Diageo’s unprecedented £185million investment into Scotland’s whiskey tourism industry coincides with the 200th anniversary of Johnnie Walker, the world’s best-selling scotch whisky. As a part of this investment, BRC Imagination Arts partnered with Diageo to transform their existing Distillery Visitor Centres into Brand Homes that offer a sense of hospitality, joy and connection for a new generation of whiskey drinkers. In October 2020, Glenkinchie, the Lowland Home of Johnnie Walker, became the first of 12 Brand Homes to reopen to the public.

‘The Garden Distillery’ includes a completely renovated visitor centre and new 35,000 sq. ft. garden inspired by East Lothian’s abundant lands, full of wildflowers and local wildlife. As a work of sensory theatre, the redevelopment is unlike anything seen in Scotland before.

The creative team leaned into Glenkinchie’s identity as the Lowland Home of Johnnie Walker, drawing from the garden of Scotland and the Distillery’s farm origin story, and illuminating the floral and agricultural notes. Glenkinchie’s flavour is reflected throughout the transformed brand home, which brings the outside indoors with floral motifs and lighter colours inspired by the natural landscape surrounding the Victorian red-brick distillery.

Targeted to international and domestic tourists, as well as the local community, Glenkinchie beckons visitors to a journey of discovery, where they awaken their senses and explore the whisky’s natural environment and flavour influences. In addition to the renovation of the brand home’s interiors and exteriors, the distillery has introduced an updated whisky tour format and a series of interactive whisky tasting sessions. These include a Glenkinchie Flavour Journey, Whisky in the Wild tour, Flowers and Cocktails masterclass, and other specialised tours and tastings. Among other highlights of the transformed Glenkinchie is The Generations Room, which brings to life the personal stories of the people behind Glenkinchie, and a new bar café that offers a variety of locally-sourced tasting platters, whisky serves, and cocktails.

The experience offerings are fully immersive, story rich and participatory. They connect guests to the people, place and flavours of this garden home, and transform the traditional image of Scotch as an exclusive spirit into a flavourful and accessible drink guests can enjoy any way they wish.

To do this requires taking on some common myths about Scotch whisky: that it is an old-fashioned drink for old men, that it should be drunk neat and only after dinner, that single malts are better than blends. To bust these myths, objectives include bringing in a more contemporary identity: that while Glenkinchie holds fast to rules for making their light, accessible whisky, there are no rules for drinking it. Guests explore the Glenkinchie and Johnnie Walker story and process in ways that awaken and open their senses, then taste the whisky in a variety of ways to discover just how enjoyable whisky can be and how it fits many occasions. This leads to another main objective: to create a lasting emotional bond between visitors and the brand.

Glenkinchie has a long tradition of sustainability and ingenuity. The new visitor experience has already been awarded Scotland’s most prestigious Green Tourism Gold award, recognising the site’s management, water and energy usage, and the processes put in place for waste, nature conservation, eco-tourism and accessibility. These efforts were noted and congratulated by UK Parliament as an example of excellence.

Efforts to create a truly inclusive brand home include implementing accessibility measures in line with Euan’s Guide. Signage uses universal symbols and language-assist devices are available. The brand home and gardens are family-, pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly, and all experiences offer non-alcoholic options.

Although the experience opened under COVID-19 gathering and travel restrictions, local neighbours, international whisky enthusiasts and tourists have purchased 80% of available tickets and increased per cap spending by 120%. The revamped experience earned a 5-star rating and is a “must see” on TripAdvisor.