Whisky Magazine Issue 48
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Johnnie Wallker is 200 years old. Ian Buxton looks at the history of a whisky icon
I doubt if John Walker would recognise the firm he first founded. Yet his name lives on in the world's best-selling Scotch whisky.
With more than four bottles consumed every single second, more than 10 million cases of Johnnie Walker are sold every year in more than 200 countries. Not bad for a 15 year old laddie, deemed too young to manage a farm.
On July 25th this year, I'll raise a glass to John, the legend he created and the enduring success story of Johnnie Walker. After all, it's the 200th anniversary of his birth and – in many ways – the story of Walkers is the story of Scotch.
As you probably know, this story began in Kilmarnock, then the bustling centre of a significant coal-mining industry. Like so many whisky pioneers, the Walkers were tenant farmers but, when John's father Alexander died, his executors determined that his son should go into trade.
So an Italian warehouse, grocery and wine and spirit business was purchased and, in 1820, the fledgling firm of John Walker was founded. John Walker dropped his plough, pulled on an apron and found himself running a little grocer's shop.
At the outset tea seems to have been more important than whisky, though the skill of blending is common to both and shrewd trading an asset in any class of business.
The blending of grain and malt whisky was unknown at this time or, to be more accurate, it was illegal – which suggests it was certainly known! Malt whiskies were heavier, oilier, peatier and greatly more incons...