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£85m venture

Johnnie Walker Princes Street ‘to set new standard’

The striding man in the rooftop lounge area of the new (pic: Terry Murden)

Diageo chief executive Ivan Menezes today claimed the new £85 million Johnnie Walker Princes Street facility, which opens next week, will set a new standard for visitor attractions.

Four and a half years in the making, the conversion of a former House of Fraser department store into a multi-purpose venue is the centrepiece of Diageo’s £185million pound investment in Scotch whisky tourism across Scotland.

It is the largest single investment programme of its kind and represents a key milestone in rebuilding the Covid-battered tourism sector.

The Princes Street building, once a regular meeting place in a previous incarnation as the Binns store, is looking to build a clientele of tourists, whisky afficionados and more casual visitors, including those who will frequent the two rooftop bars and terrace – the Explorers’ Bothy whisky bar stocked with 150 whiskies, and the 1820 cocktail bar where drinks are paired with a carefully curated menu. The room features an original artwork by Scottish landscape artist, Scott Naismith.

Rooftop ventilation equipment has been replaced by a welcoming outdoor lounge area with views of the castle.

Recreating the smells of whisky flavourings (pic: Terry Murden)

The latest technology has been installed by leading creatives from BRC  Imagination Arts in California who spent two years developing a cinematic storyboard to tell the history of Johnnie Walker and other displays on the process of whisky making, adding a fresh dynamic to the visitor experience.

The facility is committed to contributing to the community by offering its hospitality training programme for unemployed people in its special Johnnie Walker Learning for Life academy. The building can also host events in its 200-capacity space. 

An actress tells the story of Johnnie Walker (pics: Terry Murden)

The investment in whisky tourism includes the transformation of distillery visitor experiences around Scotland, including Glenkinchie, Clynelish, Cardhu and Caol Ila – the Lowland, Highland, Speyside and Islay homes of Johnnie Walker, linked to Johnnie Walker Princes Street to form a network of attractions.

Mr Menezes, who today raised a flag above the Princes Street building, said: “This is a proud day for everyone. Last year Johnnie Walker celebrated 200 years since founder John Walker opened the doors to his small grocery store and today represents the next chapter of the incredible story.

“Johnnie Walker Princes Street is a landmark investment in Scotch whisky and into Scotland and it sets a new standard for immersive visitor attractions.

“It celebrates Scotland’s remarkable heritage, our incredible skilled whisky-makers, and looks to the future by engaging new generations of consumers from around the world in the magic of Scotch whisky.”

Ivan Menezes and JWPS managing director Barbara Smith unveil the flag

In 2019, the Scotch Whisky industry attracted a record 2.16 million visitors, but the executive who is masterminding the whisky tourism strategy, today said one reason for investing in the Princes Street project was because customers had told the company that Johnnie Walker could not be “seen”.

Ewan Andrew, president of global supply and procurement, said: “This allows us to bring Johnnie Walker to a place and to explain its history, its development and its continued role in Scotland.”

He said it also provided a huge commercial benefit by giving space and the latest equipment to blenders.

Johnnie-Walker-Princes Street

The former department store has been gutted (pic: Terry Murden)

“It is an innovation centre for the brand,” he said, “and somewhere really special to bring our clients to showcase what we offer.”

Malcolm Roughead, chief executive of VisitScotland, said: “Johnnie Walker Princes Street is an exceptional addition to Edinburgh’s world-class experiences, demonstrating the confidence international brands have in the capital city whilst supporting the Scottish tourism recovery.”

Taking the tour – Daily Business view

Key facts:

  • Set over 71,500 sq ft, it takes the concept of personalisation to a scale never before seen in a global drinks visitor experience.
  • Visitors on the Johnnie Walker Journey of Flavour tour will have their personal flavour preferences mapped with drinks tailored to their palate.
  • With more than 800 flavour combinations available in the innovative dispensation systems, one person could visit Johnnie Walker Princes Street every day for more than two years and not have the same experience twice.
  • Over 150 diverse and talented new employees, speaking 23 languages between them, will bring to life the 200-year story.
  • The cellar has become a true whisky treasury with some of the most unique whisky casks in the world gently maturing and waiting to be sampled by guests.
  • The building – formerly a traditional department store for almost 100 years – will contain a state-of-the-art experiential retail space where shoppers can select from rare and exclusive whiskies, fill their own bottles and have them personalised.
  • Johnnie Walker Princes Street opens its doors with a Green Tourism Gold Award – the highest sustainability accolade for a visitor attraction. The building includes roof terrace planters to provide herbs for garnishes and infusions for drinks, a sedum roof covering and bird boxes to encourage biodiversity.

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