By MANTA KLANGBOONKRONG
HUA LAMPHONG Railway Station was only eight years old in 1924 when the grandson of the Scotsman who gave his name to Johnnie Walker whisky arrived in Thailand to give the locals a first taste.
Johnnie Walker Black Label having long since become part of the country’s elite culture, a mainstay for the socialites at private events and members clubs, the distiller invited 60 celebrities and other VIPs to assemble at Hua Lampong station earlier this month for a journey back in time.
Tickets in hand for “The Blacklist – The Iconic Journey”, they boarded the opulent Orient Express for a genteel ride to Ayutthaya, the first city where Johnnie Walker whisky was sold in Thailand.
The firm divided the coaches’ luxury compartments into nooks for exploring. The Observation Room had DJs Plawan and Deejai spinning electronic music while Burin Boonvisut, Ston Tantraporn and Ardhavadee “Mint” Jiramaneekul kept things more nostalgic in the Piano Bar.
Chess and poker amused the lads in the Gentlemen’s Room and the ladies gravitated to the Powder Room for some refreshing gossip.
History inevitable seeped into everyone’s conversation.
John Walker had a grocery shop in Kilmarnock, Scotland, in 1820 and found he had a talent for blending tea. He soon realised he could blend whisky just as well. The Walker family went on to set new standards in booze while at the same time introducing pioneering innovations, like the square bottle that didn’t roll around delivery wagons and smash. Getting smashed could wait for later.
By 1920 Johnnie Walker was one of the world’s first global brands, reaching more than 120 countries in every corner of the planet, usually by rail. Walker’s grandson, Sir Alexander Walker II, had to rely on the sea to get the products to Thailand, of course, but once Siamese tipplers gave it their blessing, during the reign of King Rama VI, there was a railway to transport it across the land.
Johnnie Walker’s time-bending odyssey this month also featured a sumptuous dinner served in the rolling restaurants Adisorn and Malaya. Chef Yannis Martineau served such yummy dishes as Hokkaido scallop with calamansi chilli on green papaya salad, roasted duck breast with honey sauce and warm chocolate pudding with coconut ice cream and Johnnie Walker vanilla sauce.
The spectacular dinner gave the guests a chance to properly savour the whisky’s depth and complexity as it magically enhanced each dish in turn, a cocktail assigned to each course.
Code Black was inspired by jottings in an old notebook that belonged to Alexander Walker I. It’s a smooth and subtle blend of Black Label, sweet vermouth, cranberry syrup, a pinch of edible gold-powder and a dash of ginger ale. Walk On, made with Black Label, bruised ginger, apple juice, lime juice, camomile and cinnamon syrup, had a suave smokiness. And the sensational fruitiness of Black Label was enhanced in the Traveller with simply a dash of passion fruit.