Johnnie Walker

From Wikipedia the free encyclopedia

Johnnie Walker
JWalker 2015 logo.png
TypeScotch whisky
Country of origin Scotland
Introduced1820: Grocery shop
1865: Whisky blending
Alcohol by volume 40%
WebsiteJohnnie Walker

Johnnie Walker is a brand of Scotch whisky produced by Diageo in Scotland. It originated in the Scottish burgh of Kilmarnock in East Ayrshire. The brand was first established by grocer John Walker. It is the world's highest selling Scotch whisky,[1] sold in almost every country, with annual sales of the equivalent of over 223.7 million 700 mL (25 imp fl oz; 24 US fl oz) bottles in 2016 [156,600,000 L (34,400,000 imp gal; 41,400,000 US gal)].[2]


Johnnie Walker was founded in Kilmarnock and continued to be produced and bottled there until 2012.

John Walker was born on 25 July 1805. His farmer father died in 1819, and the family sold the farm. Their trustees invested the proceeds, £417, in an Italian warehouse, grocery, and wine and spirits shop on the High Street in Kilmarnock, Ayrshire, Scotland. Walker managed the grocery, wine, and spirits segment as a teenager in 1820. The Excise Act of 1823 relaxed strict laws on distillation of whisky and reduced, by a considerable amount, the extremely heavy taxes on the distillation and sale of whisky.[3] By 1825, Walker, a teetotaller, was selling spirits, including rum, brandy, gin, and whisky.[4]

In short order, he switched to dealing mainly in whisky. Since blending of grain whiskies with malt whiskies was still banned, he sold both blended malt whiskies and grain whiskies.[5] They were sold as made-to-order whiskies, blended to meet specific customer requirements, because he did not have any brand of his own.[6] He began using his name on labels years later, selling a blended malt as Walker's Kilmarnock Whisky. John Walker died in 1857.[4]

Alexander Walker, son of John Walker, inherited the business following his father's death.

The brand became popular, but after Walker's death it was his son Alexander ‘Alec’ Walker and grandson Alexander Walker II who were largely responsible for establishing the whisky as a favoured brand. The Spirits Act of 1860 legalised the blending of grain whiskies with malt whiskies and ushered in the modern era of blended Scotch whisky.[7][4] Blended Scotch whisky, lighter and sweeter in character, was more accessible, and much more marketable to a wider audience. Andrew Usher of Edinburgh, was the first to produce a blended whisky, but the Walkers followed in due course.[8]

Alexander Walker had introduced the brand's signature square bottle in 1860. This meant more bottles fitting the same space and fewer broken bottles. The other identifying characteristic of the Johnnie Walker bottle was – and still is – the label, which, since that year, is applied at an angle of 24 degrees upwards left to right and allows text to be made larger and more visible.[9][4] This also allowed consumers to identify it at a distance.[5] One major factor in his favour was the arrival of a railway in Kilmarnock, carrying goods to merchant ships travelling the world. Thanks to Alec's business acumen, sales of Walker's Kilmarnock reached 100,000 gallons (450,000 litres) per year by 1862.[4]

In 1865, Alec created Johnnie Walker's first commercial blend and called it Old Highland Whisky, before registering it as such in 1867.[4][10]

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.[11][12]

In 1893, Cardhu distillery was purchased by the Walkers to reinforce the stocks of one of the Johnnie Walker blends' key malt whiskies.[4] This move took the Cardhu single malt out of the market and made it the exclusive preserve of the Walkers.[13] Cardhu's output was to become the heart of the Old Highland Whisky and, subsequent to the rebranding of 1909, the prime single malt in Johnnie Walker Red and Black Labels.[5]

From 1906 to 1909, John's grandsons George and Alexander II expanded the line and had three blended whiskies in the market, Old Highland at 5 years old, Special Old Highland at 9 years old, and Extra Special Old Highland at 12 years old. These three brands had the standard Johnnie Walker labels, the only difference being their colours: white, red, and black respectively. They were commonly referred to in public by the colours of their labels.[5] In 1909, as part of a rebranding that saw the introduction of the Striding Man, a mascot used to the present day that was created by cartoonist Tom Browne,[14] the company re-branded their blends to match the common colour names. The Old Highland was renamed Johnnie Walker White Label,[15] and made a 6 year old, the Special Old Highland became Johnnie Walker Red Label at 10 years old, and Extra Special Old Highland was renamed Johnnie Walker Black Label, remaining 12 years old.[4]

Sensing an opportunity to expand the scale and variety of their brands, Walker acquired interests in Coleburn Distillery in 1915, quickly followed by Clynelish Distillery Co. and Dailuaine-Talisker Co. in 1916.[4] This ensured a steady supply of single-malt whisky from the Cardhu, Coleburn, Clynelish, Talisker, and Dailuaine distilleries.[16] In 1923, Walker bought Mortlach distillery, in furtherance of their strategy.[17] Most of their output was used in Johnnie Walker blends, whose burgeoning popularity required increasingly vast volumes of single malts.

