Locked within a fortified basement on the Gold Coast there lies a room that can only be described as Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, for whisky lovers.
It is here that over 360 unique bottles of Johnnie Walker can be found under the watchful eye of collector and good friend of The Whisky Mill, Shane Batchler. As we celebrate the 200th anniversary of the brand we felt it was the perfect time to interview Shane and discover how the worlds 3rd largest collection of this iconic blended whisky came to reside in sunny Queensland.
As every journey starts with a single step, so does each collection start with a single bottle. For Shane that was the bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue Label he purchased for himself on his 21st Birthday. You’d be forgiven for wondering what possessed a 21 year old to spend a large proportion of his birthday money on something he would never open but as Shane explained to us it was just the logical next step in the progression of his teenage obsession with the Striding Man.
Long a fan of Johnnie Walker & Cola RTD’s Shane realised the savings that could be made by buying full bottles and mixing his own drinks. This soon led to a mantle piece filled with an array of coloured slanted labels, and the realisation that they would look even better if lined up untouched. So on a sunny Tuesday afternoon Shane got in his car and drove to his local liquor store and politely asked that a bottle of Blue Label be taken from the locked glass cabinet and into his basket.
“I’m pretty sure at first they thought I was joking, but then they became a little more wary. After a pretty lengthy wait whilst they tracked down the keys to the cabinet, I was escorted with the bottle all the way to the register to make sure that the money did in fact go into the till.”
From such an inauspicious beginning Shane’s passion soon turned into a self-described obsession as he spent countless hours (and dollars) looking for new editions to add to his increasingly large arsenal of whisky.
“I’ve kept a receipt of every bottle I’ve bought as well as updating an excel spreadsheet with what I paid as well as the current market value of each bottle. To date I think the collection as a whole is worth over AUD$135,000”
Asked whether he ever thinks of cashing in his chips and investing the money in a more traditional manner Shane says that despite countless friends and family members advising just that the thought has not really crossed his mind.
“I always tell people that my collection makes me happy, why would I sell it to buy something that doesn’t bring me the same amount of joy”
In saying this Shane mentioned that he is a realist and understands that one day he may part with his beloved bottles, but when he does, he is keen for it to be known as the largest single collection of Johnnie Walkers to be sold in the world.
By that stage, such notoriety may not be such a big deal as Shane is already on his way to becoming one of the most followed whisky influencers in the world. Even though he only started his @shanescotch account 3 years ago he now has over 34k followers. Add to this the fact that he runs the Australian Johnnie Walker collectors Facebook group and Shane’s online presence is substantial. So, surely in this day and age Shane charges a premium for endorsements?
“Not a cent” he says. “Its all about sharing the wonders of whisky with as many people as possible.”
A sentiment that we at The Whisky Mill thoroughly agree with.
Now, before we signed off there were a number of quick-fire questions we simply had to ask, read on to see Shane’s answers below.
What do you love about the brand of Johnnie Walker?
This one is simple, It’s the history. The fact that it all started 200 years ago and much of the liquid we taste now is so similar to what people tasted back then I feel that it's an amazing connection with the past.
Also, it's just a simple fact that scotch whisky, single malt or blend, would not be where it is today without Johnnie Walker.
So what do you say to people who look down their noses at blended whisky?
I just ask them why would you deprive yourself of something that so magnificently combines your favourite whisky flavours into one experience?
However, I don’t spend too much time trying to convince anyone, if they can’t see the virtues of blended whisky then that just means there is more for me.
How many times have you visited Scotland and what has been your favourite distillery experience?
6 times and counting. Favourite distillery has to be Lagavulin.
And for the big one. What is the crown jewel in your collection?
That has to be a particular bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue Label that was produced for an exclusive dinner in Edinburgh to celebrate the life of Scottish Poet Robert ‘Rabbie’ Burns.
The bottle was used as the invitation for the lucky guests is engraved with Burns’ song “Rantin’ Rovin’ Robin’”. As you can imagine during the dinner most guests cracked their bottles and enjoyed their contents. The story goes that there were 5 left untouched from the evening and I am lucky enough to have one in my collection.
Incredibly this item is so rare even DIAGEO are searching for a bottle to go into their archives!