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International Women's Day 2022: The female influence on Johnnie Walker

For International Women’s Day 2022, we spoke to three of Johnnie Walker Princes Street’s most prominent team members about the female influence on one of Scotland's best known blends.

Published: March 8, 2022
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Johnnie Walker Princes Street opened with much fanfare in late 2021, and has quickly become a popular destination in Edinburgh for tourists and locals (the views from the bars are excellent, as are the cocktails).

From immersive tours to rooftop bars catering from the curious right up to the connoisseur, a drinks laboratory, retail store, and a blank canvas events space capable of hosting everything from intimate acoustic performances up to fashion shows and everything in between, there’s much more to the eight-floor building than meets the eye.

For International Women’s Day 2022, we spoke to three of Johnnie Walker Princes Street’s most prominent team members.

Christine McCafferty

Head Archivist Christine McCafferty, who is the custodian of Johnnie Walker’s 200-year history, and her colleagues who play a central role in its future: Master Blender Emma Walker, and Johnnie Walker Princes Street Events Manager Lauren Hyder.

“When we opened Johnnie Walker Princes Street, we took 200 years of history and what makes the Johnnie Walker story so unique, distilling it into an eight-floor building, says Johnnie Walker Head Archivist Christine McCafferty.

"That was both a challenge and massively rewarding. It’s been brilliant to see reactions to the finished product. I’ve worked for Diageo for nearly 25 years, and this project has absolutely been a career highlight.

"It has also given us the opportunity to tell the stories of pioneering women who’ve contributed to what can still be thought of as a male dominated industry.

“Women have played an important role in the history of Johnnie Walker from its very beginnings, for example Helen and Elizabeth Cumming and who trailblazed distilling at Cardhu, a key malt in many Johnnie Walker blends.

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"You’ll hear references to their incredible story during the main Journey of Flavour tour, and you’ll of course be able to sample the various whiskies that are their family’s legacy.”

As well as its origins, women also shoulder a lot of the responsibility for driving the brand forward.

Emma Walker

Emma Walker, Johnnie Walkers first female Master Blender, explained: “Looking forward, we’ve made it our business to dispel the many myths around how whisky should be enjoyed, and we’re succeeding.

"There’s no bigger compliment than when we find out one of our guests has been dragged along by their whisky obsessed friend or partner, and they’ve ended up leaving with a bottle of whisky and a cocktail or highball recipe because they’ve been converted by our tours or bars.

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"A lot of these comments come from women, too, so it’s nice to see perceptions of the industry changing on both sides of the bar.

“As the brands Master Blender, it’s my responsibility to ensure our products are as versatile and inclusive as possible, and Johnnie Walker Princes Street is a perfect testbed where we can try out new and experimental drinks.

"Our bar team is incredibly creative. To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, we’ve created a cocktail in our Explorers’ Bothy bar called ‘Smoky Giggle Juice’ which is garnished with Lagavulin Ice Cream.

"They’ve also done an incredible job with the food menu, which pairs perfectly with the drinks on offer.”

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Along with busting myths around how to drink whisky, Johnnie Walker Princes Street is looking carve a role out for itself as a culture hub for Scotland. Event Manager Lauren Hyder oversees this element for the venue.

Lauren Hyder Picutre: Duncan McGlynn

She explained: “One of the most exciting aspects of what we’ll be doing is changing perceptions of what a “whisky tourist attraction” can be.

"Our events space is literally a blank canvas, and we’ll be using it to support all different aspects of Scottish culture.

"We’ve already had some incredible musicians through our doors like Nina Nesbitt, Kitti, Georgia Cécile, Éclair Fifi and Luke La Volpe.

"We’ll be doing plenty more in music but we’ll also be working with artists, designers, comedians and more. We really don’t want to limit ourselves; anything is possible.

“Our ambition is to be seen as a cultural destination for Scotland and beyond. We like to think of ourselves as mile zero for discovering Scotch Whisky.

"You can come here and get a great idea of the sorts of flavours and drinks that will suit you through our personalised tours and use that as a basis to seek out other amazing distilleries that will match your tastes.”

Known for cake making, experimental jam recipes, Champagne and gin drinking (and the inability to cook Gnocchi), Rosalind writes for The Scotsman on all things food and drink related as well as hosting Scran, The Scotsman's food and drink podcast.

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