Johnnie Walker White was dropped during World War I.[18] 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.

The company joined Distillers Company in 1925. Distillers Company was acquired by Guinness in 1986, and Guinness merged with Grand Metropolitan to form Diageo in 1997. That year saw the introduction of the blended malt, Johnnie Walker Pure Malt, renamed as Johnnie Walker Green Label in 2004.[19]

In July 2009, the brand's current owners, Diageo, decided to close all operations in Kilmarnock by 2012. This met with backlash from local people, local politicians, and then-First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond. Despite petitions, public campaigns, and a large-scale march around Kilmarnock, Diageo proceeded with the closure.[20][21] The Johnnie Walker plant in Kilmarnock closed its doors in March 2012 and the buildings were subsequently demolished a year later.[22]

In July 2020, Johnnie Walker announced plans to release a new environmentally-friendly paper bottle set to debut in early 2021.[23]

In October 2021, Johnnie Walker announced a new label, Jane Walker, created by the distillery's first female master blender.[24][25][26]


For most of its history Johnnie Walker only offered a few blends. Since the turn of the century, there has been a spate of special and limited bottlings.

Variants of Johnnie Walker
  • Red Label: A non-age-stated blend.[27] It has been the best selling Scotch whisky in the world since 1945.[28][29][30] It is primarily used for making mixed drinks.[31][32]
  • Black Label: Aged 12 years, it is one of the world's best-selling Scotch whiskies.[33]
  • Double Black: Made available for general release in 2011 after a successful launch in travel retail.[34] The whisky was created taking Black Label as a blueprint, adding more peaty malt whiskies to it and maturing it in heavily charred old oak casks.[35]
  • Green Label: First introduced in 1997 as Johnnie Walker Pure Malt 15 Year Old,[19] it was renamed Johnnie Walker Green Label in 2004. Green Label is a blended malt whisky, meaning it is made by mixing single malts with no grain whisky added.[36] All whiskies used are a minimum of 15 years old.[37][38][39] Diageo discontinued Green Label globally in 2012 (except for Taiwan, where demand for blended malts is very strong), as part of a reconstruction of the range that saw the introduction of Gold Label Reserve and Platinum Label. The brand was reintroduced in 2016 and is again globally available.[40]
  • Gold Label: A 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. Originally, Gold Label was bottled at 18 years and labelled "The Centenary blend".[41] In 2013, Gold Label was renamed "Gold Label Reserve", and now carries no age statement.[42]
  • Platinum Label: Originally introduced to replace the original Gold Label in the Asian market, and sold alongside Gold Label Reserve. The Platinum Label name was discontinued in mid-2017 in favor of "Johnnie Walker Aged 18 Years",[43] but the Platinum Label name was later restored.[44]
Johnnie Walker Blue label bottle in a gift box
  • Blue Label: Johnnie Walker's premium blend. Johnnie Walker Blue Label is blended to recreate the character and taste of some of the earliest whisky blends created in the 19th century.[45] It bears no age statement. 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 Scotch whiskies on the market, with prices in the range of US$174–450.[46] Over 25 Limited Editions have been released to date.
  • Johnnie Walker Swing: Supplied in a distinctive bottle whose irregular bottom allows it to rock back and forth. This type of bottle design was originally used aboard sailing ships. It was Alexander Walker II's last blend: it features a high proportion of Speyside malts, complemented by malts from the northern Highlands and Islay.
Johnnie Walker product lines, from least to most expensive
Age 1865–1905 1906–1908 1909–1920 1921–1931 1932–1991 1992–1996 1997–2010 2011—
  Old Highland White Label
Not stated   Special O.H. Red Label
12 Walker's O.H. Extra Sp. O.H. Black Label
Not stated   Double Black
Not stated   Swing
15   Green Label
Not stated
(formerly 18)
  Gold Label Reserve
18   Platinum Label
Not stated   Blue Label


