Here are some things you (probably) didn’t know Scotland’s best-selling whisky, with sales of 9-litre cases topping 18m last year, has a long and illustrious history. Synonymous with Scotch, the brand is known all around the world. Here are a few things you might not know about Johnnie Walker Whisky.
1) John [Johnnie] Walker began life as a farm-boy, but the death of his father forced the sale of the sale of the family farm. John bought a grocery store for a wee bitty over £500.
2) He began blending whisky, in the early 1820’s, taking inspiration from his blending of various teas. His aim was to produce a whisky that was consistently the same from batch to batch. At the time whiskies varied greatly in quality and alcohol content. Customers Initially this was done at the behest of a few regular customers he went on to mix the same blend for regular buyers. He developed a smooth recipe, balancing out the impurities of single malts of the time and this became the category of ‘blended whisky’ we know today.
3) John Walker was Initiated in Lodge St John Kilmarnock Kilwinning, No.22, in 1824 and soon supplied food and drink for the Lodge Harmonies.
4) The first brand, called `Old Highland Whisky’ was created in 1867 by John’s son Alexander and it was he who was the first appreciate the huge potential of this new blended whisky category. With great vision he began to sell, not only in the UK, but also to overseas markets particularly to countries with large expatriate Scots.
5) According to the Diageo archive located in Menstrie, Clackmannanshire, Scotland, the oldest Johnnie Walker bottle in the archive a snake in it! Dating from c.1880 it is filled with whisky and oddly a pickled snake. Though Christine McCafferty, who manages the archive admits they are not sure how it got there. She said: “We believe it left Scotland without a snake, and made it to the Far East where it’s not unusual for things to end up pickled in bottles of whisky, somehow it managed to make its way back to Scotland and we found it when we were clearing out one of our old packaging rooms about 14-15 years ago now.”
6) The famous square bottle was introduced early in the brand’s life by Alexander Walker for ease of transportation, to reduce breakages and make the most of space in shipping crates.
7) The instantly recognisable striding man was first drawn by Tom Browne, a cartoonist for Punch magazine in 1908 and was based on a London ‘Dandy’ who boasts extravagant clothing including top hat, monocle and walking cane. The striding man only appeared on packaging in the 1950’ and prior to then the ‘London Dandy’ had only been used in advertising material.
8) Johnnie Walker Red Label was created by John’s grandson Alexander created the brand at the start of the 20th century to be enjoyed as a long serve with a mixer, either soda or ginger ale at that time.
9) Johnnie Walker has featured in numerous films including the first Blade Runner (1982) starring Harrison Ford. In 2017 a Johnnie Walker Black Label ‘The Director’s Cut’ (limited edition) was released to mark the sequel – Blade Runner 2049. This new blend appeared exactly thirty-five years after Johnnie Walker Black Label appeared in the original Blade Runner movie as an “iconic whisky of the future.”
10) The John Walker company joined Distillers Company in 1925 which was acquired by Guinness in 1986. Guinness subsequently merged with Grand Metropolitan to form Diageo in 1997.
11) In 2013 Diageo closed the town’s Johnnie Walker bottling plant and making 700 people unemployed. So ended a 189 year association between Johnnie Walker Whisky, the town of Kilmarnock and, arguably, Freemasonry there.
[Does this mean that this is a ‘Masonic’ whisky? – Ed.]