Top 100 Brand in The World – Rank no.82 – Johnnie Walker – Scotland
|Country of origin||Kilmarnock, Scotland|
|Introduced||1820: Grocery store
1865: Scotch blending
|Variants||Red Label, Black Label, Double Black Label, Swing Label, Swing Superior Label, Green Label, Green Label 180 Cask, Pure Malt Label, Gold Label, Gold Label Reserve, Platinum Label, XR 21 Years Label, Blue Label,
Blue Label King George V, The John Walker
|Related products||Ballantine’s, Buchanan’s, Chivas Regal,Cutty Sark, Dewar’s, Vat 69|
It is the most widely distributed brand of blended Scotch whisky in the world. It is sold in almost every country, with yearly sales of over 130 million bottles,.
In 2011, the brand sold over 1 million cases in the USA, Brazil and Thailand. It sold more than 500,000 cases in Mexico and Australia.
Underground to Wood Lane to anywhere: International Advertising Exhibition at White City, 29 November to 4 December 1920. Advertising poster by Frederick Charles Herrick for London Underground transportation to an exhibition at White City, showing an assemblage of characters representing various advertising trademarks and emblems, including Bibendum, the Michelin Man; Johnnie Walker; and theKodak Girl, in an Underground station displaying advertising posters.
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. The brand became popular, but after Walker’s death in 1857 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.
Prior to 1860 it was illegal to sell blended whisky. During that time John Walker sold a number of whiskies—notably his ownWalker’s Kilmarnock. In 1865 John’s son Alexander produced their first blend, Walker’s Old Highland.
Alexander Walker introduced the iconic square bottle in 1870. This meant fewer broken bottles and more bottles fitting the same space. The other identifying characteristic of the bottle is the label, which is applied at an angle of 24 degrees. The angled label means the text on the label could be made larger and more visible.
From 1906 to 1909 John’s grandsons George and Alexander II expanded the line and introduced the colour names. In 1908, whenJames Stevenson was the Managing Director, there was a re-branding of sorts. The whisky was renamed from Walker’s Kilmarnock Whiskies to Johnnie Walker Whisky. In addition, the slogan, “Born 1820—Still going Strong!” was created, along with the Striding Man logo, a figure used in their advertisements to this day,created by illustrator Tom Browne, in honour of the founder, and given the same name.
Johnnie Walker White was dropped during World War I. 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.
Johnnie Walker is no longer blended in Kilmarnock, and has not been for many years. The bonded warehouses and company offices (now local authority) can still be seen in Strand Street and John Finnie Street.
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. Under a restructuring programme across Scotland, production would be moved from the brand’s original home to Diageo plants in Leven, Fife, and Shieldhall, Glasgow.
News of the planned closure had widespread media attention and condemnation. Following the decision, a public campaign was waged to try to persuade Diageo to reverse this decision. However on 9 September 2009 Diageo stated that they intended to press ahead with the move away from Kilmarnock and that the matter was “closed”.
The Johnnie Walker plant, the largest employer in the town of Kilmarnock, closed its doors in March 2012.
For most of its history Johnnie Walker only offered a few blends. In recent years there have been several special and limited bottlings.
- Red & Cola: a premix of Red Label and cola, sold in cans and bottles similar to beer.
- Johnnie Walker Swing: supplied in a distinctive bottle whose irregular bottom allows it to rock back and forth. 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“.
- Red Label: an 80 proof (40% ABV) blend of 35 grain and malt whiskies. It is intended for making mixed drinks. According toWilliam Manchester this was the favourite Scotch of Winston Churchill, who mixed it with soda. Red Label has been reported to be former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney‘s drink of choice.
- Black Label: an 80 proof (40% ABV) blend of about 40 whiskies, each aged at least 12 years.
- Double Black Label: A new addition, the whisky was created taking Black Label as a blueprint and adding heavily peated malts and some aged in deeply charred oak casks.
- Green Label: a blended malt using only four malts “drawn from the four corners of Scotland”—the intent of the blend is to deliver depth, substance, and intensity. Each of the malts is selected by the blender for balance and each malt whisky is matured for a minimum of 15 years. Green Label was expected to be discontinued as of December 2011, but production continues.   
- Gold Label: an 80 proof (40% ABV) blend of over 15 single malts. 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, or without an age statement as Gold Label Reserve. Gold Label has been replaced, without an age statement, as “Golden Label Reserve” as of 2013; however, is not represented on the company’s label portfolio.
- Platinum Label: an 80 proof (40% ABV) private blend—aged 18 years to replace the original Gold Label in the Asian market, and sold alongside Gold Label Reserve. It is also available in Australia, Brazil, Canada and South Africa and Israel.
