Johnnie Walker is a brand of Scotch whisky owned by Diageo that originated in Kilmarnock, Ayrshire, Scotland. It is the most widely distributed brand of blended Scotch whisky in the world, sold in almost every country, with annual sales of over 130 million bottles.
Originally known as Walker's Kilmarnock Whisky, the Johnnie Walker brand is a legacy left by John "Johnnie" Walker after he started to sell whisky in his grocer's shop in Ayrshire, Scotland. The brand became popular, but after Walker's death in 1857 it was his son Alexander Walker and grandson Alexander Walker II who were largely responsible for establishing the whisky as a popular brand. 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.
In Britain prior to 1860, it was illegal to sell blended whisky.During that time John Walker sold a number of whiskies—notably his own Walker's Kilmarnock. In 1865, John's son Alexander produced their first blend, Walker's Old Highland.
Alexander Walker introduced the iconic square bottle in 1860. This meant more bottles fitting the same space and resulted in fewer broken bottles. The other identifying characteristic of the Johnnie Walker bottle is the label, which is applied at an angle of 24 degrees and allows text to be made larger and more visible.
From 1906 to 1909, John's grandsons George and Alexander II expanded the line and introduced the colour names. In 1908, when James Stevenson was the Managing Director, there was a re-branding of sorts. The whisky was renamed from Walker's Kilmarnock Whiskies to Johnnie Walker Whisky. In addition, the slogan "Born 1820—Still going Strong!" was created, along with the Striding Man logo, a figure used in their advertisements to this day, created by illustrator Tom Browne, in honour of the founder, and given the same name.
Johnnie Walker White was dropped during World War I.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 was acquired by Guinness in 1986, and Guinness merged with Grand Metropolitan to form Diageo in 1997.
Johnnie Walker is no longer blended in Kilmarnock, and has not been for many years. The bonded warehouses and company offices (now local authority) can still be seen in Strand Street and John Finnie Street. On 1 July 2009, Bryan Donaghey, Diageo Managing Director for Global Supply Scotland, announced that Diageo intended to cease production at the plant in Kilmarnock. Under a restructuring programme across Scotland, production would be moved from the brand's original home to Diageo plants in Leven, Fife, and Shieldhall, Glasgow.
News of the planned closure had widespread media attention and condemnation. Following the decision, a public campaign was waged to try to persuade Diageo to reverse this decision. However, on 9 September 2009 Diageo stated that they intended to press ahead with the move away from Kilmarnock and that the matter was "closed".
The Johnnie Walker plant, the largest employer in the town of Kilmarnock, closed its doors in March 2012.
For most of its history Johnnie Walker only offered a few blends. In recent years there have been several special and limited bottlings. The strength of alcohol as also the volume of the bottle is rated uniquely in the USA vis a vis the rest of the world. A Johnnie Walker Red Label blended Scotch whisky sold in the U.S. will normally be in a 750-millilitre bottle at an ABV of 40%, 80 proof. In the USA, the proof value of any alcoholic drink is twice the percentage ABV. Elsewhere, the proof value is %ABV x 7/4. Thus a 40% ABV whisky, 80 proof in the USA, will be only 70 proof across the rest of the world. When Scotch whisky is produced for consumption within the EU, it has to conform to EU laws thereon; the bottle will contain only 700 ml of whisky, the strength of which will be 40% ABV, i.e. 70 proof. Whisky meant for Duty Free shops may exceed 700 ml. These are mostly 1.0-litre bottles at 75 proof, and the corresponding ABV is 42.8%, often rounded off to 43%. The latter criteria generally apply to Traveller Editions of that brand of whisky.
- Red Label: an 80 proof (40% ABV) blend of 35 grain and malt whiskies. It is intended for making mixed drinks.According to William Manchester this was the favorite Scotch of Winston Churchill, who mixed it with soda. Red Label has been reported to be former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney's drink of choice.
- Black Label: an 80 proof (40% ABV) blend of about 40 whiskies, each aged at least 12 years.
- Double Black Label: a new addition, the whisky was created taking Black Label as a blueprint and adding heavily peated malts and some aged in deeply charred oak casks.
- Green Label: an 86 proof (43% ABV) whisky, this variety is a blended malt, meaning it is made just from single-malts with no grain whisky added. Green Label uses predominantly four malts "drawn from the four corners of Scotland." Each of the malts (Talisker, Linkwood, Cragganmore, and Caol Ila) was selected by the blender for balance, with each malt whisky matured for a minimum of 15 years.
- Gold Label: an 80 proof (40% ABV) 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. His original efforts were thwarted by a shortage of these malts following World War I. Gold Label is commonly bottled at 15 or 18 years and usually labelled "The Centenary blend". In 2013, Gold Label was replaced, with a No Age Statement blend, labelled "Gold Label Reserve". The bottle and labeling of these two Gold Label offerings is very similar, while some will argue the whiskys inside are not.
- Platinum Label: an 80 proof (40% ABV) private blend—aged 18 years to replace the original Gold Label in the Asian market, and sold alongside Gold Label Reserve. It is also available in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Poland, South Africa and Israel.
- Blue Label: Johnnie Walker's premium 80–86 proof (40–43% ABV) blend with no age statement. Johnnie Walker Blue Label, also known as Max Walker, is blended to recreate the character and taste of some of the earliest whisky blends created in the 19th century. 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 Scotches on the market, with prices in the range of US $174–$450.
- 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 II’s last blend: it features a high proportion of Speyside malts, complemented by malts from the northern Highlands and Islay, and is "almost as sweet as a bourbon".
- Red & Cola: a premix of Red Label and cola, sold in cans and bottles similar to beer.