How A Flood Led To The Creation Of Johnnie Walker

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Johnnie Walker may be the world's top selling brand of scotch whisky, but it may never have found a home on the top shelf of bars everywhere if it weren't for a devastating flood and the intervention of Walker's son Alexander. 

Johnnie Walker was born in Kilmarnock, Scotland in 1805 (via Home Wet Bar). After the death of his father, the family sold their farm and Walker took over the operations of a grocery store in the city center at the age of 15. He would soon earn a reputation as a purveyor of fine wines and spirits for the small town. According to The Whisky Exchange, in 1850 he decided to start selling Walker's Kilmarnock Whisky. His blended scotch whisky quickly became popular for its smooth and consistent taste. He was one of the first to blend his whisky to make a consistent product, while his competitor's differed greatly in taste and texture between each bottle.

According to Thrillist, in 1852 a devastating flood destroyed much of Johnnie Walker's grocery store, leaving him at a fork in the road. Walker had to decide whether to rebuild or commit to his growing whisky business. 

How a flood made whisky history

During this difficult time, Johnnie Walker's young son Alexander stepped forward to convince his father to leave the grocery business and invest completely in the whisky game. John Walker took his son's advice and would die shortly after. This left Alexander to carry on the family business (via The Whisky Exchange).

According to Robert Bruce Lockhart's book Scotch: The Whisky of Scotland in Fact and Story, Alexander Walker was "a man of immense energy, vision, and ability" that quickly started expanding operations and finding new markets. Thrillist notes that Walker pioneered the global distribution of the whisky by offering a commission to ship captains who would carry and sell the whisky abroad. He also pioneered the now iconic square bottle to prevent breakage while jostling about in those cargo holds. Another one of Walker's genius marketing maneuvers was to apply the signature 20-degree slanted label to every bottle. This gave his labels more real estate on every bottle and birthed an instantly recognizable brand image that can now be spotted across the globe.

The world outside of Kilmarnock may never have known the smooth taste of Johnnie Walker were it not for that fateful flood, and Johnnie Walker wouldn't be the brand it is today without Alexander's keen marketing and business skills. He would pass many of those skills onto his own sons who would pioneer the iconic Striding Man logo, and market the first "Red Label" and "Black Label" bottles of Johnnie Walker.