A new era is on the horizon for whisky brand Johnnie Walker, as the first-ever female master blender, Emma Walker, makes history by stepping into the coveted role. We chatted with Emma to find out more. —Vita Daily
Hi Emma! Please tell us a bit about yourself to start.
I grew up in Scotland and early on at school I realized that I was good at chemistry and enjoyed studying it. Thankfully, this made deciding what I wanted to do at university an easy choice. When I got there, someone handed me a Talisker and that began my love for whisky and my passion for flavour. After doing a PhD, I accepted a job as a process chemist like many of my friends. But, holding a passion for flavours and the science from an early age, I knew I wanted to do something that could involve flavour with my background in chemistry. In 2008, I applied for a job at Diageo’s Technical Centre in Menstrie, Scotland, and I haven’t looked back since!
Congrats on being named Johnnie Walker’s first-ever female Master Blender! How does it feel, and what special meaning does this have to you?
It was very exciting but also a little bit scary if I’m honest, just with the weight of the responsibility of Johnnie Walker. It is such an amazing brand, with a wonderful heritage but Johnnie Walker whiskies are loved all over the world and with that comes a tremendous pressure to ensure that great legacy continues into the next 200 years.
What will you be doing in your role, and how will you be changing things up with a fresh perspective?
I’m conscious of being part of an incredible flavour tradition at Johnnie Walker. Every whisky maker in our team knows the role we play in a brand that has a 200-year history of craftsmanship and blending. Scotch has always looked to innovate and find new ways of making this wonderful liquid better and more enjoyable for drinkers. That is something that is important to Scotch as a whole and for us innovation is part of what we do, what we have always done; it’s in our DNA. Since the time of our founder, John Walker, we’ve never wanted to stand still. We’ve always explored new possibilities in whisky. We’ve always had one eye on the future. And that history of innovation is something that really inspires me.
Why do you think so few females find themselves in a role like yours? What words of wisdom/advice do you have for other women with a dream to be in the business?
I often get asked about working in a male industry, but to be honest, this hasn’t been my experience. Our team at Johnnie Walker has an even balance of males and females and there are female Master Blenders at Bell’s and Buchanan’s (within Diageo). That’s also reflected in the distilleries, and I’m seeing more female operators and engineers at different distilleries and sites across Scotland. The industry is as diverse as the whisky is! I see myself as a whisky maker … and now Johnnie Walker master blender. I have one of the best jobs in the world! I get to work with an amazing team, making some of the best whisky in the world, and we get to work with people from across Scotland and around the globe.
How do you like to drink your whisky?
It really depends on the circumstance: wWhen and where I am drinking it and who I am with. Depending on the context, I chose a whisky to suit that occasion!