Well, I was right; Diageo knows how to have a tasting. Even though I had my reservations about The House of Walker event this year, what with the change in venue and the sneaking suspicion of fewer things to sample, it turned out spectacularly. The completely new event invited guests to a more exclusive and luxurious setting. I brought along my friend Josh to this tasting again. This would be his third. We were prepared for the changes that were coming. As we drove up to the estate, we were greeted with large metal structures, announcing the grandness of the home. It was a little intimidating. This wasn’t the warehouse/studio we were accustomed to. A millionaire’s home is not something to be taken lightly (or it is, whatever). The changes were very apparent, but we had no idea of how different things would truly be.
Previously, events consisted of a thirty minute reception were attendees could partake in mixed Johnnie Walker drinks. This would be followed by a presentation and guided tasting by Stephen Wilson, taking you on a tour of Scotland’s revered whisky. It was a great way to spend a night and introduce someone to scotch. That is, until you really start to think about it. This process was essentially ass backwards. I understand the initial reception allowed for late comers to be able to participate with the tasting, but it had the completely unprepared guests drink randomly at first without truly knowing anything about the product. Then when the guided tasting comes those bravest/drunkest blurt out something crazy and interrupt it. I never thought the process was weird, but I was never a newcomer at these tasting events. I learned about scotch through trial by fire long ago (a very apt metaphor consider by first scotch was Talisker). Blindly drinking not exactly the best way to get into scotch. Luckily, the new House of Walker corrects this.
Instead of a reception upfront, a small number of guests are taken immediately into the presentation (which happens to be in the house’s large kitchen). The spectacular and perennial The Man Who Walked Around The World video starring Robert Carlyle is shown in the black and white tiled room with dark curtains obscuring the kitchen’s amenities (which sent me into flashbacks of the Black Lodge). Steve Wilson comes out as soon as Carlyle walks off screen, greeting us the house that scotch built. It is a truncated version of the longer presentation. To some this is a plus, but I actually like the overly long set. Wilson jokes with the audience as only he can and begins a new guided tasting, which consists solely of the Black Label (an odd decision, but the right one as I will explain later). Wilson gives us multiple ways to try Johnnie Walker’s signature scotch: neat, with some water, and on the rocks. It’s a simple tasting, a perfect starter to what lies ahead.
Wilson explains that the rest of the evening will be self-guided, allowing the small group to incorporate themselves into the rest of the house, which is filled with previous attendees. We could mingle amongst them for the rest of the night, taking our time with the other scotches that would be available. In order to attain these samples, we were required to scan a card which the lovely ladies of Walker proved us (pictured right). The cards are an elegant substitution to the usual tokens we’ve received in the past. Specifically, Josh and I were treated with mixed Red Label drinks and full measures of Black Label, while Double Black and Blue Label were reserved to small samples. Each one of the drinks was featured in their own spacious and unique room, save for the Black Label which was featured in the main hallway. Each area commemorated something unique of the Johnnie Walker brand. (Side note: Someone may or may not have stolen/bribed themselves a bottle of Red in the Red room eight in front of us. Someone tries every time we go, this guy was successful. )The house is huge with its incredibly high ceilings and glorious art on the wall (which included a Basquiat print and an original Milo Manara in the bathroom (the bathroom!)). Music blares through ungodly expensive speakers and fill the house with a slight sense of decadence (seriously, a Manara in the bathroom?), which is very fitting to the House of Walker.
The thing that immediately bothered me was the absence of the Green and to a lesser extent Gold Label. Rumors have been going on for years about Johnnie Walker shelving the Green and Gold, and last year that idea was cemented by Diageo. It makes sense that the relics of Walkers past haven’t been sampled. By summer, both Green and Gold should be off the shelves and replaced with Platinum Label (with an 18 year old age statement) and Gold Label Reserve (missing its predecessor’s age statement). I’ll be sad to see them go. Green was the only blended malt on Johnnie Walker’s line (meaning only single malts used) and the new Gold will lose the old Gold’s peaty profile (which was barely there to begin with).
I hope that once the new labels become acclimated with the rest of the line, the tasting will be fuller and allow for the diversity of my first Johnnie Walker tasting (Red, Black, Green, Gold, Blue). All in all it was a great show, more than a few steps up from previous events. Below are some of the mixed drinks that were available at this House of Walker. I’d recommend the variation on the old fashioned (they substituted Black Label with Red Label and the orange twist was set a flame) while Josh would plead you to stay away for the Red and bitters. I don’t know why he thought that was a good idea. Look for more recipes here, my quick fire Johnnie Walker notes here, and enjoy.