Just keep walking….

…says Johnnie Walker.

And they/he are right. In a world that is just hard work right now, we can only just keep walking.

Don’t worry, its not going to be a heavy blog. In fact, I am going to indulge in a little bit of reminiscing over a trip I had to Edinburgh a couple of weeks ago. It’s basically a review to be honest, but in two parts. So grab a dram and settle in.

Part one is about my attendance at a tasting, and part two is about visiting the Johnnie Walker Experience.

I’ve never been to Edinburgh before and a couple of months back I was contacted by a member of the “International Wine and Spirit Competition” (IWSC) team, to invite me to a the  IWSC Scotch and Worldwide Whisky Tasting, 2021.

The section of the day I was able to attend was to take part in tasting whatever I wanted from a selection of approx. 250 gold and gold-outstanding medal winning whiskies from all over the globe. Now I must admit the old ego did swell a bit. I’ve never had the opportunity to attend something like this before. I checked travel and accommodation costs and realised that yep, it was game on.

Now, I haven’t stepped foot into an airport for a couple of years, and quite frankly I was so happy to be flying again (even if only to Edinburgh) I didn’t even mind the irritating child in the seat behind me!!

My first Airplane in almost 3 yrs

I got into Edinburgh, jumped onto the shuttlebus and within 30mins was happily checking out my hotel room. Next morning up and out around Edinburgh until the tasting in the afternoon. Edinburgh is just perfect for me. Lots of architecture, walking, mooching, exploring. Coffee, haggis and whisky. What’s not to like?

In the afternoon I made my way to The Balmoral. When I made my way to the whisky tasting itself, I honestly thought that people would be there talking us through the whiskies and it would a bit like a show.

NOPE!!!! There’s the whisky, here’s a glass and off you trot. Free pour, drink what you want and try to not make a tit of yourself, and, dear reader, you’ll be pleased to know I didn’t.

Table of Whiskies at IWSC Tasting Event

In fact it was quite a sedate affair. Firstly, the overwhelming issue is “where do I start?” what do I try first and why that one? Do I go for age or colour, country or reputation?

Well eventually I settled in and tried to ensure I tried some that I haven’t before.

Here is a little run through:

Abosolo – Mexico, 2yrs old.

Arran Sherry Cask

Glenfiddich Gran Cortes XXII

The Dalmore 25

Swiss Mountain Single Malt 8yrs

Golden Blue – The Summit 20yrs (South Korean)

Canadian Club The Chronicles 43yrs

Lark – Chinotto Cask release (Tasmanian)

Mountain Distilling Company, 3 yrs Red aged Gum cask (Australia)

Stork Club – Smokey Rye  (German)

Glenmorangie Sonoma Cutrer Reserve 25yrs

Ardbeg Committee “Discussion” 8yrs

Ardbeg 25yrs

I’m not going to say there was one amazing dram, because they are all amazing for various reasons. Even the one that I really did not take to had some merit. My sole purpose here was to explore, and I did.

Apart from whisky, the other great part was of course meeting people. And I noticed that it seemed the majority of the people attending this particular event was female. Now, it was trade and press; Are there more females in the press side of whisky? Or was it just that way on the day. Whatever, it was noticeable and welcome. I met some great people and it was lovely to talk whisky, be introduced to new whiskies. However, word of day was “Interesting”….

Mr Johnnie Walker

Now, as the song goes, “Lets, skip to the good bit”.

The Johnnie Walker Experience. I could not visit Edinburgh without visiting this new and well publicised attraction.

I will wax lyrical, I will sing its praises from the rooftops and I will tell you to visit. (Note, I was not invited, I paid for myself and so this is a completely honest review). I will try not to give any spoilers. This is new and I think you should all have your own experience of it, not mine.

I booked the “Journey of Flavour” tour.

The Johnnie Walker experience starts when you book, before you even get there. When you book your tickets online, you will be sent a “taste” questionnaire. Now, I will say two things. 1) DO THE DAMNED QUESTIONNAIRE and 2) the wording I feel needs to be adjusted. It asks how “often” you experience flavours, not how much you like them. I personally feel you should answer on “like” to get the best experience later on.

When you arrive, the team will welcome you, explain the process of your tour. They will help you take a selfie with the Johnnie Walker Statue if you want to. When the tour begins it’s like being welcomed to the factory run by Willie Wonka. (I did ask at one point if the walls are lickable!!)

This place is SLICK. It’s stylish. It’s modern, bright and airy. It makes you walk around with your mouth open and eyes flitting all over the place.

Now, as I said I’m not going to give out spoilers. But I will note the following:

Johnnie Walker is owned by Diageo, and Diageo are a very forward-thinking company. Innovation runs through the veins of the company, and innovation ran through the veins of Johnnie Walker.

The whole tour is informative and fun.

The building and the experience are designed for looking to the future while acknowledging the past and experiencing the present. It IS designed with social media in mind and this isn’t a bad thing, it’s an “engaging with your audience” thing.

As an example, at one point, when you are sat in a futuristic bar, sipping your personalised cocktail, you are told to move the wooden board to one side. Under the board is a light. You are advised at the point that to take a good picture for Instagram, you should place your drink over that light.

Not bad……..

There are a number of points like this on the tour. Those people at Diageo and JW, they know exactly what they are doing. They are bringing a brand screaming into the social media age with fun and engagement. And it works.

You are taken through the tour by a great technical and visual experience, along with a score that really excites you and, in some places, involves smells and tastes to accompany all of this.

If you didn’t care about or take seriously Johnnie Walker whisky before, you will emerge from this with at least an appreciation for the drink.

I was like that a little. I have a bottle of Black label at home, never touched it. When I got home after visiting JWE I was inspired to mix a cocktail and add it to my #12Under30 list. The appreciation at least is there. Then I went to a tasting and tried the Green Label, 15. Now I’m hooked.

As with all attractions, when this is all over, you “Exit through the gift shop”. And here, again is a good experience. The staff are quick to acknowledge you, quick to assess if you want/need help and are quick to adjust to that. So there is no hovering or pushing, but helpful if you want it. Spot on.

Now, if you are a whisky nerd, you’ll probably know a lot of the history and how whisky is made etc. That’s ok. YOU WILL STILL ENJOY THIS.

If you are tagging along with the whisky nerd in your life and you aren’t much of a fan, that’s ok. YOU WILL STILL ENJOY THIS.

I want to go back to experience the restaurant and based on the menu, again they demonstrate a modern thinking approach. Instead of leading with meat centred meals, it’s all vegetarian forward, to which you can *add* meat.

There is a driver/non-alcoholic option for the tour, so do tell the guide.

So again, in the words of Johnnie Walker “Keep Walking”.

Claire xx

27 November 2021

Links to IWSC and Johnnie Walker Experience



Published by Claire Vokins

My am involved in whisky and horticulture. I own a small professional garden care company with a focus on working in a sustainable way. Whisky enthusiast. Studying "Politics, Philosophy and Economics" with the Open University. Stoic.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: