A Rare Red Label Goes Home To Scotland

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - November 17, 2010
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Jill Shiroma, Mark Milton

When Clyde Shimotsu told SWAM owner Jill Shiroma that he had a bottle of whisky he wanted to give her, the wine store owner had no idea he was about to donate a piece of history to her Aiea shop. The bottle, a near-mint condition Johnnie Walker Red Label dated around 1937, was found by Clyde and his wife Joy while clearing out Joy’s mother’s home.

“We’re pretty sure that the bottle belonged to my dad, who passed away when I was really young,” says Joy, an accountant with James Campbell Co. “We think it’s just been sitting in my mom’s house ever since. “

Shiroma took just one look at the bottle and knew it was something special. “I was really honored to have it,” she says. But the longer it stood on display in her store, the more nervous Shiroma became.

“People kept commenting on the bottle and obviously I thought of the possibilities of it breaking,” says Shiroma. “And after we had several masters of whisky come to the store and tell us how special the bottle was, I thought it was time to send it home.”

On the back of the iconic square bottle, introduced in 1870, and etched into the thick glass are the words “From John Walker and Sons, Kilmarnock, Scotland.” And it’s in Kilmarnock where the 75-year-old Red Label has found its final resting place.

“We all thought that the best place for such a unique piece of history would be at Johnnie Walker’s archives in Scotland,” says Mark Milton of M&S Brokerage, the company responsible for distributing the world-famous whisky in Hawaii.

The Shimotsus agreed that it would be fitting to send the bottle back to Scotland. “It seems right to know that it’s back where it started,” says Clyde, a pharamaceutical rep (who years ago was in the wine business with Johnson Brothers).

For Milton, seeing real proof of Johnnie Walker’s impressive branding has been part of the fun.

“The Johnnie Walker brand is one of the most recognized in the world,” he says, “right up there with Coca Cola, Mercedes Benz and McDonald’s. When you think that the Johnnie Walker label with the striding man has hardly changed in 140 years, it’s amazing, really.”

Connoisseurs of wines and spirits love to delve into the history of their bottles, and I am no exception. Studying the handmade cap and imagining the journey this sturdy bottle took from Scotland to Hawaii was almost as good as tasting a dram. Well, almost.

Even Shiroma was torn between letting her newly acquired treasure take one last journey and keeping it in Hawaii.

“I wanted to keep it, in a way,” she says, “but it’s much more satisfying for all of us to know that it’s back home with Johnnie Walker where it all began.”

It’s likely that, for all the sameness of the label and bottle shape, the blended whisky trapped inside may taste a little different from the Red Label we know today, but we’ll never get the chance to find out. “It’s going to be a part of whisky history,” says Milton. “Something that was in Hawaii all this time is going to be part of history in Scotland. That’s very cool.”

And, yes, I did suggest that a fitting end to this story would be to have a Scottish girl ensure the safe arrival of the bottle in Kilmarnock, but even I couldn’t swing that one.

The powers at the world’s most popular whisky headquarters decided that UPS would do the job just as well.


To hear an interview with Jill Shiroma and Mark Milton, go to Tabletalk hawaii.com.

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