With more than 120 million bottles sold every year in some 200 countries, Johnnie Walker is the world's number one Scotch whisky brand. Its story began in Kilmarnock, Scotland. As a young man, Walker left the family farm to follow his spirit.
After the untimely death of his father, John Walker's trustees paid £417 for a shop in Kilmarnock in order that John and his mother could make a living. In 1820, aged 15, John started working in the shop. He sold groceries, wines and spirits and in due course he began stocking a selection of malt whiskies, but he found that the flavour was heavy and inconsistent from cask to cask. Tea was his speciality among all. It was his skill at blending tea leaves that gave him the idea for blending grain and malt whiskies to create Scotch whisky and more consistent quality.
Rather than accepting the varying qualities of the whiskies, he started experimenting to try and create more consistency. He used the same principles he would learnt from blending tea to blend whisky and realised that he could not only create a more accessible style, but also a depth of flavour and refinement unattainable in a single malt. His skill developed he began to create exclusive blends for valued customers who placed private orders in his shop.
By his death on 19th October 1857 the art of blending Scotch whiskies was still in its infancy, yet John Walker's blends were already becoming well known in the west of Scotland. The success of his business was such that he laid the foundations for a dynasty that grew worldwide. Alexander Walker inherited his father's business aged just 20. Fortunately the Walker family line was to produce a succession of men who had the mastery and the foresight to develop the art of blending. Alexander created a new blend which he named "Old Highland Whisky", a precursor to Johnnie Walker Black Label. He registered the copyright of the label in 1867 and demonstrated marketing genius way ahead of his time by creating an instantly recognisable identity for the brand - a slanting label.
Upon his death in 1889, Alexander Walker passed on the business to his three sons, John, George Paterson and Alexander II. it was Alexander II who continued the family expertise in blending, while George bears responsibility for the marketing innovation that endures today.
While George was creating marketing campaigns to grab consumer attention, his brother was creating a product worthy of the effort. Alexander II pursued his love of blending with a passion. In 1906, John Walker & Sons offered three blends of "Old Highlands Whisky", the basic blend with a white label, "Extra Special Old Highland" with a red label and "Walkers Old Highland Whisky," 12 years old with a black label. In 1909, the brand were renamed to appeal to consume preference for calling the spirit by their colored labels, White Label, Red Label, and Black Label were born.