Simon Wittenberg talks to Emma Walker about her career highlights and the launch of Johnnie Walker Blue Label Xordinaire, a travel retail exclusive.
Luxurious Magazine: With a background in scientific research, what sparked your interest in the world of whisky?
Emma Walker: At school, I realised that I enjoyed chemistry, and thankfully, this made deciding what I wanted to do at university an easy choice. When I got there, someone handed me a bottle of Talisker, and that began my love for whisky and my passion for flavour.
After doing a PhD, I accepted a job as a process chemist like many of my friends. But, holding a passion for flavours and science from an early age, I knew I wanted to do something that could involve flavour with my background in chemistry.
In 2008, I applied for a job at Diageo’s Technical Centre in Menstrie, Scotland, and I haven’t looked back since!
LM: How proud are you to be Johnnie Walker’s first female Master Blender in the brand’s 203-year history?
Emma: Moving into the role of Johnnie Walker Master Blender was such an honour. Following in the footsteps of Dr Jim Beveridge, someone that I had worked with for years and respected so much, and being asked to take on that mantel was huge – such a massive thing, and I was so proud of that.
Being the first female to do that was not at the forefront of my mind. It is a role cherished and held for a long time by each blender – that is something I have huge respect for.
As I got to talk to more people from around the world over the past two years, I got to understand the impact of a woman holding this role and how important it is for people to see a woman in this role.
It really then does strike home to me how much of a change that is. It’s an immense source of pride to be Johnnie Walker’s first female Master Blender. I am delighted to be contributing to Johnnie Walker’s rich legacy, while showing the approach to people and brands, heritage and craft at Diageo and Johnnie Walker.
LM: What is the meaning behind the name of the Johnnie Walker Blue Label Xordinaire expression?
Emma: The name Johnnie Walker Blue Label ‘Xordinaire’ signifies extraordinary craftsmanship and exceptional quality. It reflects the unparalleled artistry and meticulous blending that went into creating this expression, with only the rarest casks of Scotch. It is, therefore, elevated beyond the ordinary.
It is also named Xordinaire because the rare blend from our unparalleled reserves of ageing liquid is finished in hand-selected XO Cognac casks, creating a whisky with all the depth of flavour you would expect from Johnnie Walker Blue Label but with an inherent smoothness and sweetness.
LM: As a travel retail exclusive, which countries do you think will see the biggest demand?
Emma: Given its exclusivity to travel retail, we anticipate a significant demand in key international hubs for both Scotch lovers and those seeking something exclusive they can’t buy at home or in domestic markets.
I’m sure Scotch enthusiasts and collectors will want to explore this distinctive expression. But, given its sweeter, smoother profile, different to typical Scotch flavour profiles, travellers with a sweeter palate and non-whisky drinkers will love it as well. This is genuinely something new for us, and we are excited to see where it will go with its unique sweet and smooth flavour.
LM: What whiskies and casks have been used to create Johnnie Walker Blue Label Xordinaire? What did you set out to achieve with this luxury Scotch whisky, and what tasting notes will people enjoy when savouring this expression?
Emma: Johnnie Walker Blue Label Xordinaire is crafted from a selection of rare whiskies and aged in exceptional former XO Cognac casks. The goal was to create a luxurious Scotch whisky with a harmonious blend of rich flavours, offering notes of velvety caramel, subtle smokiness, and hints of dried fruits, culminating in an unparalleled tasting experience.
We wanted to create something totally different with Xordinaire. Inspired by the creation of Blue Label over thirty years ago (originally an exclusive to travel retail), we wanted something luxurious and exclusive, which opened Scotch up to more travellers – to go beyond those who already drink or collect special Scotch. This is why we chose only the finest casks and looked to sweeten the flavour profile in the ageing process.
Only 1 in 10,000 casks from our unparalleled reserves were chosen for this blend with the unique ageing factor of the former XO Cognac casks.
In terms of tasting:
- On the nose: Luxurious bursting notes of dried fruit, toasted toffee, and sun-ripened black cherry.
- On the palate: A symphony of bright orchard fruits, gracefully intermingling with velvety smoothness.
- The finish: The delicate whispers of peach and gentle spice surge forth, adding layers of complexity to the aftertaste.
LM: What are the main challenges when blending, and does it take a few attempts to get it right?
Emma: The art of blending presents challenges in achieving the perfect balance of flavours and aromas. It often requires numerous iterations to refine the composition, ensuring that each element harmonises seamlessly. Precision and patience are crucial to overcoming these challenges and achieving the desired profile.
Blending brings together different flavours, characters, textures, and whiskies and begins to unlock hidden depths in all of the individual whiskies. What we do is not just about combining different expressions, with every whisky playing its own individual role. It’s about how each of the whiskies can bring out a particular aspect or note in another whisky.
The part we play is trying to see the bigger picture – understanding how all of these component parts will interplay with each other and which can be wed to unearth new flavours or textures.
LM: What do you enjoy most about your role as Master Blender?
Emma: The most rewarding aspect of being a Master Blender is the opportunity to create exceptional expressions that bring joy to people worldwide and bring to life our very special ageing liquids from across the four corners of Scotland. The continuous exploration of flavour profiles, the artistry involved in crafting unique blends, and the reception a new innovation receives is incredibly rewarding.
I am very aware that I am the custodian of an icon. This is something I cherish every day, along with the ability to leave a mark on the Johnnie Walker legacy.
LM: What’s next on the horizon for Johnnie Walker?
Emma: The future holds exciting prospects for Johnnie Walker, with a commitment to innovation and the introduction of new, groundbreaking expressions, such as Johnnie Walker Blue Label Xordinaire.
We aim to push the boundaries of traditional whisky-making, offering enthusiasts novel experiences while staying true to our heritage of excellence.
We will do all of this whilst making sure the important symbols and traditions associated with the brand are preserved and celebrated. We want every person who holds one of our bottles to experience and appreciate the quality and rich history that comes with it.
LM: For this year’s festive season, which drams will you be offering to guests, and what will you look to pair them with?
Emma: This festive holiday season, I am recommending pairing the rich and complex Johnnie Walker Blue Label Xordinaire with decadent dark chocolate or opting for the smoky notes of this limited-edition release with a selection of artisanal cheeses. We want to create memorable tasting experiences that bring festive celebrations to life.
Our aim is to make sure Xordinaire brings happiness to our customers during meals or any special moments throughout the holiday season. It is nice to be able to think about those who bought a bottle during their travels and who will be enjoying it with family and friends during the festive season.
Johnnie Walker Blue Label Xordinaire – Where and How?
Johnnie Walker Blue Label Xordinaire (40% ABV), which carries an RRP of £335 / US$399 for a one-litre bottle, is available in airports worldwide from now.
For more information, visit www.johnniewalker.com.