10 things you (probably) didn't know about Johnnie Walker Whisky

Think you know Johnnie Walker, Scotland's most famous whisky? Here are some things you (probably) didn't know

Published 27th May 2023
Updated 21 st Sep 2023

Scotland's best selling whisky, with sales of 9-litre cases topping 18m last year, has a long and illustrious history.

Synonymous with Scotch, the brand is known all around the world.

Here are 10 things you might not know about Johnnie Walker Scotch Whisky.

1. The original John Walker started life as a farm boy

Johnnie Walker
The original shop in Kilmarnock. Picture: JohnnieWalker.com

The death of his father prompted the sale of the family farm and the establishment of the original John Walker grocery store, bought for just over £500.

2. John Walker began blending whisky in reaction to the single malts of the time

John sourced spirits like gin, brandy rum and Scotch as well as more exotic products such as tea from China and pepper from Jamaica from as early as the 1820s.

Having learned of the art of blending tea, John transferred the technique to whisky in an attempt to make a more consistent product from the single malts, which could often fluctuate in quality.

At first, he did this for regular customers on request but eventually, he would make regular batches for regular buyers, settling on smoother recipes which balanced out the impurities of the single malts of the time and this would go on to form the basis of the blended whisky category we know today.

3.  The first brand `Old Highland Whisky’ was created in 1867

Created by John’s son Alexander, he was the first to really recognise the potential of this new blended whisky category, launching the first brand and beginning to export to other countries.

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4. The oldest Johnnie Walker bottle in the Diageo archive in Menstrie has a snake in it... no really

Johnnie Walker
Picture: TSPL

The rare bottle, which dates from the 1880s, is filled with whisky and remarkably, a pickled snake.

Though Christine McCafferty, who manages the archive admits they are not sure how it go there.

She said: “We believe it left Scotland without a snake, and made it to the Far East where it’s not unusual for things to end up pickled in bottles of whisky, somehow it managed to make it’s way back to Scotland and we found it when we were clearing out one of our old packaging rooms about 14-15 years ago now.

5. The square bottle was introduced early on in the brand's life

Alexander introduced the now famous square bottle for ease of transportation, to reduce breakages and to ensure there was no wasted space in shipping crates.

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6. The striding man was first drawn by Tom Browne, a cartoonist for Punch magazine

First drawn in 1908, the striding man was based on a London Dandy with his extravagant clothing including a fuzz covered top hat, monocle and walking cane.

Interestingly, he didn't appear on the packaging until the 1950s, featuring only on adverts before then.

The striding man changed direction in 1999 for the launch of the Keep Walking campaign, to depict him walking forwards into the new millennium.

7. Johnnie Walker Red Label was created by John’s grandson Alexander

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Alexander created the brand at the start of the 20th century to be enjoyed as a long serve with a mixer, either soda or ginger ale at that time.

8. Famous drinkers of Johnnie Walker have included Winston Churchill

The wartime Prime Minister (and infamous drinker) even featured a bottle of Black Label in his `Bottlescape’ painting.

9. Blue Label only launched in 1992

Picture: Iceman7840/Wikimedia

Despite feeling like its been around for a very long time, Johnie Walker's premium blend has only been around since the early 90s.

10. Johnnie Walker has appeared in many classic films, including the original Blade Runner

Picture: Mike Wilkinson.

Diageo released a Johnnie Walker Black Label 'The Director’s Cut' last year – a limited edition whisky developed in collaboration with Blade Runner 2049 director Denis Villeneuve and Johnnie Walker Master Blender Jim Beveridge to celebrate the release of the sequel.

The new blend arrived thirty-five years after Johnnie Walker Black Label appeared in the original Blade Runner movie as an "iconic whisky of the future".

Known for cake making, experimental jam recipes, Champagne, whisky and gin drinking (and the inability to cook Gnocchi), Rosalind is the Food and Drink Editor and whisky writer for The Scotsman, as well as hosting Scran, The Scotsman's food and drink podcast.
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