco: a limited number of 350 ml bottles were produced in Art Deco–designed bottles, hence the name of this blend.
  • Premier: a blend aimed specifically at the Japanese market.
  • Green Label 180 Cask: a limited edition of the Green Label released in 2009 for the Taiwanese market.
  • Green Label 48%: a 2015 limited edition of the Green Label released at a higher strength for the Taiwanese market.
  • Island Green Label : a 1L 43% ABV (75 proof ; 86 proof in the USA ) 2016 travel edition Blended Malt released for the Southeast Asia market.The NAS maritime blended malt includes whisky from Clynelish, Glenkinchie and Cardhu and a greater proportion of malt from Caol Ila distillery on Islay.[50]
  • Swing Superior: a limited edition variety based on the Swing blend, marked by its distinctive golden label. 86.8 proof.
  • Original Swing: bottle has a cork foil top and the highly sought after gold medallion metal front label.[51] (US$1,500)
  • Celebrity: limited edition of 1462 bottles, bottled in 1972.
  • Johnnie Walker 1820 Decanter: a gift to employees to mark the 50 years of operation at the Kilmarnock distillery.
  • Liqueur Whisky (US$1,200)
  • 21 year old: a rare aged variation of Gold Label (US$1,200).
  • Quest: a special blend, rarer than Blue Label (≈$500).
  • Honour: one of the most rare and most expensive blends of Johnnie Walker Scotch whisky.
  • Excelsior: a rare double matured Scotch whisky, distilled in 1947, bottled in 1997 (≈US$1,700).
  • Old Harmony: a rare blend marketed at the Japanese market (≈US$850).
  • 15 year old Kilmarnock 400 Whisky: an extremely rare Gold Label blend, a 75cl/ 43% ABV(75 proof/86 proof in USA) expression, bottled in 1992 to mark the 400th anniversary of the granting of burgh status to Kilmarnock. Quite aptly, 1992 bottles were released to celebrate the occasion [GBP 740 (US$ 970)]. [52]
  • John Walker's Oldest Aged 15 to 60 Years: This extremely limited edition of 1992 was the very first appearance of what was to become Johnnie Walker Blue Label, the world's No.1 ultra-premium blended whisky. A small but significant piece of whisky history.[53]
  • Johnnie Walker Oldest NAS: The sequel to John Walker's Oldest when that edition sold out, this equally limited bottling looked identical to its predecessor except for the name and age statement. This edition also sold out in 1992, making way for the Johnnie Walker Blue Label NAS.[54][55]
  • 150 years Anniversary 1820–1970: a 150th anniversary commemorative blend. (≈US$2,000).
  • Blue Label 200th Anniversary: 2005 saw Johnnie Walker's extremely limited bottling of its ultimate blend. A special release of cask strength Blue Label, in a special square Baccarat crystal decanter. It is the most expensive Johnnie Walker product, selling recently for over US$3,600 a bottle.[56]
  • Blue Label 1805: On 25 July 2005, the makers of Johnnie Walker Blue Label celebrated the birth (200th anniversary) of its founder with the release of just 200 bottles of a special edition blend, specially created by the Johnnie Walker Master Blender, Jim Beveridge. None of the 200 bottles were made available for retail sale. In recognition of John Walker's entrepreneurial success in bringing whisky of the highest quality to the world, the bottles were presented to individuals deemed to have made the most significant contribution to modern life. It is estimated that each bottle is valued at US$30,000.
  • Blue Label King George V Edition (2007): To recreate the Johnnie Walker blending style from King George V era. King George V was the British monarch that first granted Johnnie Walker its Royal Warrant in 1934. Oak casks dating back to the last century were used to age the whisky, sourced from distilleries operating during the reign of King George V. Special packaging in crystal decanter accompanied by an individually numbered certificate of authenticity. (US$600)[56]
  • Johnnie Walker Blue Label Mini Blended Scotch Whisky: a rare item that includes a hand-blown nosing glass and sealed tasting notes and booklet on blue label whisky, costing around US$250.
  • Bottle Number 137 of Batch 37 of The John Walker
    The John Walker: This blend includes old whiskies from distilleries long since closed. Only 330 bottles were made. (>US$3,500)
  • Johnnie Walker Diamond Jubilee (2012):[57] In honour of Queen Elizabeth II 60 bottles of whisky distilled in 1952. Only sixty bottles are being sold in Singapore at S$250,000.
  • Johnnie Walker Blue Label Guam Special Edition (2015): initial limited run of only 600 bottles released on 28 July 2015. $247.99/bottle. Features original Blue label bottle with special island gold design on the front. Sold only in Guam, an unincorporated Territory of the United States. The middle of the label features the official Guam Seal which is a sling stone representing the indigenous Chamorro culture with a coconut tree and a flying Proa outrigger canoe inside the design. Possible plans for future release of other editions Christmas 2015 depending on success of this run.
  • Johnnie Walker Select Casks – Rye Cask Finish (2015): a first in a series of limited edition wood-finished blends that will be released over the coming years. It is aged 10 years and is priced at US$45 for a 750 ml bottle, at 46% ABV. Its primary market will be the USA.[58][59]
  • John Walker and Sons Private Collection Whisky: a set of annual, limited release whiskies which showcase the craftsmanship and innovation of John Walker & Sons blended Scotch Whisky. It consists of Private Collection 2014 Edition, Private Collection 2015 Edition and Private Collection 2016 Edition[60][61][62]
  • Johnnie Walker Blue Label- 2017 Rooster Limited Edition: 70cl / 700ml / 40% ABV. A specially packaged 2017 edition of 600 bottles ex Bourbon & Sherry Oak casks.[63]

