Scotch is the alpha and omega of the spirits industry.
As much as one can contest the statement, the omnipresence of Scotch in all its permutations is a fact as true as day. Scotch has transcended centuries and burgeoned into an unshakeable spirit staple. From affordable blends, established single malts, the experimental No Age Statement releases, the old, the rare, and the obscenely expensive, Scotch has a history and a present (as well as presence) that has evolved as much as its relevance has been maintained. This is no small feat for an industry that has been around since 1495.
The Scotch business has been borne on the backs of many since its beginnings, and one of these names that have carried it into modernity is Dr Jim Beveridge OBE. Anyone familiar with Scotch will have heard of Dr Beveridge — the Master Blender has a 40-year legacy in the industry and has weathered many of its storms.
His fingerprints can be found on the Diageo portfolio of whiskies, particularly Johnnie Walker, the most widely distributed blended Scotch in the world. Dr Beveridge’s work and contributions to the whisky industry is so integral that he was, obviously, knighted by the Queen late last year, an achievement he thanks his tireless team for.
This year marks the 200th-anniversary of Johnnie Walker, another monumental occasion Dr Beveridge has a contribution to. In honour of the year, the label has a number of highly exclusive expressions available as part of the DFS Masters of Wine and Spirits 2020 Collection. These include the 40-year-old Ruby Reserve, which celebrates Dr Beveridge’s 40th anniversary with the distillery — the first time this product is released for retail.
As Johnnie Walker faces the past to celebrate the future, we turn to Dr Beveridge for a retrospective on how the Scotch industry has changed throughout his career.
The early 1980s were, without doubt, the most difficult time for the whisky industry. It was the height of the so-called ‘whisky loch’ when the 1970s supply of Scotch outstripped the early demand of the 1980s. Sadly, many distilleries were closed in those lean years as the industry cut back production.
I’ve also noticed that in the last few years that innovation in serves has really evolved. People are experimenting with flavour on a scale that I have never seen before. It’s something that we welcome as that is what we have always done, we’ve always pushed at the boundaries of what’s possible in whisky.
Part of the legacy of whisky is that it has always evolved to meet the demand of drinkers, whether through creating new whiskies or through new serves – such as the Johnnie Walker Highball. For us, the first thing in our minds when we look at a new whisky is the pursuit of flavour, and how we can make flavours new. That’s what drives us.
People really engage with rare expressions from iconic distilleries, and that drives the thirst for knowledge people have for the spirit.
At Johnnie Walker, have the Blue Label Ghost and Rare series, where special releases of spirits from these ghost distilleries are offered due to increasing consumer interest in our craft. By showcasing some of the rarest whiskies, we hope to encourage people to discover and explore the world of Scotch with more detail.
For whisky enthusiasts like myself, there is an added appeal in the fact that while the distilleries are all since closed, the casks we have remaining are living tapestries of flavour – evolving as they mature over the years. In many ways, these unique whiskies keep the spirit of their distilleries alive today.
As a whisky maker, age statements can offer us a scope to start a project. With 10 million casks of maturing Scotch in our reserves, it immediately focuses the task at hand for our team. But at Johnnie Walker, age statements aren’t something we always focus on – we look to use whiskies at their best, and different whiskies mature and evolve over different timescales.
However, on the subject of a whisky as personal to me as Johnnie Walker Master’s Ruby Reserve, it was a pleasure to work with 40-year-old whiskies that took me back to my earliest days at Johnnie Walker. Each of the eight distilleries that we selected hold a unique and special place in my heart – for their own individual reasons, they’ve left marks on my career – and so the process was very evocative.
We always embrace the opportunity to talk to people about our whisky and Masters of Wine and Spirits is a wonderful opportunity to be able to do that. We have attended a number of times in the past and I have loved talking to people from all over the world about what we do – attendees are incredibly knowledgeable, and we always come away from the event with some fresh perspective.
An event like this is great for Scotch more generally, it showcases the breadth and variety of flavour within the category, we are very proud of that and love to support anything that shines a light on Scotch.
At the moment, something I find really exciting is the fact that innovations in our industry aren’t only coming from those who make whisky, but also from those serve and drink it. More and more, we are seeing Scotch being viewed as a versatile beverage.
I think this continued creativity and innovation — not just in distilleries and blending rooms, but in bars and homes around the world — is going to open the doors to the world of whisky to an increasingly diverse audience.
The Johnnie Walker Ruby Reserve and more from the DFS Masters of Wine and Spirits 2020 collection will be on display at Changi Airport Terminal 3 until end-April 2020.