The Whisky Legend
by Michele Elyzabeth
Invitation reads: Cocktails 6:00 PM, Dinner 7:30 PM. Friends will text you: Let’s meet for a drink after work or let’s get together at a bar or night club for drinks. Drinking moderately has become part of our lifestyle. It is a way to relax and socialize. As we come of age, it is not unlikely that the first spirit we choose is whisky. Johnnie Walker Red Label mixed with Coke was my choice and I felt all grown up.
For the ones who do not know where whisky originated, here is a glimpse of its history. It is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from fermented malted grains ranging from barley, to corn, rye and wheat aged in wooden white oak casks. Traced back to the 15th century, the art of distillation started in Ireland and Scotland, rapidly spreading to the rest of what is known today as Europe.
It was not called whisky then, but ‘Aqua Vitae’ (water of life) which was primarily used for medicinal purposes and traditionally made in monasteries. It all came to an end when King Henri VIII of England dissolved the monasteries, forcing the monks to become independent and integrate themselves into the general population.
The word ‘whisky,’ as we know it, first appeared in Ireland around 1405. The first whisky production was recorded in 1494 in Scotland. However, the distillation process was still very new. Whisky was not left to age and tasted very rough compared to its smooth taste today. As the history of whisky evolved, Sir Thomas Phillips received a license to distill Irish Whisky in 1608 from King James I. The Old Bushmills Distillery in Northern Ireland, named after a stream of the river Bush, was the first recognized and licensed whisky with the date appearing on the label. It immediately became a favorite of many. Eventually it was introduced to the Americas via the settlers who came by ships from Europe. Whisky was used as currency during the American Revolution, and was a form of trade used with Native Americans. In 1794, it even became the subject of an uprising by Irish and Scottish immigrant farmers who boycotted a federal excise tax imposed on whisky. Unfortunately, they lost and a tax was imposed by Alexander Hamilton, one of the fathers of our nation. To avoid the tax, people known as bootleggers were inspired to make their own moonshine, a practice in effect still today, and developed an illegal and very lucrative business on the side.
Then in 1920 came the era of Prohibition in the US which lasted 13 years and banned all sales of alcohol. The federal government made an exemption for whisky prescribed by a doctor and sold through licensed pharmacies. This became profitable for some, such as the Walgreens pharmacy chain, which grew from 20 to 400 retail stores. Conscious of the demand and the ever growing illegal alcohol sold to people, the government had no other choice but to legalize all spirits.
Today we can count hundreds of Scotch whisky companies which are made worldwide, but the most popular of them all —with annual sales over 130 million bottles —is Johnnie Walker. It is the legacy left by John Walker who started selling the whiskey in his Ayrshire grocer shop in Scotland. Though his whisky was popular, it is only after his death that the brand acquired a sizable growth. In 1865 the company was passed on to his son Alexander, who introduced the square bottle. His grandsons George and Alexander II, came up with the idea for labels named by their color.
Alexander Walker produced his first blend named Walker’s Old Highland. During The 1860s, the British Empire was the most powerful nation on the planet with over 450 million people and 13,012,000 square miles of land. The Walkers cut a deal with ship captains who transported the iconic bottle to far ports of the Empire for a share of the profit. Placed in the hands of new customers around the globe, the brand received praises all over the world. With international acclaim came unprecedented demand. Alexander Walker then decided to rebrand Walker’s Kilmarnock Whiskies with a new name: Johnnie Walker Whisky. In 1887 Alexander Walker made the statement, “we are determined to make our whisky of such a standard that nothing in the market shall come before it.”
Today, Johnnie Walker Red Label is the world’s number one Scotch whisky. They joined Distillers Company in 1925 which was acquired by Guinness in 1986 before merging with Grand Metropolitan to form Diageo in 1997. Johnnie Walker is no longer blended in Kilmarnock, but in Diageo plants in Leven, Fife and Shieldhall, Glasgow. Under Johnnie Walker we found the following blends.
Red Label: An 80 proof (40% ABV) blend of 35 grain and malt whiskies. Its combination of light whiskies from Scotland’s east coast and dark, peaty whiskies from the west coast created a blend with an extraordinary depth of flavor. It is intended for making mixed drinks.
Black Label: An 80 proof (40% ABV) blend. Two decades in the planning from the finest distilleries across Scotland. It draws from 40 whiskies each aged at least 12 years in wooden oak casks. Each is matured in a slightly different way depending on intricacies of wood, climate and location rendering an extraordinary rainbow of flavor. (I can attest to that.) With many awards to its label, it remains rich and smooth as intended by the Walker’s. Per the company, it currently outsells every other deluxe blended Scotch whisky around the globe.
