Johnnie Walker is by far the best-selling and best-known brand of Scotch whiskey in the world.. Her square bottle, her walking gentleman in a top hat and her slogan ‘Keep walking’ (keep walking, an invitation to look and always move forward) are something very familiar to millions of people on five continents. What not everyone knows is that since the beginning of 2022 the person in charge of this scotches With more than 200 years of history and a presence in 180 countries, it is, for the first time, a woman.
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Her name is Emma Walker, she is Scottish, a chemist by profession and given the enormous responsibility of being the head master blender of this house. From the hands of Jim Beveridge: the man who created Blue Label and was awarded an OBE by Queen Elizabeth II for his services to industry. This week Emma Walker was in Colombia and EL TIEMPO spoke with her.
-What brought you to Colombia?
I came to present the fifth edition of the series Johnnie Walker Blue Label Ghost and Rare Port Dundas. A whiskey in whose blend we use barrels from three ‘ghost distilleries’, which are those that no longer produce, and whose buildings have even been demolished. But its liquids are still there, as a testimony to a part of the history of Scotch whisky. And to that we add five amazing expressions from existing distilleries, like Clynelish.
-What profile does this whiskey have?
Velvety, but at the same time vibrant, with creamy and woody notes (American oak), vanilla, apple, peach, berries and soft smoke. The inspiration for each edition is drawn from our vast inventory – we have over 10 million barrels of maturing Scotch whisky.
-You are the first master mixer in Johnnie Walker’s 200-year history, how do you accept it?
It is a great honor, as well as being trusted by Jim to pick up his legacy, maintain it and try to take it even further.
-What is the most difficult part of your job?
The weight of that history and that heritage, thinking that you have to make sure that you’re always doing your best, and doing your best, to protect that legacy. But at the same time there is the support of what Johnnie Walker is and his motto: ‘Keep walking’, keep walking, keep going looking to the future. We are part of that history, of that lineage, of that family of people who have been lucky enough to work at Johnnie Walker so that that walker in a suit will continue for many more years.
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The balance between innovation and tradition is a key part of my work. And both things are vital for the future of the brand: both taking care of our ‘aces’ and making seductive proposals.
-Johnnie Walker is always innovating, bringing out different proposals, special editions, how do you balance that part of innovation with maintaining the identity of the brand?
The balance between innovation and tradition is part of our soul. Well, as we continue to do Black Label We also have the space and freedom to create innovative and interesting proposals. Maintaining a balance between both worlds is a key part of my job, because both things are important for the future of the brand: both taking care of our ‘aces’ and coming up with innovative proposals that seduce new or old consumers.
-At what point in your life did you fall in love with whiskey?
It happened when I was starting to study in Edinburgh and I was lucky enough to have some friends who already enjoyed very good whiskeys and they introduced me to single malt like Lagavulin 16 (years) and the Talisker 10. That was the start of my journey and then magically I ended up working at Diageo making whiskey. I’m still friends with them, we have a ‘whiskey circle’.
-You are a chemist, how much does your profession help you in what you do today?
Chemistry helps me understand how we create flavors. And when I am facing maceration, fermentation, distillation or the process in barrels, I love trying to understand in detail the chemistry of what is happening in each of those steps and how I can, based on that knowledge, create new flavors or, for example, enhance certain fruity or cereal notes that interest me. It’s magical, a beautiful balance between art and science.
Whiskey always keeps you on your toes and forces you to keep trying until you’re 70% happy. You will never be 100% happy. And that’s nice, because you can always create something better.
How do you create a whiskey?
The first thing we do with our colleagues —because I don’t do this alone, we are a team of 12 people— is to define very well what type of whiskey we want to create and for what type of client. That is, you begin to create it on a sheet of paper. That’s where you start to outline what types of malts and grains you’re going to use, how you’re going to put that together, the type of wood, etc. And even if the first ‘recipe’ turns out well and aligns with what you drew on paper, you have to try different variations to be as sure as possible that it is the best you can achieve for that profile you are looking for. It’s like scientists, you have to try different combinations until you arrive at the ideal formula. But sometimes, no matter how experienced you are, what you did doesn’t work. So the whiskey always keeps you on your toes and forces you to keep trying until you’re 70 percent happy. You’re never going to be 100 percent happy. And that’s nice, because you can always improve and create something better.
-What happens if in that search process they find a fantastic mix, but it does not fit the profile in which they worked? Do they throw it away or bottle it?
In those cases, with my colleagues we enter into a negotiation process on the initial objective that they have given us, and we try to sell it to the rest of the chain involved in the process within the company.
One of the most important things in our job is to always keep in mind that, as master blenders, we are not making whiskey for ourselves, but for our consumers.
-And what happens if they say: ‘no, stick to the plan’?
We file it in full detail because this fantastic liquid can be a good letter for the future. One of the most important things to always keep in mind in our work as master blenders is that we are making whiskey not for ourselves, but for our consumers. And for this reason we work closely with people from the marketing team and other departments, because they know the market and our consumers better than we do, as well as the trends. It is teamwork, among allies.
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-What do you enjoy most about your job?
Working with whiskey every day! (laughs) But next to that, the people. We have amazing people on our team. We’re talking about people who are in it for real emotion and passion. And it is a joy to be able to work every day with people like that.
-And the least pleasant part?
We have many Zoom meetings! (laughs). Seriously speaking, we have to work in coordination with many other areas.
-Is there a region of Scotland that you prefer, that fills your soul more than others and excites you?
That’s like having to choose your favorite child or your favorite band! What is amazing to me is that each region, each distillery, has its own unique character. I confess that I am very attached to some distilleries in which I have worked, such as Cameronbridge (50 minutes north of Edinburgh), Cardhu (in Speyside, the region with the largest number of distilleries in Scotland) or Talisker (on the Isle of Skye ). They have all brought me joy in different ways.
-What is your favorite time and way of consuming whiskey?
I enjoy it in many ways. For example, when we go to see Scotland play rugby. It just makes me feel like I’m part of that community. Or at home on the weekends when Dave, my partner, relax and take a break from the hustle and bustle of the week. But I also love going out with my sister, who lives nearby, and our friends, and having cocktails and feeling a bit more ‘fancy’. That’s the amazing thing about whiskey, its versatility and how it can work with the different feelings and moments in your life.
-To finish, a question that always causes debate: with or without water, with ice or without?
When we’re working in the lab, we start by sniffing 23 percent whiskey, we dilute it with water so we can really explore the different flavors and aromas it contains. But this brings us to the question of when do you drink whiskey and why? If I’m relaxing at home, I like to use some ice because I like how the texture changes. I love that kind of stickiness. It almost thickens and I like how it develops and changes the flavor on the palate as you enjoy it. But I have colleagues on the team who don’t like water or ice in their whisky. And I also know colleagues who have been in the industry for decades who like their whiskey in a glass with lots of ice and lots of water, ie as a refreshing drink. It also depends a lot on the mood you’re in. But all this tells us, again, about the great versatility of Scotch whisky. And when you drink it in different ways, you reveal different things about it. So enjoy it however you like and do with your whiskey what makes you happiest.
VICTOR MANUEL VARGAS SILVA
Editor of the Sunday Edition of EL TIEMPO
On instagram: @vicvar2
Original Publisher: https://www.eltiempo.com/cultura/gastronomia/johnnie-walker-entrevista-con-emma-walker-la-mujer-detras-de-este-whisky-782688