Marketing[edit]

Every type of Johnnie Walker scotch has had a label colour till this year (2017), except for the Swing label. The Platinum Label, bottles of which are still available around the globe, has been discontinued this summer and is being replaced by the Johnnie Walker Aged 18 Years blended Scotch whisky (See Blends above). The purpose is to supposedly denominate the different types of scotch and to position them to be used for different occasions. For example, Johnnie Walker Blue Label is rare and expensive, and so it is intended to be used for special occasions.[citation needed]

A key feature of every bottle of Johnnie Walker scotch is the Striding Man logo. It was created in 1908 by illustrator Tom Browne to be a likeness of John Walker in traditional, upscale attire. In the logo, the man is walking forward, which Diageo says symbolises forward thinking and the pursuit of excellence. Diageo has created a members club for Johnnie Walker drinkers, called The Striding Man Society.[64]

Another key aspect of its marketing is the slanted label, which is angled at exactly 24 degrees. This was an advertising tool developed by Alexander Walker, who thought it would help his bottles stand out on the shelf. The slanted label also accommodates more text than would a traditionally oriented label.[65]

In 2009, the advertising agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty (BBH) created a new short film, starring Robert Carlyle and directed by Jamie Rafn, titled The Man Who Walked Around the World, which outlined the history of the Johnnie Walker brand.[8][66][67]

In 2013, ahead of the sixth season of Mad Men, the firm launched an ad campaign featuring Christina Hendricks.[citation needed]

Johnnie Walker also launched the international John Walker & Sons Voyager tour in order to market its higher variants in the Asia-Pacific, Europe and Caribbean markets. The Voyager tour was developed in order to promote the special edition Odyssey blend and pay tribute to the original trade routes and sea voyages by which Johnnie Walker was distributed throughout the world. The final leg of the tour was completed in 2014 visiting six Caribbean countries on board the Regina Yacht (featured in the major motion picture Skyfall).

Controversies[edit]

2015 forged kosher certification allegations[edit]

Up until 2015 Johnnie Walker Black Label bottles had a Kosher sign, naming the OK Kosher organization as one that provide Kosher tests for the product. IBBL and Paneco groups export Johnnie Walker to Israel.[68]

Following an inquiry by the Israeli Rabbinical authority, Rabbi Aharon Hesskel from the OK organization conducted an investigation and published that only IBBLS marks are genuine while the Paneco group did not get their certification.[69] The Israeli Rabbinical authority released a statement that urged customers to verify the producer and stated that the Paneco group is suspected of certificate forgery. Paneco representatives stated that they do have a Kosher certificate (from the Israeli rabbinical authority) and asked the Israeli police to perform an investigation.[70] A representative told the International Business Times, "All products sold on Paneco.com are completely and solely original. The Johnnie Walker whisky products sold on the site are created by the primary manufacturer at the Diageo distillery in Scotland and is exactly the same product marketed by a competing company in Israel, which holds the kosher certification for the product."[68]

Accolades[edit]

Johnnie Walker spirits have received strong scores at international spirit ratings competitions and from liquor review bodies. The Green Label received a string of three double gold medals from the San Francisco World Spirits Competition between 2005 and 2007.[71] The Gold Label received double gold medals from the San Francisco competition in 2008 and 2009 and won a gold in 2010.[72] Spirits ratings aggregator proof66.com, which averages scores from the San Francisco Spirits Competition, Wine Enthusiast, and others, puts the Black, Blue, Gold and Green Labels in its highest performance category ("Tier 1" Spirits).[73] Johnnie Walker spirits have several times taken part in the Monde Selection's World Quality Selections and have received a Gold and Grand Gold Quality Award.[74] Johnnie Walker was voted India's Most Trusted Premium Whisky Brand according to the Brand Trust Report 2014, a study conducted by Trust Research Advisory.[75]

Sponsorships[edit]

As well being the official whisky of Formula One,[76] They are also currently a sponsor of F1 team Force India. Johnnie Walker also sponsors the Johnnie Walker Classic, an Asia-Pacific golf tournament, and the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles, a golf tournament in Scotland.

Cultural figures[edit]

Vanity Fair writer Christopher Hitchens was partial to Johnnie Walker Black Label, and referred to it as "Mr Walker's Amber Restorative". He preferred to take it mixed with Perrier water and no ice.[77] Johnnie Walker Blue Label was a favorite of the late US president Richard Nixon's, who used to enjoy it with ginger ale and a wedge of lime.[78]

Gallery[edit]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]

Coordinates: 55°36′52″N 4°30′04″W / 55.61444°N 4.50111°W / 55.61444; -4.50111