I have known Nicholas Morgan since he hired me in 1991 to work on putting together an archive at the Old Fitzgerald Distillery. He was working with United Distillers to create archives for all of their products but he was focused on Scotch Whisky as his personal interest. I have heard him speak on the subject several times and I consider him a personal role model. This book is the result of over thirty years of research and should be considered a must-have book for any distilling/whiskey library.
I found that while reading it, I would like to have a long discussion with Nick Morgan. I was particularly interested in the chapter about Alexander Morgan. I know that E.H. Taylor, Jr. did a European tour of distilleries in 1868-69. When he came home, he helped design the new distillery for Old Crow using the knowledge that he gained in Europe, but he also learned things that he would apply to his own business in 1870. Two things that Alexander Walker was doing that Taylor later did were 1) let the quality of your whiskey be a leading tool for selling your whiskey, and 2) make your packaging stand out when placed amongst your competitors. Taylor may or may not have met Walker, but I think he was definitely influenced by Walker’s business model. I would like to talk to Dr. Morgan and see if there is any record of the two having met while Taylor was in Scotland.
A Long Stride: The Story of the World’s No. 1 Scotch Whisky, Nicholas Morgan, Edinburgh: Canongate Books, Ltd., 2020. Contents Prologue, Epilogue, Bibliography, Notes, Index, Illustrations, 320 pp.
Dr. Nicholas Morgan has worked with the archives for Diageo for over thirty years. He has had access to original records of the John Walker & Sons, Ltd., dating back to the origin of the company. He has used that knowledge to write a very interesting book about the Johnnie Walker brand of Scotch Whisky. The book is a very interesting read about the largest selling whisky in the world. It should be a subject of interest to anyone interested in whiskey history because what was done at John Walker & Sons over the years, has had an impact on whiskey brands the world over.
The book has ten chapters breaking down the history of the brand up to modern times. It is interesting to look at subjects such as Prohibition and the “What is Whisky?” question from the point of view of a Scotch Whisky producer. Morgan does a very good job looking at these subjects and the reader can then understand how they influenced the business here in the United States and elsewhere. Dr. Morgan does not try to make it a book that only promotes the brand, even though it does do that, but also a good solid history. The missteps made by the company are discussed, as well as its successes. When a member of the Walker family did a poor job, it is discussed as much as when the company made a brilliant decision such as creating the “Striding Man” figure for advertising.
The book is well designed. There is a table of contents and an index, so it is easy to find subjects. There are plenty of black and white illustrations and graphs spread out through the pages and two sections of color photographs. Some of the black and white images are a little fuzzy, but that is probably because the original images are of poor quality. There are footnotes listed at the end of the book and they contain not only the sources of information, but often further information on the subject.
A Long Stride will become a classic reference book for anyone working in the history of the distilling industry. It does tell the history of a Scotch Whisky brand making it important to those interested in Scotch Whisky, but because of the worldwide sales of Johnnie Walker, it will also be a must-read for those interested in American or Canadian Whiskey history. This book is a valuable addition to every spirits library.
Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller