Whiskey afficionados have a new place to call home in the recently opened Johnnie Walker House in Beijing, designed by Asylum and LOVE to immerse consumers in an interactive journey into the iconic brand's history and future.
Whiskey aficionados have a new place to call home in the recently opened Johnnie Walker House in Beijing, designed by Asylum and LOVE to immerse consumers in an interactive journey into the iconic brand's history and future.
Keep Walking” is the familiar motto of global whisky brand Johnnie Walker, and it neatly encapsulates the story of how this fabled export has steadily made its journey around the globe, from its humble beginnings in Kilmarnock, Scotland to being the most widely distributed brand of blended Scotch whisky in the world. (There is a delightful YouTube video retelling the tale, titled, “The Man Who Walked Around the World.”)
To commemorate Mr. Walker’s epic voyage to China, the company in 2011 simultaneously launched the first Johnnie Walker House in Shanghai, along with an exclusive and beautifully-designed 1910 Commemorative Edition bottle to celebrate the year Walker was first enjoyed in
Following the success of the award-winning Shanghai House, cross-disciplinary firm Asylum and branding firm LOVE once again teamed up to design the world’s largest ultra-premium “whisky embassy” in Beijing, imbued with historical elements throughout the sophisticated spatial design.
Conceived to immerse consumers in the world of Johnnie Walker whisky through bespoke experiences, the latest space provides an experiential and interactive journey for consumers in the world’s most powerful market for luxury goods. The 16,000-square-foot House is a blend itself, serving as a bar, museum, retail outlet and exclusive members club all at once.
“As we had already worked on the Shanghai House, it was a matter of translating our learnings from Shanghai and making it bigger and better in Beijing,” says Chris Lee, creative director for Asylum. “We already had the research of the brand’s presence in China and used that as a basis to craft the consumer journey that is unique to Johnnie Walker.”
The project’s location at Ch’ien Men 23 lends a rich, historic narrative, and is a fitting backdrop to this Western brand’s presence in China. “Ch’ien Men 23 used to be the American Legion Compound and is a short walk away from Tiananmen Square, which makes the location a very unique and iconic one,” notes Lee. Serving as a sort of historical meeting point of East and West, the building provided the perfect industrial platform to bring to life the beauty of the architectural vision—the Whisky Distillery.
“There are several key stories we wanted to tell within the space,” explains Lee. “Firstly, we wanted to introduce the raw ingredients of whisky-making to the distillation process of whisky. Secondly, we wanted to pay tribute to the people behind the blends, the six master blenders of Johnnie Walker. Thirdly, we also wanted to tell the travel story of John Walker and how the brand had a presence in China from as early as 1910.”
With the distillery being at the heart of the whisky-making process, the Distillery Bar contains a beautiful ceiling feature of 10,000 vertically hanging copper pipes. Cut to varying heights, the copper pipes form a wave-like sculpture, leading guests to the bar. From the void space of the bar, a magnificent overhead view of a feature structure spanning across three floors is filled with tiers of premium whisky bottles, all beautifully lit. Atop the impressive void sits a distillery model that peeks into the Blending Floor on Level 1.
Beyond the distillery-inspired sliding brass door stamped with Alexander Walker’s quality statement is the blending floor, for immersive whisky education. Upon entering, barley encased in resin forms the floor surface—similar to barley laid out to dry in distilleries. The distillery model from the void structure is the dominant feature of the room, while the constellation wall, indicating the different distilleries of Scotland, surrounds the blending table to assist with the visitor’s illuminating journey through the many flavors of blended whisky.PageBreak
“We wanted to create a modern and contemporary space, which carried the heritage and stories of the brand,” says Lee. “Materials were carefully selected to help enrich the storytelling; hence you see the use of concrete, copper, oak, peat and malt. The intention is for the brand ambassador to use cues from the environment to immerse the consumers in a whisky conversation.”
The physical space also includes elements of Scottish history and culture, enhancing the Johnnie Walker experience while remaining finely attuned to the discerning Beijing consumer. The first experience guests will encounter is a contemporary recreation of John Walker’s original grocery shop in Kilmarnock. Engaging the senses, the space contains the essential ingredients of whisky, including teas and spices. A reception desk clad in copper tiling contains a replica of the original shop inventory, bringing the visitor back in time to the roots of the brand.
At the entrance of the House, the iconic Striding Man stands next to six individual copper-clad structures. Inspired by the traditional Chinese gateway, each structure is engraved with the details of the six Master Blenders of the Walker legacy, paying homage to its unbroken lineage.
Located on the mezzanine, the key feature of the Striding Man Bar is the Smoke ceiling, inspired by the bold flavors of the celebrated drink. Patrons can also enjoy graphics adapted from historic Chinese Johnnie Walker ads stemming from 1910, which have been cleverly integrated into the wallcoverings and lampshades.
Leading to the lounge is the members-only whisky vault: a locker wall filled with luggage trunks containing the purchased bottles of their distinguished guests. Local artists were commissioned to create intricate illustrations that are etched onto the copper wall just before entering the lounge. But the true feature of the room is the ceiling covered with globes, beautifully lit from above.
A marble-and-copper compass sits in the center of the floor, showing the direction and distance from Cardhu, Scotland to Beijing. Private dining rooms serve up whisky-inspired dining experiences whipped up by the brand’s in-house chef, and guests can enjoy their newly acquired whisky knowledge with a trunk bar in each private room.
Even with a brand as iconic as Johnnie Walker, creating a space to entertain, educate and immerse customers in company lore has been central to the project’s overwhelming success. (Since the House began operating in 2011, sales of Johnnie Walker in China have increased by 64 percent year-over-year).
“I think this project is a fine example of how brands are using spaces to communicate their brand stories, and is multi-dimensional, as compared with traditional ads,” Lee says.
We’ll drink to that!