This past Friday, I met up with a few friends and headed over to the Adrienne Arsht Center to check out The House of Walker Experience - a Johnnie Walker tasting event. After all, having given The Macallan single malt scotch a try at a tasting on the previous Thursday, I thought it was only fair to give a blended scotch whisky it's fair shake.
We arrived a tad late and missed the opening appetizers and cocktails. One of the staff members named David told me we could stick around afterward for a cocktail and he would be happy to get us some apps. He was the first of many of the event staff we met that night that was friendly and accommodating. We entered the House of Walker to find long, white leather couches and tables lining three sides of the room, with projector screens on each of the three opposite walls. In front of each seat inside the House of Walker, ingrained in the table was a little box with the brand logo and circles for the five blends of Johnnie Walker we would be sampling - Black, Red, Gold, Green, and Blue Label - though only three were present and filled when we arrived (black, red, green). A video of a Scotsman taking a walk educated us on the history of Johnnie Walker and his blended scotch whisky. It was a really cool video.
When the video ended Master of Whisky, Stephen Wilson, walked onto the stage and began to drop knowledge of all things Johnnie Walker on us. We started with the Black Label which Stephen said was his favorite everyday whisky. The Black Label was light in color, nose, and flavor with hints of fig and spice coming through on the palate. It's a smooth scotch. The next Walker brand we tried was the Red Label but first Stephen had us take a sliced strawberry from the little dish in front of us and dip it in a mixture of ground black pepper that was also sitting on the table. The combination was surprisingly fantastic! The sweetness of the strawberry and heat from the pepper really worked well and helped cleanse our palates. We then sipped the Red Label. This was my first time trying Red Label and I found it to be far less refined than the Black Label. It had a heavier alcohol burn and I didn't enjoy the flavor as much.
The next glass in front of us held Johnnie Walker Green Label but we skipped that for the time being as lovely ladies entered the room carrying chilled glasses filled with Gold Label which is comprised of whiskys aged anywhere from 18-20 years. Chilling the whisky in the freezer makes in more viscous. That's what we learned as we swirled the alcohol around in our glasses, watching the "legs" form on the sides of the glass much like they do with wine. The Gold Label had a honey, sugar nose and I tasted notes of vanilla and cake batter. The texture of this particular whisky was velvety and creamy and there was less of an alcohol burn than the previous whiskys we had tried.
The lovely ladies vanished and it was time to sip the Green Label, aged 15 years. Before we took a sip, however, Stephen had us use the eyedropper on our tables to place a few drops of the whisky into the palm of our hand and then rub our hands together and take a whiff. Doing this really brought out the scent of the wood barrels used during the aging process, giving my hands a nice woody, oak scent. The whisky tasted grainy on the tongue as well, with a hint of sweetness in the finish.
Oohs and ahhs could be heard throughout the room as it was announced that the final Johnnie Walker we would be tasting was the ultra premium and ultra expensive Blue Label. We learned that Blue Label is produced from a variety of aged whiskys. It's expensive so it must be good, right? Not if you ask me. It had a grainy, floral nose to it but to me tasted flat and lacked definition. If I were a Johnnie Walker drinker, I'd ignore the Blue Label altogether and stick with the Black or Gold Label whiskys.
With the tasting now finished, Stephen took questions from the audience and then talked about "Swing" briefly but I didn't understand what Swing was? Scotch? What's the difference? There wasn't an explanation. Stephen also introduced us to Johnnie Walker Double Black, a smokier flavored Black Label that would be coming out soon. At that point the event was over and we filtered out into the lobby. My friends and I took David up on his offer and stayed for a cocktail, talking with him about the event. David brought Stephen Wilson over and we had a nice chat. Of course I had to ask if he enjoyed bourbon and he indeed said he did. We sampled a few appetizers that were being passed around for the next showing of the House of Walker Experience and then hit the road.
So, what did we learn? Well, I learned that I'm more of a fan of a single malt scotch like The Macallan as opposed to a blended scotch like Johnnie Walker. However, from a presentation and brand building standpoint, I thought the House of Walker Experience was a far better produced event. The staff was organized, guests were treated to appetizers and a pre-event cocktail (to be fair, I arrived at The Macallan event late so I may have missed apps and cocktails if they did that), and Stephen Wilson did a great job of walking us through the many different flavors of Johnnie Walker. I also thought the venue showcased the brand extremely well. Before tasting each whisky, the lights in the room would turn the color of that particular "Label" and a brief video would come on. Even the furniture was impressive and had the brand worked into it. The House of Walker was indeed an Experience and a good one at that.
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