Known amongst blended whisky lovers as one of the top premium Scotch blends, Johnnie Walker is a brand which needs little introduction. Johnnie Walker Black Label remains a backbar standard, and the renowned Johnnie Walker Blue Label is often the first choice for many Scotch drinkers when considering a top-dollar malt.
The company started out life in the 19th century, when John “Johnnie” Walker began selling whisky from his grocery shop in Ayrshire, Scotland. His blends were very popular at the time, but it wasn’t until his death in 1857, when the company was inherited by Alexander Walker, that the brand really took off. Alexander, with his son Alexander Walker II, firmly established the business and began marketing Walker’s Old Highland - a blended Scotch whisky - in 1865. Five years later, their whisky was sold in the distinctive rectangular bottles for the first time.
Over the course of the early 1900s, John Walker’s grandsons, Alexander Walker II and George Walker, established the colour-based naming system. It was in 1908 that the Johnnie Walker name was first put on bottles, after the Managing Director, James Stevenson, rebranded the range. It was around this time that the iconic walking man logo was conceived.
In 1909, Johnnie Walker Red Label was launched (it had previously existed with the name Walker’s Special Old Highland Red Label”). It was created by Alexander Walker as a whisky for blending with soda water and has a lighter character, which is suited to it. It is now the world’s most popular whisky.
The slightly more premium Black Label, made up of whiskies aged for at least 12 years, remains beloved the world over, and it’s enjoyed by critics and public alike; Jim Murray awarded the Black Label an impressive 95.5 points in his Whisky Bible.
The brand’s most illustrious blend is, of course, the Blue Label. Made with a variety of extremely well-aged malts, the overriding flavour is one of toffee and barley, with hints of peat smoke adding lovely complexity.