Singing the (praises of) Blues in Cannes

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Martin Moodie
Martin Moodie is the Founder & Chairman of The Moodie Report.

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As tastings go, they don’t get much better than a vertical sampling of Johnnie Walker Blue Label during TFWA World Exhibition.

The opportunity to taste not only the original Johnnie Walker Blue Label but also King George V Limited Edition and the latest extension to the range, The John Walker (above), saw a who’s who of the industry pack into Diageo Global Travel & Middle East’s (GTME) suite at the Majestic Hotel in Cannes on Monday evening.

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After a short introduction by Managing Director Phil Humphreys (above) it was over to Johnnie Walker Brand Ambassador Jonathan Driver (below) to lead the tasting.

Jonathan was born to this job – he has a voice as smooth as Blue Label, a touch of the Cary Grant about him, and a knowledge of and passion for the finer things in life, including these remarkable three Scotch whiskies.

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JW_Blue_LabelFirst up was Johnnie Walker Blue Label: huge, complex, smooth, smoky (thanks largely to the influence of Islay malt Caol Ila in the blend). “We should do this every every day at 6 o’clock,” purred a clearly appreciative Gunnar Heineman to my side.

“Blue Label was a powerful idea for its time, in the late 80s and 90s,” said Jonathan. “It was for the consumer who was going somewhere.”

We all loved it but none of us were going anywhere, for there were still two great whiskies to taste.

JWBLKGVKing George V was next in line. It’s a Scotch whisky I know well, having attended the original, extraordinary launch in Scotland in late 2006. If Blue Label is all about the aspirational, King George V is “for when you’ve made it”, said Jonathan.

Did the creation of a succesful multi-media brand count? I decided to taste it anyway.

“It’s a slower whisky,” he said, his words drawing out accordingly. “There’s no smoke… it’s more fruity… there’s lot of Speyside in here… it’s slo… wwww…. and expansive to finish.

The softer, less smoky Islay ingredient, he explained was from the Port Ellen distillery, sadly now closed.

“It’s used in here as you would use saffron in paella,” Jonathan noted.

Finally, the culmination of the tasting – The John Walker. Drawn exclusively from distilleries that were in existence during the lifetime of brand founder John Walker, this sublime blend of nine whiskies had those present reaching for the superlatives.

Big yet creamy, elegant yet powerful, The John Walker is worth every cent of its US$3,000 duty free price tag.

“Gorgeous,” said WDF’s Mark Riches.

“Mmmm,” uttered Gunnar Heinemann, savouring every drop.

Phil Humphreys closed proceedings by underlining Diageo GTME’s ambitions for the liquor category. The John Walker epitomised both that belief and the focus on premiumisation that would be integral to delivering it, he said.

“We’ve set ourselves a big goal in terms of our internal numbers from where we were three or four years ago,” he concluded.

Big goals, big Scotches, big success stories. The Blue Label story just keeps on walking.

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