The unsung heroes of Scotch whisky

1st February, 2019 by Amy Hopkins

Blending teams

Emma Walker – Diageo

A member of Diageo’s 12-­strong blending team, Emma Walker’s responsibilities include quality control for the group’s entire whisky portfolio, and also the development of new and exciting innovations. After receiving a PhD in organic chemistry, Walker joined Diageo in 2008. She will soon be based at the group’s new and improved research­-and-development lab in Menstrie.

Under the leadership of master blender Jim Beveridge, Walker works to maintain the consistency of the world’s best­selling Scotch whisky brand, Johnnie Walker. She says: “When I joined the company, I loved learning about Johnnie Walker Black Label and how you create flavour during maturation, then bring all those different profiles together. This is an ongoing process – I am learning from my colleagues in malt distilling, grain distilling, in maturation and inventory to understand what goes into that flavour creation.”

For Walker, quality control and innovation are “symbiotic processes”. She explains: “The samples we receive for testing feeds into how we approach our innovation projects, so they go hand in hand. If we are looking at a new way of blending, that feeds back into how we create Johnnie Walker Black Label.”

When exploring new innovations, Walker says the whisky team “does not work in a bubble” and constantly questions how a potential new product will be enjoyed. “If we were to create whiskies just for us, we’d end up with quite a narrow range of styles,” she says. “It’s really important for us to think about who will be drinking the whisky and how they will be drinking it. So we taste the samples straight, over ice, with water and in longer serves.”

One of the most exciting new launches Walker has worked on, she says, was the Johnnie Walker Blue Label Ghost & Rare series, which contains liquid from Diageo’s closed distilleries. “It’s been great to get to know some of these whiskies and understand how their styles interact with the flavours from the distilleries I know in more detail. I definitely feel really honoured to work with these whiskies that not a lot of people get to try.”

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