“Mmm … the best place I’ve ever drunk whisky?” ponders Colin Dunn. As a Diageo whisky ambassador it’s not a straightforward question. “Probably Fingal’s Cave,” he says, referring to a tasting he did in on the uninhabited, Inner Hebridean island of Staffa, in a grotto known for its cathedral-like acoustics. “So much of taste is linked to experience,” he says.
It explains why we’re queuing for the London Eye. If experience enhances taste, then what better place to launch Johnnie Walker’s new City Edition? Soaring above the city on a clear summer’s evening –late afternoon sun pounding through the glass walls, and Colin regaling the brand’s history.
It all began in John Walker’s Ayrshire grocers, but Johnnie Walker whisky really took off when the business was passed onto John’s son Alexander (1857), who started creating bespoke blends to customers’ taste. Soon whisky accounted for 95% of the greengrocer’s sales, and the company started looking to expand. It moved its head quarters to Commercial Road – “just over there, in the East End” says Colin, waving his hand toward the spire of Christ Church Spitalfields. As the era of marketing dawned, Johnnie Walker employed the skills of illustrator Tom Browne, who scribbled the famous ‘Striding Man’ logo on the back of a napkin while dining at St James.
If children’s story books are brought to life by illustrations, then the brand’s story is lit up by all the streets and landmarks below us. Our senses are already wakened – the overwhelming views, evening sun and odd feeling of being suspended in a pod on The Eye. Then Colin tells us to take a sip. “Now, I want you to close your eyes, and hold it in your mouth for one minute,” he says. “People usually swallow a whisky straight away, but you’ve only just met, you haven’t fully appreciated each other.”
The whisky changes as we hold it in our mouths. The alcohol burn wears off, and the texture becomes smoother, thicker, almost syrup-like. “Right, we’re almost at a minute,” Colin says. “Now, swallow, and open your eyes.” The city is sprawling below us, and our mouths, our tongue, the insides of our cheeks are saturated with Johnnie Walker whisky. Amazing. We sip a cobbler as we do a second lap – a nineteenth century cocktail which is another nod to the company’s history – and then we decamp to The Shard.
The City Edition bottle is on the countertop at GŎNG bar. Its amber content merges into the setting sun, which is quickly dipping below the horizon. Only 4,000 City Edition bottles will be released in June, featuring a gold-rendered print of the London or Edinburgh skyline on the front. It might be the bottle which will make this edition so collectable. But as bartender Christian Maspes runs us through the Johnnie Walker Blue Label cocktails he created for the event, it’s a reminder that the contents is just as precious too.
Known for their intently watchful, sharp and supreme sight across some of the world’s most beautiful landscapes, the eyes of an eagle are estimated to be up to eight times stronger than that of a human’s. The idea of such skill and accuracy together with Gong’s unrivalled views over London was the inspiration behind ‘Eagle Eye’, a specially created cocktail to celebrate the launch of Johnnie Walker’s Blue Label’s limited City Editions; London and Edinburgh
45ml Johnnie Walker Blue Label
2-3 dashes of Abbott’s Bitters
15ml Barolo Chinato
Homemade strawberry and peppercorn shurb
(Garnished with a blue meringue cane)
Fill a Boston shaker with plenty of ice
Pour all ingredients into the shaker and stir for 30 seconds
Serve straight into a chilled martini glass.
The Johnnie Walker Blue Label City Edition design ‘London Edition’ and ‘Edinburgh Edition’ will be available from June 2014, with a recommended retail price of £199. http://www.johnniewalker.com/en-gb/home/