As a whisky enthusiast, I’ve come to learn that tastings and tours tend to follow a basic formula. Usually, you’ll find a dram or two you love, nibble on a biscuit, and go on your literally-merry way. Which was more than enough for me. That is, of course, until Johnnie Walker’s STIR concept came along.
As something of a whisky tasting experience-cum-restaurant, STIR serves a selection of Raby Hunt-inspired small plates created by head chef James Close and his wife, head of pastry, Maria Close.
With four different “flights” to choose from, each plate is then paired with a meticulously-conceived cocktail from Johnnie Walker Princes Street head bartender, Miran Chauhan (who, I must stress, deserves a star or two of his own).
This epicurean voyage unfolds in three movements, each marrying unique drams with exquisite culinary creations. The first, the Seasonal Flight, celebrates Johnnie Walker’s exclusive Spring Blend with a prawn tostada and watermelon spritz (£15/$19). The second, the Four Corners Flight, is a four-plate exploration through the terroirs of Glenkinchie, Cardhu, Clynelish, and Caol Ila, featuring beef tartare with hedgerow Aquavit, an Aguachile oyster with coastline Amaro, quail Caesar with Cliff Edge vermouth, and Raby Hunt’s iconic apple cremeaux with sparkling orchard wine (£48/$60). The Luxury Flight then caps things off with Johnnie Walker Blue Label, redefined through an unctious Johnnie Walker croque monsieur and umami cocktail soda (£29/$36).
Of course, if you want to create your very own tasting menu, you can purchase all of the cocktail flights for £92 ($115).
“We see STIR as the portal to a new world of whisky and food combinations,” says Chauhan. “James and I have a shared obsession for flavors and techniques and together we’ve created an enticing and highly original taste experience for everyone to enjoy.”
As a paradigm shift in whisky tourism, STIR has the potential to benefit Johnnie Walker and Raby Hunt in different ways, too.
As the centerpiece of Diageo’s £185 million ($233 million) investment, Johnnie Walker Princes Street already stands as the largest single investment programme of its kind ever seen in Scotch whisky tourism.
Offering more than 800 flavor combinations, unique immersive tours, bottle engravings, breathtaking views of the Edinburgh skyline from its rooftop bar, and more, one person could visit Johnnie Walker Princes Street every day for a year and not have the same experience twice. And that’s not even including this new restaurant concept. Importantly, Princes Street is not just a one-stop-shop for whisky lovers, but the perfect place to turn someone on to the spirit.
Where Raby Hunt is concerned, STIR has also become one of the most powerful marketing tools imaginable.
Though the two Michelin-starred restaurant has, subjectively, one of the best tasting menus in the world (a global menu redefining many a-country’s most incredible dish), it isn’t immune to the many challenges facing the restaurant industry today.
Post-pandemic and mid-cost-of-living crisis, restaurants are grappling with reduced footfall, increased costs, and more, forcing them to devise innovative strategies to not only get people through the door, but leave them wanting more.
With STIR, the Close’s now have multiple ways to showcase their talent and attract customers who may not have made the trip to their small Darlington restaurant otherwise.
It’s a win-win.
All this considered, it’s clear Johnnie Walker and Raby Hunt are aiming for much more than a seat at the whisky industry’s proverbial table – they’re investing in, and shaping, the table itself.