The Walkers created their primary marketing strategy in 1908 with advertisements featuring Browne's Striding Man, using the slogan, "Johnnie Walker: Born 1820, still going strong". Photographs replaced the drawings in the 1930s, and the Striding Man was miniaturised to a coloured logo in 1939; it first appeared on the Johnnie Walker labels in 1960. In the late 1990s, the direction of the Striding Man was reversed as part of a "Keep Walking" campaign.[14] The Striding Man icon was most recently redrawn in 2015.[47]

In 2009, the advertising agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty (BBH) created a new short film, starring Robert Carlyle and directed by Jamie Rafn, titled The Man Who Walked Around the World, which outlined the history of the Johnnie Walker brand.[9][48][49][50]

In April 2015, Diageo produced the Johnny Drama, named after the Entourage HBO series character Johnny "Drama" Chase, to promote the release of the movie version of Entourage.[51][52]

In October 2018, Diageo teamed with HBO to produce "White Walker by Johnnie Walker" whisky, inspired by the army of the undead in the TV series Game of Thrones as part of the marketing for the series' final season.[53] Diageo then released a collection of Game of Thrones–inspired single malt whiskies,[54] followed by two more whiskies by Johnnie Walker in mid-2019.[55]


Johnnie Walker spirits have received strong scores at international spirits ratings competitions and from liquor review bodies. The Green Label received a string of three double gold medals from the San Francisco World Spirits Competition between 2005 and 2007.[56] The Gold Label received double gold medals from the San Francisco competition in 2008 and 2009 and won a gold in 2010.[57] Spirits ratings aggregator, 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).[58] Johnnie Walker spirits have several times taken part in the Monde Selection's World Quality Selections and have received a Gold and Grand Gold Quality Award.[59] Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve won the World's Best Blended—Best Scotch Blended in World Whiskies Awards 2018.[60]


Johnnie Walker was the official whisky of Formula One,[61] and was a sponsor for McLaren and Racing Point. Johnnie Walker is also the title namesake for the F1 Grand Prix race in Spa, Belgium.[62]

Johnnie Walker sponsored the Johnnie Walker Classic, an Asia-Pacific golf tournament, up to 2009 and the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles, a golf tournament in Scotland up to 2013.[63] Diageo sold the Gleneagles Hotel and Golf Course, the site of the tournament, mid-2015 to focus on its core business.[64]

Cultural figures[edit]

Winston Churchill's favourite whisky was Johnnie Walker Red Label, which he mixed with a large amount of water and drank throughout the day.[65]

Vanity Fair writer Christopher Hitchens was partial to Johnnie Walker Black Label cut with Perrier sparkling mineral water and referred to it as "Mr Walker's Amber Restorative".[66]

Johnnie Walker Blue Label was a favourite of US president Richard Nixon's; Nixon used to enjoy it with ginger ale and a wedge of lime.[67]

A number of singers and songwriters have referenced Johnnie Walker in their works, from Amanda Marshall to ZZ Top.[68] Elliott Smith's Oscar-nominated "Miss Misery" has the narrator "[making] it through the day with some help from Johnnie Walker Red." Heavy metal band Black Label Society was named after Johnnie Walker Black Label whisky, as Zakk Wylde was very fond of the drink.[69] George Thorogood name checks “Johnny Walker and his brothers Black and Red” in "I Drink Alone".The name appears also in the song "Remember to Forget" by Passenger.

Polish fictional humorous character Jakub Wędrowycz is a wordplay based on the Polish translation of "Johny Walker".[70]

In the 1982 film Blade Runner, Harrison Ford's character Rick Deckard is seen drinking Johnnie Walker Black Label which he also drinks in the sequel Blade Runner 2049 (2017). Coinciding with the release of Blade Runner 2049, Johnnie Walker released a 'Director's Cut' edition of their Black Label which is bottled at a higher proof.[71]



