Interview with Emma Walker on JW Red Rye Finish
Emma Walker answered my questions on the creative process behind Johnnie Walker’s newest expression
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Right after the global launch, we now have Johnnie Walker Blenders’ Batch Red Rye Finish in Turkey. Red Rye Finish clearly demonstrates Johnnie Walker’s innovative side and the willingness to create different tastes in its world leading portfolio of blends. With its tasting profile I can easily summarize Red Rye Finish as an elegant salute to American whiskies (for my full tasting notes please scroll down)
Johnnie Walker Blenders’ Batch Red Rye Finish was created by a team of distillers led by Emma Walker and master distiller Dr Jim Beveridge who worked in bourbon / rye whisky production back in 1990’s.
I asked to have an interview with Emma to understand the creative process behind Blender’s Batch and she kindly accepted to answer my questions:
Interview with Emma Walker
Burkay Adalig / Meleklerin Payi
Dear Emma, thank you very much accepting this interview. I’m the first whisky blogger in Turkish language and have quite a large base of followers who are very keen to learn on the new expressions and the story behind it. Johnnie Walker, with its incredible legacy, has many enthusiasts in Turkey and I’m sure they’ll be very excited to hear about your new baby, Blender’s Batch Red Rye Finish
- As a person whose passion is whisky, I find blending as a form of art. How do you see JW Blenders’ Batch from this perspective? What is the main story behind JW Blenders’ Batch?
To me, the Blenders’ Batch series is hugely exciting – they are flavour experiments, enabling the blending team to apply all of the knowledge we have built up. We explore the incredible reserves of Scotch whisky that Johnnie Walker has available, to think about blending in new ways, to try things we have always wanted to do and hopefully create something special along the way.
- Would you recognize Blenders’ Batch as a new story of progress for Johnnie Walker or has it been already there and this is the first time we see a product of this raw and craft style?
Experimentation has always been at the heart of Johnnie Walker. Ever since John Walker began blending whisky nearly 200 years ago, Johnnie Walker has been experimenting with flavour and today, we, as blenders, experiment all the time – it’s part of our work every day.
Interest in whisky globally is at an all-time high and it feels like the right time to open the door on what we’re doing to let consumers experience the results of some of the innovative experiments we’ve been conducting.
- How did you create Blenders’ Batch Red Rye Finish, what were the main starting points in your creative process for the Blenders’ Batch series?
Our goal with Red Rye Finish was to create something from the bar back while taking flavour inspiration from American whiskies. We wanted to produce something that would taste incredible neat, but come to life in classic cocktails like the Manhattan.
It took us more than 50 experiments exploring 203 malt and grain whisky samples before we hit upon what we felt was the right blend for Red Rye Finish. In the end, we used just four whiskies, including Cardhu single malt for its vibrant, fresh fruitiness, along with creamy, vanilla grain whisky from Port Dundas.
- With Diageo’s great range of distilleries you have almost all types of malts and grains in your hands. Which character of whiskies did you choose for Blenders’ Batch Red Rye Finish and what are the casks you used?
Johnnie Walker Blenders’ Batch Red Rye Finish is a carefully judged experiment in flavour. This blend has been created using an incredibly small number of malt and grain whiskies, exclusively drawn from first fill ex-bourbon casks, and including Scotch whisky from the now-closed Port Dundas. Following this, the whisky is finished up to six months in former rye casks for a perfect balance of intense, sweetness, layered fresh fruit and spice.
- What was your first feeling when you hold the first bottle of Blenders’ Batch Red Rye Finish with your signature on it?
Seeing my name beneath Johnnie Walker is something very special. Something I never thought would happen. I am immensely proud to be a small part of the incredible Johnnie Walker story.
- How do you recommend that we should enjoy Blenders’ Batch Red Rye Finish? Neat or on the rocks or as a key ingredient for a cocktail, do you have a signature serve?
Johnnie Walker Blenders’ Batch Red Rye Finish is inspired by the bold flavours of American whiskey. It’s wonderful to drink Red Rye Finish on its own, or with ice and soda water, but it was created specifically for use in cocktails like the Manhattan.
- Rye cask finish is a whole new take on Johnnie Walker; do you have other interesting expressions in the process of making?
As I mentioned we are experimenting all the time, we have hundreds of on-going experiments. It’s a crucial part of our work – focusing on developing and understanding alternative flavours typically found in wine, coffee and chocolate. There’s even one that’s looking at a very distinct point in the fractional distillation process that produces spirit with an intriguing fruity, pineapple note.
- You are a chemist. I personally believe that blending is an art form but there’s great science behind it, how does your scientific background help you in the creation process?
It is the grounding in everything we do. My background enables the creative side to come to life and it allows the creative concepts to become a reality.
- You recently had a tour in US and had the chance to observe the whisky (or should I say whiskey?) and cocktail culture there, how do you see Blenders’ Batch Red Rye Finish fit into the picture in US and all around the world?
I had the opportunity to take Johnnie Walker Blenders’ Batch Red Rye Finish to New York to put it in front of some of the leading mixologists in the world. Truth be told, I was very nervous to hear what these industry giants would think but was delighted to hear they liked it.
Cocktail culture in the US is booming, mixologists are rightly being recognised for their craft and are constantly pushing boundaries. I think this is also the case globally. The growth in cocktail culture is really exciting and the goal of Red Rye Finish was to put a world class blend into the hands of mixologists and drinks enthusiasts to inspire them to make great cocktails.
- I observe a great increase of millennials’ tendency to drink whisky and try to understand the culture behind it, would you agree? And what’s Johnnie Walker’s take on this?
It’s exciting to see new people drinking whisky. As a blending team we strive for perfection in everything we do and I think people recognise that. Additionally, I believe people are increasingly recognising the versatility of our blends and I hope Blenders’ Batch continues that trend.
- Whisky is always recognized as a men dominant world. How do you feel as a woman and especially a whisky creator woman in this world? How do you see the evolving role of women in the industry?
For me, it actually isn’t something I think about. The team I work in is 50/50 in terms of men and women, and being part of the team depends on whether you can do the job or not. There are more women working in the industry as a whole and that can only be a good thing.
I wish you all the luck and success in your career; I look forward to drink more of your expressions
Dr Burkay ADALIG / www.meleklerinpayi.com
Emma’s visit to US:
Johnnie Walker Blenders’ Batch Red Rye Finish Tasting Notes
Nose: I could easily say “bourbon” if I was doing a blind tasting, sweet oaky notes, vanilla, Amasya red apples, honey, grainy notes, it also has the flowery, light character of Irish whiskeys
Mouth: Consistent with the nose, bourbon type sweetness, quite dry, reminded me of wine finished bourbons, cinnamon apple pie
Finish: Medium; honey sweetness, cinnamon, milk chocolate