Wayfarer Column- The tale of Ayrshire’s finest whisky exporter

Well spring will soon be upon us with the trees beginning to bud, crocuses and daffodils showing their heads above ground, birds singing to attract a mate and the grass growing.

Spring brings its own beauty and the spirit is refreshed after a winter of hard, cold weather which we have sometimes fortified ourselves against by drinking the odd dram of whisky. Now whisky, there is a drink which the Scots have brought into the world to be greeted with pleasure by many. Now a wee tale to go along with your wee dram is that of Johnnie Walker who was born near Kilmarnock, Ayrshire in 1805 and by the time he was aged fifteen this enterprising entrepreneur had opened a grocery shop in Kilmarnock’s King Street. He became adept at tea blending, which was quite a skill in those days, and used these skills for blending his own special blended whisky known then as Walker’s Kilmarnock Whisky. When his son Arthur took over the business in 1859 it had expanded to become the largest whisky firm in the world. The famous ‘Striding Man’ logo was drawn in 1908 by Tom Browne the leading black and white line artist of the day and has survived up to the present being recognized throughout the world for what it represents. Kilmarnock has long been known as the Whisky Town with it famous son Johnnie Walker buried in the churchyard of the disused St. Andrew’s Glencairn church with a stature to him in the Strand. Johnnie Walker Red Label was at one time, and maybe is so now, the best selling whisky in the world.

Mind you, Kilmarnock has another claim to fame in that in 1786 the first edition of Robert Burns’s poems was published in the town at the Star Inn Close. A stone marks the sight which is now a shopping mall. However this, the famous first ‘Kilmarnock Edition’ of the works of Robert Burns was proof enough of Burns’s ability and the income it brought in, that changed the mind of Jean Armour’s father who then permitted his daughter to marry the man who considered her to be his very true love. It also saved Burns from emigrating to Jamaica which at one time was on his mind. This would have been great loss as presumably his poetry would be lost on the inhabitants of Jamaica. However many editions were to follow but a copy of the first ‘ Kilmarnock Edition’ is very much sought after today and attracts a great deal of attention.. Well another mine of information which I hope will have been of interest.