I have a great appreciation for fine whisky, but I am no means an expert on the subject. Luckily, I was in the unique position to have none other than talented actress (we all know her as Joan on Mad Men) and whisky lover Christina Hendricks teach me everything I need to know about Johnnie Walker's incredible blends. I mean, is there any better way to learn?
Douglas: Can you tell me how you became a Johnnie Walker fan?
Christina: Well, it was probably years ago. I was sort of intrigued by whisky, but a little bit intimidated by it, and I didn't really know how to order it. I loved the color, I loved the smell. So I slowly started taking sips of other people's [drinks], and I started to appreciate it. He would order Johnnie Walker and I would taste his. I think that is when I first realized how much I enjoyed it — and that it was very easy to order (chuckles).
D: Was there a particular moment when you decided that you had a true appreciation for whisky?
C: I do. I remember one of the first dates with my husband. We were out with a group of people and he ordered it. We were in Korea Town and he ordered Johnnie Walker Black on the rocks. I sat all evening getting to know him and talking to him and having sips of scotch. It was a very romantic evening for me.
D: That's pretty cool. It's sort of like whisky is romantically linked with you and your husband's relationship.
C: Ha, ha. To a certain extent. I mean, it is certainly something that he's always ordered and I always thought it was sexy and cool that he ordered it, but I definitely had an interest before. I think he solidified my liking it, for sure.
D: So, how do you take your whisky? Do you like it straight up, on the rocks, mixed in a cocktail?
C: It depends. I usually like to have Johnnie Walker Black on the rocks, but sometimes in the winter, I just like it neat. I like the sort of warmth of it, just tasting it exactly as it is.
SD: Is there a particular time where you're just sitting there and think, "Oh, you know, I could use a glass of whisky right now?"
C: I don't know if I say that I could use it (laughs), but I do like it when I can actually sit and enjoy it. I like to have it at home. In the winter I like to put a fire in the fireplace and have people gather around and play board games and things, and that's usually when I like to enjoy scotch: in the warmth of my own home.
D: Has enjoying whisky — when appropriate — become sort of a tradition for you?
C: (Laughing) yes, when appropriate. It is my drink of choice. Sometimes I'll have a Johnnie Walker cocktail while I'm out being social, but my friends also love it and they love that when they come over to my house they know they're going to be offered some.
D: Could you explain to the readers and myself the difference between Johnnie Walker Blue and Johnnie Walker Black?
C: Johnnie Walker Black is the one that I really like to enjoy more frequently, and I think many people, including myself, think of Blue Label as a "very special occasion" whisky. I think it's something that's really nice to keep on your bar. There is a difference in the blending — different amounts of whisky are blended in each, and they age for a different amount of years. Black Label is aged for over 12 years and has 40 different whiskeys, and Blue Label has the rarest of the Johnnie Walker whiskys that they blend with the master blender each year.
I've had a lot of fun learning about it. Johnnie Walker has been hosting some really fun tastings, and they have a whisky tasting where people can learn more about the aging process, and you get to taste each label. You can taste the difference of what it's like to have it on the rocks, versus adding a little water, how it tastes neat, how it changes the flavor as you prepare it.
D: I have to ask, what would Joan's Johnnie Walker drink of choice be?
C: I think she would have a Manhattan. First of all, she lives in Manhattan. She's very spirited, very patriotic. So I think she would probably have a Manhattan. She'd probably like the presentation, as well.
D: What impression would you get from a man who orders Johnnie Walker at the bar?
C: It's sexy, and it's confident, and it's also very classic. Like I said, I like the way it looks. I like the caramel color. I like the smell. I just like that it is what it is — you're not necessarily mixing it with a bunch of other things to change the flavor. You are really just enjoying the flavor of the drink, and I think that is a confident choice.
D: Bartenders from around the world created some special Johnnie Walker cocktails especially for you. Can you describe the experience of watching them create the drinks and what it was like tasting them?
C: It was very exciting. You don't often get an opportunity to sit down with some of the best bartenders in the world, which is pretty amazing. What I loved about it is we had three different cocktails and they were all completely different. One was about the preparation and the ceremonial process of it. Like they'd say, "Halfway through your drink add a little water, and see how that will change it." Other people added a hint of rose to it, just so you would get a bit of fragrance as you brought the glass to your mouth. But then you really just enjoyed the Johnnie Walker. Other people brought out the flavors within the drink and highlighted them with a bit of fruit. It was really interesting to see how unique each one was.
D: Was there one that really stood out to you, that you particularly enjoyed?
C: There was! The Japanese bartender had an amazing use of apricot within his, and somehow the sweetness of the pickled apricot and the smoke within the scotch complimented each other perfectly. It was really special.
D: Have you ever had an opportunity to do one of these tastings internationally? I presume the one you just referred to was in the U.S…
C: It wasn't, in fact! It was in Rio. They have amazing events where they bring in the best bartenders in the world and everyone presents a new cocktail, and everyone votes on them. It was really, very cool. Not only that, but we were in Rio, so the setting was ideal. Sitting at the top of a building in this beautiful atmosphere, enjoying Johnnie Walker prepared by best bartenders in the world will be a memory that I'll have forever. I'm trying to convince them to bring me to Scotland so I can have a rival experience (laughs).
Thanks to Christina for chatting with me — and inspiring me to try out all of the unique blends that Johnnie Walker offers as the cold winter months approach. Want to do the same? Check out all Johnnie Walker has to offer here.
Douglas Sonders, in addition to being the Luckiest Man Alive, is a photographer, filmmaker, and writer.