Whisky tourism, both offline and online, gets a fillip with Johnnie Walker’s multi-million pound visitor experience in Edinburgh
Experiencing the world through our screens has moved from novelty to necessity. In Edinburgh, the home of Scotch whisky, Johnnie Walker has been working on an immersive experience for drinkers and aficionados that doesn’t require a trip to one of their distilleries.
Officially launched two weeks ago by Prince Charles, Johnnie Walker Princes Street offers an eight-floor deep dive into the brand, its over 200-year history, and its offerings. “The Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdown that it brought has accelerated the shift towards finding ways to interact with our customers in the online realm,” says Barbara Smith, general manager of Johnnie Walker Princes Street. “For Johnnie Walker, it wasn’t something where we had to pivot massively because we were already operating in the online world. But we are ensuring that we are creating great experiences by adapting our approach to digital interactions [to cater to new consumer behaviours and buying habits].”
Click to explore
- Using the keyboard, viewers can move around the 71,500 sq ft Johnnie Walker Princes Street and discover more about the history of the brand, from vintage ads (from when the whisky was first shipped to China) to an interactive music display that used Johnnie Walker Black Label’s four flavour notes — vanilla, toffee, figs and smoke — to create a harmonious tune.
Gamifying the striding man
Online, you can navigate the space — organised into rooms that showcase its history, the brand’s global impact and a tasting room — with a virtual passport. The exploration is like an interactive treasure hunt: part future glimpse into the metaverse, part gamified brand experience, and part whisky lovers’ trivia offerings. An on-screen guide helps you discover clickable objects in a room, each of which gives some context to the Johnnie Walker story.
Offline, it is the centrepiece of parent company Diageo’s investment into whisky tourism in Scotland (a £185 million investment). Visitors can book one of three tours, including The Whisky Maker’s Cellar, priced at £95, which gives access to their underground cellar and the chance to blend your own unique bottle from an ever-changing selection of casks. Or relax at its two rooftop bars, the Explorers’ Bothy (stocked with 150 different whiskies) and the 1820 cocktail bar.
Smith, who oversees tourism at all of the brand’s 14 distillery homes across Scotland, says, “Firstly, Diageo has an unparalleled reserve of whisky casks, over 10 million at last count. More importantly, though, is where these casks are from. We have distilleries in all four corners of Scotland: the Highlands, Lowlands, Speyside and the Islands, meaning that we have access to the widest range of flavours of any other blender out there.” It’s this variety that the attendees on the tour will have access to.
Tailor your drink
If you’re looking to drink rather than learn, try The Whisky Explorers (£35), an hour-long tasting of matured whiskies that have spent at least 12 years in the barrel, along with an exclusive whisky available to taste only at the centre. Neophytes can book the Journey of Flavour tour (£25) that takes 90 minutes, and helps identify personal flavour preferences. It results in whisky drinks tailored to the palate.
With no-age statement whiskies trending, this immersive new experience is tailor-made for those seeking exclusive bottles — the retail shop features a seasonal cask from which visitors can purchase and fill a bottle — and a sense of community. There are also more than 800 flavour combinations to check out. Smith teases, “We have an exciting pipeline of limited editions in development in collaboration with partners that we will be announcing in the near future. So, watch this space!”
Tours can be booked online at johnniewalker.com. The 1820 bar and retail shop can be accessed without a booking.