- Blue Label: Johnnie Walker’s premium 80-86 proof (40-43% ABV) blend with no age statement. Johnnie Walker Blue Label, also known as Max Walker, is 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 is one of the most expensive blended Scotches on the market, with prices in the range of US $200–$300.
|Old Highland||Johnnie Walker
Premix / One
Double Black Label
Gold Label Reserve
|This section does not cite any references or sources. Please help improve this section by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. (December 2008)|
- “Johnnie Walker New Explorers’ Club Collection”: A collection which will contain a number of ‘series’, the first of which is the ‘Trade Routes’ series, which contains “The Spice Road” (~US$43) released Dec 2012; “The Gold Route” (~US$95) released in Mar/Apr 2013; “The Royal Route” (~US$159) releasing May/Jun 2013. The Trade Routes series will be available exclusively in Duty Free.
- “Johnnie Walker XR 21”: an 80 proof (40% ABV) 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 with 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.
- 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: a very expensive blend with the first bottling of the barrel only 250 bottles (~US$3000).
- Odyssey – : a very expensive general release (~US$1000).
- Deco: a very 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.
- 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 top) (US$1500)
- Johnnie Walker 1820 Decanter: A gift to employees to mark the 50 years of operation at the Kilmarnock distillery.
- Liquer Whisky (US$1200)
- 21 year old: a rare aged variation of Gold Label (US$1200).
- Quest: a very special blend, rarer than Blue Label (~$500).
- Honour: one of the most rare and most expensive blends of Johnnie Walker Scotch whisky.
- Excelsior: a very rare double matured Scotch whisky, distilled in 1947, bottled in 1997 (~US$1700).
- Old Harmony: a rare blend marketed at the Japanese market (~US$850).
- 15 year old Kilmarnock 400 Whisky: an extremely rare Gold Label blend bottled to mark the 400th anniversary of the granting of burgh status to Kilmarnock. Released in 1992 in very limited amounts (~US$850).
- 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 squareBaccarat crystal decanter. It is the most expensive Johnnie Walker product, selling recently for over US$3,600 a bottle.
- 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)
- Johnnie Walker Blue Label Mini Blended Scotch Whisky: a very rare item that includes a hand-blown nosing glass and sealed tasting notes and booklet on blue label whisky, costing around US$250.
- The John Walker: This blend includes old whiskies from distilleries long since closed. Only 330 bottles were made.
- Johnnie Walker Diamond Jubilee (2012): 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.
Every type of Johnnie Walker scotch has a label colour as previously noted, except for the aforementioned Swing label. The purpose is to denote the different type 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.
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 attire. In the logo, the man is walking forward, which Diageo says symbolises forward thinking and the pursuit of excellence. Diageo has created “The Striding Man Society” which is a members club for Johnnie Walker drinkers.
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.
In 2009 the advertising agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty created a new short film, starring Robert Carlyle and called The Man Who Walked Around the World, which outlined the history of the Johnnie Walker brand.
Johnnie Walker spirits have generally received strong scores at international Spirit ratings competitions and from liquor review bodies. The Green Label, for example, received an extraordinary string of three double gold medals from the San Francisco World Spirits Competition between 2005 and 2007. The Gold Label received double gold medals from the San Francisco competition in 2008 and 2009 and won a gold in 2010. 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). Johnnie Walker spirits have several times taken part in the Monde Selection’s World Quality Selections and have consistently received a Gold and Grand Gold Quality Award.
In popular culture
- Johnnie Walker Black Label was Christopher Hitchens‘ favorite whisky, dubbed by him “Mr Walker’s Amber Restorative”.
- Johnnie Walker Black Label is drunk by Harrison Ford in two scenes of Ridley Scott‘s film Blade Runner after being poured from a futuristic Art Deco bottle.
- In the episode “Lineage” of Revenge, Kenny Ryan describes his father’s favourite drink as being “Blue Label liquor”, often calling it his “rich man’s candy”.
- Johnnie Walker Blue Label was a favorite of the late US president Richard Nixon, who used to enjoy it with Dry Ginger Ale.
- Johnnie Walker Blue is mentioned by Leo McGarry in The West Wing episode Bartlet For America. In the flashback, at meeting, drinks were poured from the bottle, mentioned by name and label clearly shown. Leo then lapsed by accepting a drink, saying “That’s what I remember.”
- Krzysztof Klenczon sings about Johnnie Walker in the refrains of his song “Port”.
- In the TV series Scrubs, Black Label is enjoyed by Dr Cox, with the “Janitor” claiming and naming the drink left at the bar by the iconic character played by John McGinley..
Johnnie Walker sponsors
- The Johnnie Walker Classic, an Asia-Pacific golf tournament
- The Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles, a golf tournament in Scotland
- The McLaren–Mercedes F1 team.
- The Ashes, a cricket series between Australia and England
- The New York Yankees baseball team