  1. ^ Brooker, Alice (30 June 2022). "Top 10 best-selling Scotch whiskies". The Spirits Business. Retrieved 25 February 2023.
  2. ^ "Scotch Whisky Brand Champion 2017: Glenfiddich". 11 June 2017. Retrieved 16 December 2017.
  3. ^ "History of Scotch Whisky". Scotch Whisky Association.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Johnnie Walker - History". Retrieved 16 December 2017.
  5. ^ a b c d "Walking Tall". Cigar Aficionado. M. Shanken Communications, Inc. Retrieved 16 December 2017.
  6. ^ Scotch: The Story of Whisky. Per Mikkelsen. Archived from the original on 26 April 2022. Retrieved 31 October 2017.
  7. ^ Joseph, Micallef (2015). Scotch Whisky, Its History, Production and Appreciation. Antioch Downs Press. OCLC 1313863564.
  8. ^ "A Brief History of Blended Whisky". The Whisky Shop Blog. 2 May 2017. Retrieved 31 December 2022.
  9. ^ a b The Man Who Walked Around the World. BBH New York. 2009. Retrieved 30 June 2017.
  10. ^ "The Johnnie Walker Story". John Walker and Sons. 2015. Retrieved 30 June 2017.
  11. ^ MacDonogh, Giles (2005). "John Walker's legacy". Cigar Aficionado. Archived from the original on 10 March 2006.
  12. ^ Maclean, Charles (2003). Scotch Whisky: A Liquid History. London, England: Cassell Illustrated. ISBN 1-84403-078-4.
  13. ^ "Johnnie Walker: The Man Who Walked Around the World". BBH New York. 5 December 2014. Retrieved 16 December 2017 – via Vimeo.
  14. ^ a b "A Visual History of Johnnie Walker's Striding Man Logo". 17 July 2017. Retrieved 16 December 2017.
  15. ^ "Johnnie Walker White Label - Bot.~1900". Retrieved 16 December 2017.
  16. ^ "LUDICROUS COMMENTS ON SCOTCH WHISKY". 14 August 2017. Retrieved 16 December 2017.
  17. ^ "Mortlach History - Mortlach Whisky - Malts". Retrieved 16 December 2017.
  18. ^ "Johnny Walker – History". Specialty Drinks Limited. Retrieved 12 December 2014. First World War; ... White Label is discontinued as the Johnnie Walker brand moves upmarket
  19. ^ a b "Expert Liquor Recommendations - Distiller". Distiller - The Liquor Expert. Retrieved 16 December 2017.
  20. ^ "Reports on 'end of Johnnie Walker' completely false: Diageo - Indian Express". Retrieved 16 December 2017.
  21. ^ "Johnnie Walker jobs plan rejected". BBC News. 9 September 2009. Retrieved 7 May 2010.
  22. ^ Johnnie Walker whisky plant closes in Kilmarnock. BBC News. 23 March 2012. Retrieved 7 August 2012.
  23. ^ "Johnnie Walker whisky to be sold in paper bottles". BBC News. 13 July 2020. Retrieved 16 September 2020.
  24. ^ "An Enlightening Q&A With Johnnie Walker's First Female Master Blender". InsideHook. Retrieved 31 December 2022.
  25. ^ "Johnnie Walker Appoints Its First-Ever Female Master Blender". Food & Wine. Retrieved 31 December 2022.
  26. ^ Sargent, Joshua (6 April 2021). "Johnnie Walker sent me some nice sipping scotch so I drank it in the park with my friends". SFGATE. Retrieved 31 December 2022.
  27. ^ "Whisky Notes: Johnnie Walker Red Label vs. Johnnie Walker Black Label". Ruben Luyten for Whisky Notes. 18 September 2013.
  28. ^ "Johnnie Walker Blended Scotch Whisky". Retrieved 16 December 2017.
  29. ^ "Johnnie Walker Red Label". John Walker and Sons.
  30. ^ "Scotch Whisky Reg Guidance" (PDF).[permanent dead link]
  31. ^ "Whisky Notes: Johnnie Walker Red Label vs. Johnnie Walker Black Label: Johnnie Walker Red Label (40%, OB +/- 2013)". Ruben Luyten for Whisky Notes. 18 September 2013.
  32. ^ "Johnnie Walker Red Label : The Whisky Exchange". Retrieved 16 December 2017.
  33. ^ "The Home of Johnnie Walker | Blended Scotch Whisky". Retrieved 31 December 2022.
  34. ^ "Johnnie Walker Double Black : The Whisky Exchange". Retrieved 16 December 2017.
  35. ^ Miller, Jared T. (10 May 2013). "Johnnie Walker adds Double Black to whisky line". Daily News. Retrieved 27 May 2013.
  36. ^ Eats, Serious. "What Is the Difference Between Single Malt and Blended Whisky?". Retrieved 16 December 2017.
  37. ^ "Johnnie Walker Green Discontinued". 16 January 2012. Archived from the original on 4 October 2012. Retrieved 29 November 2012.
  38. ^ "Johnnie Walker Green Label 15 Year Old". The Whisky Exchange.
