10 November 2021

112th Whisky Insiders Interview - Emma Walker

Johnnie Walker

Master Blender


How long have you been working in the whisky industry?
I joined Diageo’s whisky specialist team as a project scientist in 2008, moving into whisky production roles in blending and distilling at Leven, Cameronbridge and Knockando distilleries. 

At the end of 2014, I then returned to the whisky specialist team as a blender, bringing acquired knowledge of whisky production back into the blending team. Before this, I completed a two-year apprenticeship at Imperial Chemical Industries in Teesside; a Masters’ in Chemistry at Edinburgh University and a PhD in Organic Chemistry at the University of Sheffield. 

While working as a process chemist at GlaxoSmithKline in Montrose, I applied for a project scientist role at the Diageo Technical Centre in Menstrie in 2008 and I haven’t looked back since. 

What has been your biggest career highlight to date?
There are so many. Recently though, it’s been amazing to work on the Johnnie Walker Blue Label Ghost and Rare series of limited-edition whiskies, exploring the distinct flavours and character found in Johnnie Walker Blue Label. Each edition has given a fleeting opportunity to savour whiskies from irreplaceable “ghost” distilleries whose spirit lives on in their dwindling maturing stocks, alongside other rare whiskies from the unparalleled Johnnie Walker reserves. 

Our team have been fascinated by how whiskies from a small number of iconic, closed distilleries have a unique, inimitable character that lend something very special to Johnnie Walker Blue Label. We recently released Johnnie Walker Blue Label Ghost and Rare Pittyvaich, so it is great to see that looking and tasting so well and the series still going strong. 

Can you remember your first dram, and indeed what it was?
I remember when I went to university in Edinburgh, my friends enjoyed Scotch and they introduced me to Talisker and Lagavulin, and I’ve journeyed on from there!

What does whisky mean to you?
Whisky means great flavours and great people. The different flavours, characters and textures of whiskies talk of the different places and people who have been involved in creating it and we as blenders get to work with this every day and create whiskies for people to enjoy now! 

Where would you like to see yourself in five years’ time?
I want to continue the legacy that has been built over more than 200 years. Johnnie Walker founder John Walker sought out the finest whiskies from the four corners of Scotland to craft whisky for his customers and we will continue this, drawing from the largest selection of maturing Scotch stocks in the world, to continue our exploration of flavour while walking into the future through new innovations to create whiskies to continue to delight our customers. We’ve always explored new possibilities in whisky, with one eye on the future and now we are looking to craft whiskies for the next 200 years.

What was your last dram?
I’ve just come back from a holiday on Islay and alongside some wonderful smoky single malts, we enjoyed some Johnnie Walker Blue Label while enjoying the scenery!

Do you have a favourite whisky and food pairing combination?
For me it is always thinking about how the whisky flavours and food complement each other, either accentuating flavours or balancing them. I enjoy a refreshing citrus highball with Indian curry – Johnnie Walker Black Label with Blood Orange soda and a prawn bhuna is great! And the classic whisky and shellfish always works well, for example seared scallops with Talisker 10 Year Old.

What’s your favourite time and place to enjoy a dram?
That’s almost as difficult as picking a favourite whisky! For me whisky is about flavour, people and place – whether that’s a dram after watching Scotland at Murrayfield, in a cocktail serve with friends, or relaxing at home with my partner Dave.

What do you think is going to be the next big thing on the whisky horizon? 
It is always about flavour for us … innovating with bold flavours is what we do at Johnnie Walker. I’m always interested to see what other people are doing with our whiskies – some of the amazing bartenders and mixologists out there who are experimenting and innovating with our Scotch is always incredible to see. I am always interested to see with what they will come up with next.

What’s the one dram you couldn’t live without?
Johnnie Walker Black Label is a whisky with so much to it – works in different places, with different people and different serves and always enjoyable! 

Many thanks to Emma Walker. Who will be our next Whisky Insider? Click back soon to find out!