Today marks the 200th anniversary of the opening of a grocer’s shop in Kilmarnock High Street in Scotland. Selling food, wines and spirits, it became famous for its own whisky and, as the years passed by, the grocery shop’s boss, John Walker, came to be immortalised by what is now the world’s number-one scotch whisky, Johnnie Walker.
To celebrate this anniversary, the brand’s owner, Diageo, has announced that, in October, it will be launching four new exclusive releases, including a new bottle design and three newly crafted whiskies.
The new blends include Johnnie Walker Blue Label Legendary Eight, made with rare whiskies from the company’s reserves, from eight legendary distilleries, including long-closed “ghost” distilleries: Oban, Blair Athol, Lagavulin, Teaninich, Brora, Cambus, Port Dundas and Carsebridge. These distilleries existed in the 19th century when John Walker made his first steps on his journey to create his family’s whisky.
Another new release is John Walker & Sons Celebratory Blend, inspired by a breakthrough moment in John Walker & Sons’ history: the launch of Old Highland Whisky in the 1860s which was its first commercial blend to be exported internationally. This rich and complex whisky has a character linking back to goods sold in the original Kilmarnock store with notes of sweet dried raisins, subtle spice and marzipan, developing into hints of roasted nuts, icing sugar sweetness and gentle peat and leading to a soft pepper finish. It uses whiskies from distilleries that were operating at that time, with an exclusive pack design bearing the only existing image of the grocery store 200 years ago.
The third new whisky is John Walker & Sons Bicentenary Blend which also draws inspiration from goods sold in Walker’s original Kilmarnock store such as Hyson tea from China, dark pepper from Jamaica, Italian liquorice and scotch whisky itself. Master blender Jim Beveridge and his team have created a whisky with rich layers that “re-imagines the exotic flavours that shaped his imagination”. It is made with rare and exceptional whiskies, all aged for at least 28 years, including whiskies from long-closed “ghost” distilleries such as Pittyvaich, Cambus and Port Ellen.
The bicentenary is also marked by the new Johnnie Walker Blue Label 200th Anniversary Limited Edition Design for the core Johnnie Walker Blue Label whisky. It features bespoke illustrations that bring to life the Walker family’s journey to create the whisky that became Johnnie Walker. They pay homage to some of the great cities and countries that have been part of the Johnnie Walker story, including illustrations of geographical landmarks and cultural symbols that represent progress in the different countries.
Jim said: “Each of these exclusive releases bring a fresh perspective to our 200th-anniversary story and are the perfect way to celebrate this huge moment for Johnnie Walker. It feels very apt to be announcing them this week to coincide with John Walker’s birthday.”
Diageo global scotch director John Williams added: “John’s spark, vision and entrepreneurial fire were the impetus to growing the John Walker name, our business and ultimately a new future for scotch whisky. This year we’re celebrating the steps he first took – steps that have inspired generations of our whisky makers and are at the heart of everything we do today and will do tomorrow.”