Johnnie Walker is the biggest selling Scotch whisky brand in the world. It is a blended Scotch whisky that comes in a distinctive square bottle featuring the iconic “striding man” logo. Different expressions are identified by the colour of their label.
Johnnie Walker is owned by Diageo.
As a producer of blended Scotch whiskies, Johnnie Walker bottles different styles depending on the expression. Their whiskies tend to have a smoky, coastal character that mingles with fruit and toffee notes.
Diageo is the largest producer of Scotch, accounting for 40% of all the whisky made in Scotland. They own 27 malt distilleries and two that produce grain whisky. This gives master blender Jim Beveridge and his team at Johnnie Walker a lot of stock to work with.
The Label series began with Red Label and Black Label in 1909. The range has since expanded to include Double Black, Gold, Green, Platinum and Blue Label versions. There have also been several limited-edition versions like Blue Label Ghost & Rare which focused on whisky from closed distilleries.
There are Johnnie Walker “Houses” in several Asian cities including Shanghai, Beijing, Mumbai and Taipei.
The brand sells 20 million cases of its Scotch whisky each year. It is the most valuable premium spirit brand in the world.
In 1819, 14-year-old John Walker sold his family farm and used the proceeds to open a grocery in Kilmarnock, Ayrshire. Back then it was common for grocers to create blended whiskies from local spirits. When John passed away, the company was taken over by his son.
Alexander Walker built up his father’s business and bottled Walker’s Old Highland Blend in 1857. By the 1860s he had introduced the square bottle and slanting label that would become synonymous with the brand. The bottle’s design made it easier to pack securely in shipping crates. The slanting label allowed for a larger, more eye-catching typeface.
The firm became distillers in their own right in 1893 by purchasing Cardhu distillery in Speyside.
In 1908, cartoonist Tom Browne drew the “striding man” figure that has become the brand’s logo. A year later, Red and Black Label were introduced.
John Walker & Sons became part of DCL in 1925. Through a series of mergers and takeovers, the parent company would eventually become Diageo.
By the mid-1950s, Johnnie Walker had become the world’s best-selling Scotch whisky. It still holds the position today.
Throughout its existence, Johnnie Walker retained a link to Kilmarnock. However, in 2012 it was announced that the bottling plant was to close. More than 700 jobs were lost and crowds 20,000 strong took to the streets in protest. The site is now home to Ayrshire college.
In 2018, Diageo announced £150million of investment in tourism facilities. The work would see a brand home for Johnnie Walker created in Edinburgh. Four distilleries were chosen to represent the different styles of Johnnie Walker. They are Clynelish, Glenkinchie, Cardhu and Caol Ila.
The new Johnnie Walker venue on Princes Street is expected to open in Summer 2021. For the first time, Johnnie Walker will have a home befitting one of the most popular spirit brands in the world.