Double Black Label: It is not just a darker version of Black Label. The whisky was created taking Black Label as a blueprint, unquestionably smokier, with spice, a touch of dried fruit, perhaps a more intense experience, but with deep, dark roots in a rich blend aged in deeply charred oak casks. Whisky critics and aficionados have snatched up the limited number of bottles produced, making it even more intriguing.
Gold Label: An 80 proof (40% ABV) blend of over 15 single malts. Alexander Walker II and Master Blender Jim Beveridge handpicked their favorite whiskies, which include Clynelish malt whisky, whose water source flows from the Kildonan Hills, where gold was discovered in 1868. It is a bold, confident Scotch whisky, a multi-layered blend with a smooth balance of creamy sweet fruits that continues into honeyed tones before lingering waves of wood. It was created to commemorate Johnnie Walker’s centenary. Gold Label is commonly bottled at 15 or 18 years. As of 2013, “Gold Label Reserve” is without an age statement.
Platinum Label: An 80 proof (40% ABV) private blend, Johnnie Walker® Platinum Label® is rich and refined, a complex blend of single malt and grain whiskies matured for a minimum of 18 years. It is a skillful blend of style and substance also crafted by Master Blender Jim Beveridge. Flavor notes include rich dried fruit, malty cereal, smooth creamy vanilla, fragrant almonds and tangerines. It is an elegant, contemporary example of the Speyside style, finished with a hint of Islay smokiness. Inspired by private blends the Walker family would craft for preferred customers, it is a truly luxurious blend, and a bold step forth in the tradition of those that have come before it.
Blue Label: Johnnie Walker’s premium 80–86 proof (40–43% ABV) blend, also without any 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. Its flavors are influenced by the smoke of the west and the rich, sweet whiskies of the east. Bottles are numbered serially and sold in a silk-lined box accompanied by a certificate of authenticity.
The casks are hand-selected and set aside for their exceptional character and flavor. Truly unique, it is complex, powerful and incredibly smooth and retains to perfection the Johnnie Walker signature smokiness.
King George V from Blue Label was created to celebrate the Royal Warrant given to the Walker family in 1934 to mark their exceptional quality. This blend includes Port Ellen™, a highly prized malt whose distillery no longer exists. It is one of the most expensive blended Scotches on the market, with prices in the range of US $200–$300.
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 & Cola: a premix of Red Label and cola, sold in cans and bottles similar to beer.
Whether you’re an amateur or a connoisseur, I guarantee that you will enjoy one or more of the following recipes. Chin Chin!
Created by Jeff Bell
*This recipe yields 25 servings, to be enjoyed with friends
1 750ml Johnnie Walker Double Black
2 Whole Lemons (peeled)
1 Whole Ruby Red Grapefruit (peeled)
¾ Cup Granulated Sugar
3 oz Fresh Grapefruit Juice
3 oz Fresh Lemon Juice
16 oz Water
16 oz Pilsner Beer
**For the lemon grapefruit oleo-saccharum:
12 oz Granulated Sugar
12 oz Hot Water
• Zest the entire peels of the lemons and grapefruits with a microplane.
• Mix thoroughly with granulated sugar, let sit for 1 hour in a nonreactive bowl.
• Add 12 oz boiling hot water, stir to dissolve all sugar.
• Fine strain to remove citrus zest.
• Combine Johnnie Walker Double Black, Pilsner beer, fresh lemon juice, fresh grapefruit juice and oleo-saccharum into a punch bowl.
**No drink contains more than 0.6 fluid ounces of alcohol
Swizzle me this, Batman
Created by Tobin Ludwig
1 1/2 oz Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve
1 1/2 oz Club Soda
1/2 oz Pineapple Syrup
1/2 oz Fresh Lime Juice
Dash of Drambuie
4 drops Smoked Saline
Pineapple Leaf for Garnish
1. In a highball glass, add pineapple syrup and lime juice. Add crushed ice ¾ up the glass.
2. Add Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve, club soda, smoked saline and 3-4 dashes of Hella Bitters
3. Stir the cocktail well, preferably with a swizzle stick.
4. Garnish with a long pineapple leaf, pointy side up.
**How to make pineapple syrup:
1. Using pure pineapple juice (nothing from concentrate), measure out a quantity of sugar equal to half of the pineapple juice you’re going to use.
2. In a heavy-bottom sauce pan, bring pineapple juice to a simmer.
3. Using a wooden spoon, skim the surface of the foam that rises and remove.
4. When reduced by half, stir in sugar until dissolved and turn on heat.
**How to make smoked saline:
1. Combine 2 oz of smoked salt in a bowl with hot water until the salt is completely dissolved. The proportions should be 4:1 water to salt.
**No drink contains more than 0.6 fluid ounces of alcohol