  39. ^ Dominic, Roskrow. "Dominic Roskrow's Blog". The Whisky Tasting Club – UK.
  40. ^ "Johnnie Walker Green Label returns - Scotch Whisky". Retrieved 16 December 2017.
  41. ^ "Johnnie Walker Gold Label The Centenary Blend 18 Year Old Blended Scotch Whisky (700ml) - Blended Scotch Whisky". Retrieved 16 December 2017.
  42. ^ "Johnnie Walker Gold Label 18 vs. Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve". 1 November 2013. Retrieved 16 December 2017.
  43. ^ "Johnnie Walker Platinum given new identity - Scotch Whisky". Retrieved 16 December 2017.
  44. ^ "Johnnie Walker Platinum Label 18-Year Old". Retrieved 22 March 2023.
  45. ^ "Johnnie Walker Blue Scotland Scotch 750 mL". Retrieved 3 November 2012.
  46. ^ "Bottle King Largest New Jersey Retailer of Wine, Beer and Spirits". Retrieved 16 December 2017.
  47. ^ "Bloom redraws Johnnie Walker's 'Striding Man'". 15 April 2015. Retrieved 10 January 2018.
  48. ^ Robert Carlyle Italia (8 November 2013). "Robert Carlyle - Johnnie Walker - The Man Who Walked Around The World [SUB ITA]". Archived from the original on 17 August 2014. Retrieved 16 December 2017 – via YouTube.
  49. ^ "Johnnie Walker: History & Trivia". the 30 July 2011. Retrieved 16 December 2017.
  50. ^ Robert Carlyle Italia (8 November 2013). "Robert Carlyle - Johnnie Walker - The Man Who Walked Around The World [SUB ITA]". Archived from the original on 17 November 2021. Retrieved 16 December 2017 – via YouTube. Another YouTube link.
  51. ^ "Johnnie Walker's Johnny Drama Blend | Cool Material". 2 April 2015. Retrieved 12 June 2022.
  52. ^ Joliat, Colin (1 April 2015). "Johnny Drama Whisky - Entourage Character Gets His Own Johnnie Walker Blend". Boozist. Retrieved 12 June 2022.
  53. ^ Carruthers, Nicola (2 October 2018). "Johnnie Walker unveils White Walker Scotch whisky". The Spirits Business. Retrieved 3 January 2019.
  54. ^ Snider, Mark (1 October 2018). "Whisky is coming: 'Game of Thrones' gets its own White Walker scotch whisky, line of single malts". USA Today. Retrieved 3 January 2019.
  55. ^ Rense, Sarah (27 August 2019). "Johnnie Walker's New 'Game of Thrones' Scotch Will You Remind You How Mad the Finale Made You". Esquire.
  56. ^ " Summary of Green Label Awards". Archived from the original on 5 October 2012. Retrieved 16 October 2012.
  57. ^ " Summary of Gold Label Awards". Archived from the original on 6 October 2012. Retrieved 16 October 2012.
  58. ^ " Website". Archived from the original on 19 November 2015. Retrieved 16 October 2012.
  59. ^ Marc Guison (8 February 2012). "Awards". Retrieved 3 November 2012.
  60. ^ "World Whiskies Awards 2018 - Winners". Retrieved 5 October 2018.
  61. ^ "Johnnie Walker becomes the Official Whisky Of Formula 1". 18 September 2014. Retrieved 4 December 2017.
  62. ^ "F1 - The Official Home of Formula 1® Racing". Formula 1® - The Official F1® Website.
  63. ^ "Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles plans for the future - European Tour". Retrieved 16 December 2017.
  64. ^ Tovey, Alan (1 July 2015). "Diageo sells golf's Gleneagles hotel as it focuses on core business". Archived from the original on 12 January 2022. Retrieved 16 December 2017 – via
  65. ^ "How to drink like Winston Churchill". The Telegraph. 28 January 2015. Archived from the original on 12 January 2022. Retrieved 31 January 2018.
  66. ^ Brown, Craig (21 March 2012). "Christopher Hitchens's Diary". Vanity Fair. Retrieved 3 November 2012.
  67. ^ Small, Melvin (2011). A Companion to Richard M. Nixon. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN 978-1-4443-3017-5.
  68. ^ "Johnnie Walker Blue Label". Archived from the original on 26 December 2018. Retrieved 16 December 2017.
  69. ^ "Black Label Society - metalinside". Retrieved 16 December 2017.
  70. ^ "Andrzej Pilipiuk | Życie i twórczość | Artysta". Retrieved 7 May 2019.
  71. ^ Alindahao, Karla (12 September 2017). "Whisky of the Future: Johnnie Walker's Limited-Edition 'Blade Runner 2049' Release Is Here". Forbes. Retrieved 3 January 2021.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

55°36′52″N 4°30′04″W / 55.61444°N 4.50111°W / 55.61444; -4.50111