The gift of solid business sense
The Todriggs dairy farm sold for the less-than-grand total of £417. While this does translate to about $33,000 in today’s currency, it’s hardly the seed money for an international business juggernaut. John’s commercial know-how, and that of his sons and grandsons, did the rest.
The gift of right-place, right-time
Around the time Walker launched his grocery store on High Street, the British East India Company started competing with China in the global tea market. It became patriotic to drink tea, and Johnnie was on the spot to meet the growing demand. He taught himself how to blend teas for optimum flavor, and he also sold vinegar, raisins, wine, rum, gin, brandy, and Islay whisky. Before long, Walker was a big fish in the Kilmarnock pond, joining the Freemasons and pounding the gavel during meetings of the local trades association.
The gift of innovation
Somewhere along the line, single malt scotch got a reputation for being better than blended scotch. Like the benefits of kale in your diet, this reputation is way overblown. And back in John Walker’s day, it didn’t even exist. Single malts from the farm-based distilleries of Scotland were rough as hell, and they were inconsistent. Walker was among the first group of merchants to improve them through blending. Combining a few grain whiskies with a range of malt whiskies, they created the magic we know today as blended scotch. It contains an “orchestra” of flavors compared to single malt’s “jazz soloist,” as whisky experts often describe the difference.
The gift of staying power
As Archibald M’Kay put it in his History of Kilmarnock, one July morning in 1852, “thunder of unusual loudness was heard rolling over the town,” followed by lightning that flashed “so vividly as to appall the stoutest hearts.” The equally appalling rain that came next completely flooded the center of Kilmarnock. Walker’s shop was almost ruined, and all of his stock was destroyed. But it would take more than the worst disaster in the town’s history to knock John Walker out of business; he had the grocery back on its feet and busier than ever within two years of the flood.