Talk & Happenings: A final dinner with Jim Beveridge

Talk & Happenings: A final dinner with Jim Beveridge

Johnnie Walker launched its £20,000 Masters of Flavour release at an intimate event hosted by outgoing master blender Jim Beveridge

News | 17 Dec 2021 | By Moa Nilsson

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It’s a chilly Thursday evening in Edinburgh when I step through a side-door hidden down an alley beside Johnnie Walker Princes Street, the multimillion-pound tourism centre launched by the blended Scotch whisky brand earlier this year in the centre of Scotland’s capital city.

A dazzlingly festive entrance to Johnnie Walker Princes Street

The path inside leads down to a private tasting room lined with lights and small bottles containing various whisky treasures from the Diageo distilleries and brands. Behind me sits various Islay samples: the small bottles are all organised by region and there’s also a section for blends. They all light up gradually to showcase the different sections as senior brand ambassador Ewan Gunn introduces himself, along with outgoing Johnnie Walker master blender Jim Beveridge.

Johnnie Walker Princes Street

The star of the show, and the reason we are all here, is the third and final release in the Johnnie Walker Masters series of rare Scotch whiskies: the 48-year-old Johnnie Walker Masters of Flavour. Previously there has been the Master’s Ruby Reserve 40 Years Old and also the Master’s Edition 50 Years Old. A sample awaits in elegant stemmed glasses in front of each person around the table and, as soon as the tasting opens up for nosing, everyone around the table is eager to meet this rare liquid. The long silence in the room speaks of the focus and respect for both the whisky and the presence of the master blender who has assisted in creating it.

Johnnie Walker Masters of Flavour 48 Years Old

Beveridge explains that all the whiskies in this blend are at least 48 years old and come from seven different distilleries: Brora, Blair Athol, Cameronbridge, Dalwhinnie, Glen Albyn, Glenury and Port Dundas. Bottled at 41.8% ABV, only 288 bottles have been made and it retails for a cool £20,000 in the UK. Like its predecessors, this expression has been presented in a Baccarat crystal decanter, housed in a bespoke oak cabinet. This time, the glass is emerald green, rather than the previous onyx black and ruby red hues.

On first approach, the whisky offers up indulgent dessert tones along with golden fruits. The first sip celebrates how beautiful grain whisky can be and the gentle notes expands on the finish and develop flavours of sweet molasses, rich mature fruits, soft leather and warming oak spice. Tasting notes might not be able to do it justice. It is an exceptional blended whisky.

The decanter includes the names of all those involved in the whisky"s creation.

As we are tasting, Jim explains that when he works with such precious stock there is still a lot of trial and error involved – he never can fully predict the result of mixing one spirit with another. Another addition might take the blend to new levels of completely or disturb the balance entirely. When asked if he feels nervous working with these valuable casks he looks up through his glasses and nods. “Very,” he admits quietly.

Jim also engages in some talk of will come next for him, as it’s recently been announced that he is due to retire at the end of the year. He shares that this is likely the last time guests will have the chance to meet him in this ’official’ setting and I can’t help but feel a little emotional about the fact that this was an opportunity not only to try this rare whisky, but to be in the room with someone who has done so much for one of the most important whisky brands in the world. Instead of blending whiskies, Jim will join his wife in running their farm and spend more time with sheep than with spirits.

The "Rocket Powered Air Mail" cocktail.

Following the tasting, we are led through a maze of rooms and corridors up to the sixth floor, where The Bothy Bar awaits along with a cocktail named ’Rocket powered air-mail’. This delightful drink got its name from the German engineer Gerhard Zucker, who tried to develop rocket science to help deliver mail between the islands in the North West of Scotland. The deep blue colour brought a hesitant look to Jim’s face and I couldn’t resist asking him his thoughts on whisky cocktails. He shares that his favourite cocktail was a whisky sour made with Johnnie Walker Gold Reserve. Funnily enough, a whisky sour is exactly what awaits when we eventually move through to the private dining area tucked away behind a thick curtain in a corner of the 1820 bar.

Wild salmon in charred butter with apple and caviar.

The menu for the evening consists of four courses with accompanying cocktails. Each course is inspired by four different stages of whisky production. First up is a sour made with whisky from Clynelish along with a chicken liver royale starter, inspired by the tropical fruit tones that can be found in the Fermentation process. The Malting process is represented with a smoked wild salmon in charred butter along with apple and caviar, which goes brilliantly with the paired Caol Ila 18 Years Old highball. An excellent saddle of highland deer is the highlight of the menu, served with a Rob Roy that has a nice level of bitterness to balance the rich flavours of the food. To finish, the Maturation process has inspired caramel notes which appears on the plate, as a vanilla caramel custard along with a Bounce cocktail containing the Johnnie Walker Princes Street Winter Blend.

A Rob Roy made with Johnnie Walker Princes Street"s Winter Blend.

In the middle of the table sits the precious emerald green decanter on display all throughout the dinner. Towards the end of the evening Ewan and Jim present quotes from the other whisky masters who have contributed to the making of this rare expression: malt master Donna Anderson, cask master James Carson and distillation master Douglas Murray. All four masters also have their signatures decorating one side of the decanter. Jim tells the room how important the team is and when he reads out the words of his fellow masters with a smile, that slight emotional feeling comes back.

Before heading off, Jim is kind enough to pose for a few photos next to the striding man who stands on the balcony. The striding man seemingly looks down at Jim, tilting his hat towards him – almost as if he’s thanking him for his long service to the brand and the expressions he has created along the way.

Jim bids farewell to the Striding Man.

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