Whisky. In the pantheon of spirits, no other liquid is as universally regarded as the most exquisite shorthand for celebration. So, as we step across the door into 2024, we are breaking out the whisky, but not just any whisky. This year, our liquid of choice is the Johnnie Walker Blue Label Lunar New Year limited edition, designed in collaboration with acclaimed visual artist James Jean.
The reasons for that are profound and obvious. The tenor of our celebrations is richer and deeper, the volume of revelry louder in 2024, which marks four years since COVID-19 obliterated the momentum of time’s march. And at last, we can welcome the new year of the wood dragon—the most formidable of all the animals in the Chinese lunisolar calendar—in full festive glory.
From Superior Stock
One does not need to be a whisky aficionado to know that Johnnie Walker is a globally recognised name. According to a report by International Wine & Spirit Research, the leading global provider of data and market insights on alcohol, the house is the world’s most popular Scotch whisky brand and the preferred choice in over 180 countries.
The premium Blue Label range belongs to an award-winning portfolio that includes Red Label, Black Label, Double Black, Green Label, Gold Label Reserve and Aged 18 Years. Collectively, their annual sales total surpasses more than 21 million cases, affirming Johnnie Walker as the world’s highest-selling Scotch whisky.
In that cosmos, Johnnie Walker Blue Label sits in a rarefied tier. Created with meticulous care and craftsmanship, the spirit’s famed depth of flavour is a revelation born of rigour and precision: only one in 10,000 casks of its blend of hand-selected upper-echelon Scotch whiskies passes the muster to be sold at market.
It is under such stringent conditions that the whisky’s sumptuous depth of flavour is born. The ardour of its production also yields its velvet-smooth mouthfeel and complex taste, which opens with a blossom of fruit-forward sweetness and develops into a heady meld of richly spicy nuttiness before arriving at a robustly smoky finish.
Enter The Dragon
With this being the year of the mythical wood dragon, a signifier of prosperity and luck, Johnnie Walker is keeping with the spirit of striding optimism by memorialising the zodiac animal via a commemorative Blue Label run.
Invoking the splendour of nature and the richness of flavour that Johnnie Walker’s master blender Emma Walker and her team bring to Johnnie Walker Blue Label, Asian-American artist James Jean brings to life the wondrous essence of the wood dragon on the packaging and bottle of the special-edition whisky.
Famed for his fusion of traditional Chinese scroll paintings, Japanese woodblock prints and Renaissance portraiture, Jean adorns the packaging of Johnnie Walker Blue Label with a beaming dragon whose colours not only complement the brand’s, but also affirm its ethos to keep walking, inviting us to welcome the new year.
The artist’s rich and colourful artwork also evokes the synergistic relationship between Johnnie Walker Blue Label and life’s finer pleasures.
“There are hidden elements in the picture as well. Layers to be discovered, just like the layers in this incredible whisky,” he states in the official release, alluding to details in the artwork such as chrysanthemum motifs “from which flow liquid gold” that directly reference Johnnie Walker whiskies.
The Johnnie Walker Blue Label Lunar New Year Limited Edition is a timely collectible. Whether for keeps, for consumption or to present as a gift, it is a shelf-enriching bottle to own. Inside and out, the bottle is an ode to the timeless values of perseverance, creation, originality and distinction.
Some of the rarest whiskies in Johnnie Walker’s reserves, including those from irreplaceable casks sourced from long-closed ‘ghost’ distilleries, live in a bottling that faces the future with an ever-beckoning embrace, ready to meet with the wisdom, grace and mettle of the most powerful being in the Chinese zodiac. Now, that is something worth drinking to as well.
In Conversation With James Jean
A lot of people are looking forward to the Year of the Dragon. What are you looking forward to this year?
I’m particularly excited about the opportunities for growth and transformation. Dragons are often associated with power and vitality, and I see this as a chance to push the boundaries of my artistic expression and delve into new creative territories.
What does ‘Keep Walking’ mean to you?
‘Keep Walking’ is a mantra that resonates deeply with me. It’s a reminder to persevere, embrace challenges and continuously evolve. In both life and art, it encourages me to explore uncharted paths, experiment with new techniques and stay committed to the journey of self-discovery.
What was your vision and thought process behind this Lunar New Year’s Johnnie Walker Blue Label limited edition?
My interpretation of the dragon for this year’s Johnnie Walker Blue Label limited-edition design deviates from the traditional fiery and aggressive imagery. I wanted to convey a sense of tranquillity and harmony, incorporating organic elements and flowers to represent the wood dragon. The objective was to offer a fresh perspective on this powerful symbol, aligning with the spirit of the Lunar New Year and Johnnie Walker’s ethos of balance and innovation.
How did the complex layers of flavour in Johnnie Walker Blue Label layers influence and inspire your creative process?
The layers in Johnnie Walker Blue Label whisky served as a fascinating source of inspiration for me. Much like the intricate layers of flavour in the whisky, I aimed to create a visual experience with depth and complexity in my artwork. The synergy between the layers in the whisky and my artistic approach resulted in a harmonious blend, enriching the overall narrative of the Lunar New Year celebration.
How does it make you feel that your art will be part of an auspicious Lunar New Year?
It’s a tremendous honour to know that my artwork will be part of many joyous celebrations and displayed alongside collectors’ prized Johnnie Walker whiskies. Art has the power to connect people, and the idea that my creation will be a focal point in these celebrations and collections is incredibly fulfilling. I hope it brings joy and inspiration to those who appreciate both art and exceptional whiskies.
Additional reporting by Eugene Phua