« Are yóú smart enough to be lucky?

Gepubliceerd op 30-07-2021

Ik ben géén whisky-liefhebber. Wél ben ik geïntrigeerd door één bepaald whisky merk.
Al is het maar omdat de oorsprong van dit merk in een werkelijk prachtig verhaal is gegoten:

“Hey Piper! Shut it! 

Here’s a true story. About a young lad named John. Just a local farm boy, but there was something special about the lad. A glint in his eye, a fire in his belly, a spring in his step. And one day he went for a walk. 

Now this walk began when his father died. The year was 1819 and he was just 14 years old. Bereavement counseling? Well, these were the days that young boys were sent into the fields, the mills, the mines - tough times. But young John was smart enough to be lucky. 

His father’s farm where he was born and raised was sold and the proceeds used to open a grocer’s. Big responsibility for the wee lad. His own shop in Kilmarnock with his name at the door: John Walker. Or Johnnie as the world now knows him. 

Back then, all grocers stocked a range of local single malts together as a way of offering his customers a consistent, unique product. Now, this backroom art quickly developed into a commercial proposition and a very profitable one. And because there’s nothing like a commercial proposition to stir the Scottisch heart, it grew quickly into an industry filled with ambitious entrepreneur distillers. 

John thrived in this environment and so too soon would his sons, Robert and Alexander, who joined him in his journey. The Walkers became the biggest name in a rapidly growing industry. They were unstoppable. In one bold bit of 19th century corporate raiding, they bought the famed distillery at Cardhu. Lock, stock and … ensuring their supply of this silky single malt and guaranteeing, more importantly that none of the other big blenders could get their hands on it. 

But young Alexander wasn’t content with being Scotland’s biggest blender. Not ambitious enough for him. No, no. He convinced the ship’s captains of Glasgow to act as agents for him, and drove the whisky bearing his father’s name across the globe. By 1860 he had developed the square bottle, now with a label at an angle of precisely 24 degrees. No big deal, you might think, but you’d be wrong. The square bottle meant less breakage and more bottles per shipment. The diagonal label meant larger type and together that meant Johnnie Walker had unmistakeable presence on any shelf in the world. The bottle became an icon, and the rich liquid it contained, sought after and consumed across the globe. 

Quite a character, Alexander Walker. Master of the blender’s art, ambitious, uncompromising. Mr. Walker. It was John’s grandsons, George and Alexander the II’s turn to join him on his journey. They led the brand into the 20th century. 

By 1909 they had developed the iconic Red Label and Black Label, and persuaded Tom Browne, the best young illustrater of the day, to sketch a striding man on a napkin during a business lunch. In the stroke of a pen, the Victorian grocer was transformed into an Edwardian dandy. 

By 1920, Johnnie’s walk had taken him through 120 countries, and he continued walking through the brand’s advertising over the next 50 years, into the fabric of global culture, deep into the dark hearts of several wars, to the pleasure palaces of the artistocracy, immortalized by screen legends, celebrated by filmmakers, singers, songwriters, novelists, shoulder to shoulder with the great sportsmen of the age, winning countless international awards for quality and even being awarded by the Royal Warrant by King George V. No going back after that. Not that even going back would have occured to Johnnie or any of his family. 

By the end of the 20th century, the familiar Red Label and Black Label were joined by the Green Label, the Gold Label and the grandest of them all, Johnnie Walker Blue Label. By the beginning of the 21st century, Johnnie Walker wasn’t just the world’s biggest whisky brand, but an international symbol of progress, the brand’s ‘Keep Walking’ mantra adopted by pro-democracy protestors and parliamentary speechwriters. 

What would the farm-born Victorian grocer have thought of all this? He’d have loved it. A Victorian farm-born grocer he might have been, but he and the family that followed him, were possessed by a fiery ambition, with the skill and intelligence to match. Two hundred years later and Johnnie Walker’s still walking. And he’s not showing any signs of stopping.”

Je zou absoluut eens moeten kijken naar de geweldige film die erbij hoort - op YouTube: The man who walked around the world - a true story. Een waar kunstwerk van reclameman John Hegarty. Ik zeg niet dat je whisky er wél (of beter) van gaat smaken, maar voor de échte liefhebber (óf de liefhebber van producten met een mooie ontstaansgeschiedenis) bezit het zeker de kracht een extra dimensie aan de beleving van het merk toe te voegen! 

Toch zijn het niets meer of minder dan een aantal feiten. Verpakt in een verhaal. Maar daardoor blijven die feiten wel hangen. Worden ze ineens aantrekkelijk. Om te delen zelfs misschien. Dus ook al blijft het onwaarschijnlijk dat je mij ooit met een glas whisky gaat betrappen, als ik een fles cadeau zou moeten doen, loop ik daarvoor toch graag even een heel klein stukje met de ‘Young Lad Johnnie’ mee.