Chez Shaffner

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Johnnie Walker Experience


L to R: Jeff J., Mark H., Ben C., The Author

Friday night, we headed to the Cyclorama in Boston's South End for the Johnnie Walker Experience, a special event where each attendee has the privilege of sampling each of the five colors, including the pricey Blue. I have received email invitations to these events once or twice a year since I graduated college, but never considered attending. About a month ago, my buddy Ben C. emailed a few of us to see if we were intereseted. Why not? I figured. All thse years deleting those emails, maybe it was time to see what it was all about.

The line coiled down the block. The event was slated to start at 6:30pm and we were on the RSVP list (not that it mattered, so far as I could tell). Ben told us to be there about 30 minutes early, but 50 whisky-drinkers (no "e" in Scotch Whisky, I guess) were already there when we arrived.

A cadre of women wearing short-black skirts, most of whom have never considered ordering a glass of whisky in their lives, checked us in on Tablet PCs. Upon completing a short survey on our drinking habits, we were presented with gold tokens, which entitled us to a complimentary drink at the bar. A long wait and two plates of crudités later, we had drinks in our hands (only Red and Black, the two most inexpensive varieties, were available at the bar).

They summoned us to the presentation room.

The Cyclorama, for what it's worth, is one of the more unusual buildings I've ever been inside. Part of the Boston Center for the Arts complex, it hosts a wide variety of events, ranging from art exhibits to political rallies. (The Johnnie Walker event is one of several alcohol-related events, including a Belgian beer fest in October that Ben C. is pushing hard). As the name implies, the building is circular. Red-brick walls, glass ceiling, exposed ductwork. It is an impressive space...with an interesting story.

Benches were arranged in four sections, with a square opening at the center of the room. In front of each seat in the crowd sat the drinks (except the Gold and Blue varieties), each shot glass placed on a colored circle indicating the label.

Huge video screens flashed with seemingly irrelevant images (rainforests, glaciers, Porsches, male/female models) and the potent sound system blasted a dramatic score.

Into the center of the circle bounded our presenter, a thirty-something woman in a business suit, bearing a tall glass of blended scotch.

Rather than bore you with the detailed recounting, let me summarize what I learned:

  • Black is your "every day whisky"
  • Red is all about FUN (and, judging from the video, fun = race cars, fast motorcycles, and bicycle racing)
  • Gold is about celebration, the champagne of whiskys. Best served like revenge.
  • Green is our presenter's "flask whiskey" (which she clarified with an anecdote involving snow, the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, a pewter flask, and some question about whether she was clothed at the time)
  • If your date is a real boozehound, they also market Green as an eau de toilette. (We were all asked to splash some on our hands, rub them together, and pat out necks. Some of us opted out.)
  • Blue is expensive (you can tell because they served it in a snifter, très chic), perfect for special occasions such as: "a marriage, a birth, a divorce." (I kid you not).
As with any tasting event, it was little more than a looooong commercial.

But we are sophisticated Gen Y urban professionals.

We spit in the face of advertisement.

We will not be swayed by flash and a thumping beats.

We are free thinkers.

On the way out, we deposited the JW collateral in a nearby trash bin. We took a left onto Berkeley and strolled toward a great restaurant, our hunger piqued by two hours drinking scotch.

The waiter approached; we ordered four glasses of Johnnie Walker Black and ginger ale.

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