Dr Jim Beveridge is calling it a day as a Master Blender at Johnnie Walker.
The departure of such a central figure at Diageo and Johnnie Walker is certainly big news, considering Beveridge’s legacy in the business. Dr Jim Beveridge OBE is a true legend of the whisky industry. He’s spent over four decades at Diageo and been responsible for some of the world’s most popular and acclaimed Scotch whisky blends from the brand, including Johnnie Walker Blue Label.
Beveridge’s pathway into the world of whiskies began 42 years ago. Starting out as an analytical chemist in 1979 at Johnnie Walker, he has since gone on to carve a reputation in the business. Renowned for his tireless work ethic, expertise, and dedication, Beveridge has consistently been at the forefront of blending and developing flavours that have helped shaped and defined the Johnnie Walker label.
A highly-respected figure in the industry, the good doctor was recognised for his services to the Scotch whisky industry when he was awarded an OBE by Her Majesty the Queen in 2019. Beveridge’s retirement paves the way for a new Master Blender and that is none other than Dr Emma Walker. She will officially take over the reins on 1 January 2022, while Beveridge will remain with the business until the end of the year.
As he nears retirement, we take one last call with Jim Beveridge, to discuss Scotch Whiskies, the art of blending and what his plans are after he calls it a day.
You have been at Johnnie Walker since 1979, how different has the Scotch Whisky market transformed in all those years?
The one thing that I would say that has changed has been our understanding of the science and technology involved in whisky making – there have been many advancements over the last 40 years in the whole process of making Scotch – it’s been wonderful to witness. And yet, the core principles of whisky that have guided whisky makers like myself and the team at Johnnie Walker remain resolutely the same. We want to make great whisky – that is what gets us up in the morning. Crafting extraordinary new Scotch flavours, that is our passion, that’s our inspiration.
Where do you see the segment moving towards in the next ten years?
As an industry, we’ve always looked to innovate, and I think that’s something that will continue to be a guiding principle into the next 200 years. Whether that is innovating with amazing new flavours, developing our ways of making Scotch production more sustainable or creating amazing new ways of experiencing Scotch – as we have done with the opening of Johnnie Walker Princes Street – we are always trying to find new ways of doing things, new things to explore and we will continue to do that.
There seems to be a trend for more older-age statements. Is this an indication of Scotch moving deeper into the luxury segment?
As a whisky maker the thing that interests me most is ensuring that the quality of the whisky we craft is always as good as it can possibly be. No matter what price point we’re making a whisky for, we want that whisky to bring real enjoyment and delight to whoever buys it – that’s what still fires my imagination and conviction after 40 years in the industry. Age can sometimes be a useful signifier of a whisky’s quality, and I don’t envisage age statements ever disappearing from the industry completely. However, age is not something that should be viewed in isolation. As whisky makers, we look to use whisky at their best, and different whiskies are at their best at different times.
If so, to what do you attribute this recent shift, and will we see more bolder and older whiskies being released in the future?
It’s all about great whisky rather than older or bolder! Johnnie Walker Blue Label is a good example of a (luxury) whisky that isn’t centred around an age statement but is crafted using amazing, rare expressions of maturing whisky from our unparalleled reserves. Its reputation has been built on the rarity of the whiskies used, the craftsmanship employed in its production, and its remarkable depth of character.
The Johnnie Walker Blue Label Ghost and Rare series again doesn’t carry an age statement but, yet – we think– it is a really bold whisky that is crafted using irreplaceable, aged casks from long-closed ‘ghost’ distilleries such as Port Ellen, Pittyvaich, Glenury Royal and Brora. I think more and more people are seeking out interesting flavours and Johnnie Walker Blue Label and the Ghost and Rare series is part of that – whether that means an age statement, a luxury whisky, or a household name like Johnnie Walker Black Label.
You’ve been at the forefront of blending at Johnnie Walker now for decades. It will probably be hard to pick a favourite blend, but which one are you particularly proud of and why?
They are all special in different ways. From maintaining the quality and heritage of some of the world’s favourite whiskies such as Johnnie Walker Black Label, to developing new expressions such as Johnnie Walker Double Black, I’m proud of all that work.
If you are going to do something with flavour, you must be bold and commit to it and be brave as a team; whether it’s the rich smokiness of Johnnie Walker Double Black or the light accessibility of recent innovations such as Johnnie Walker Blonde. We have learned to make diverse flavours work and grow our blender’s craft, and I’m incredibly proud of what we achieved in that regard, so, no one particular favourite but proud of our pursuit of great flavour and great whisky.
Mentoring some of the industry’s as well as Johnnie Walker’s master blenders, what is the main thing you impart on this new generation of blenders?
It’s very important to me to see people fulfilling their potential – that is something that I want for every member of my team. We have 12 very passionate and skilled people, who bring a tremendous amount of craft and knowledge to the table. Our process is very collaborative and as a team we nose hundreds of samples in a week, sharing ideas and building knowledge together.
Each member of the team has their own interests, which I am always keen to encourage, and they all bring something unique to the table, there is a good mix of everything, including ages! Ultimately, our team works as a team exploring flavour – always trying to push the boundaries of what’s possible in whisky – that is very important to me.
We’d spoken to Dr. Maureen Robinson following the release of Prima & Ultima Second Release. Can you describe your feelings seeing this second release?
It is a selection of very special whiskies – some that are the final examples of their kind, very rare. And some of them would have been crafted at the start of my career – the Brora expression was laid down in 1980. So, it was great to share that little glimpse into the history of Scotch and one that I was honoured to be around to have witnessed.
The opening of Johnnie Walker Princes Street is another feather in the cap for the brand. Did you ever imagine seeing something like this being built?
Well, for some time we have been seeing that people are really interested in finding out more about whisky – how it is made, what is made with, why it tastes a certain way – and they want to experience this. This is something we have noticed, as blenders, for many years, so, I think it made sense that Johnnie Walker was thinking about something like Johnnie Walker Princes Street. At the same time it is hard to imagine that that building in Edinburgh, which I have walked past many times, would be transformed into such an incredible whisky experience for people. It’s an amazing space – like nothing I have ever seen or experienced before in whisky.
The last we spoke you mentioned that you have a love for the Red Label. Is it still one of your favourite blends?
Of course, Johnnie Walker Red Label is one of my favourites – as I mentioned earlier, I am very proud of the work that we have done with Red Label. It’s a fantastic whisky, fresh, spicy, and vibrant with that smoky finish, but I’m proud of all our Johnnie Walker whiskies. They’re all special to me.
Can you reveal what’s in the pipeline for the label, and what exquisite blends aficionados should keep a look out for in the near future?
All I can say is that, as ever, we have some pretty exciting things lined up… we have some interesting new whiskies that we can’t wait to can talk to you about, hopefully very soon!
Can you share what some of your plans are following your retirement?
I will enjoy being able to spend more time at home with friends and family. I also love being outside and walking the hills nearby, so I’ll make sure to do more of that now that I can.