Behind The Scenes: The Launch of Johnnie Walker Blue Label Elusive Umami Limited Edition

This limited edition release has been created to encapsulate the enigmatic flavour of umami – a Japanese word used to identify the ‘fifth taste’ – and has put the creative mastery of Johnnie Walker Master Blender, Dr Emma Walker, and Chef Kei Kobayashi to the test. And we’re delighted to say that the much-anticipated unveiling has undeniably been worth the wait.
Read on to discover more.

Setting the Scene

It seems quite ironic that I’m leaving the home of Scotch whisky to board a flight to Paris (the capital of a country famous for its bubbles not whisky!) for the exclusive launch of the Johnnie Walker Blue Label Elusive Umami Limited Edition in collaboration with renowned Chef Kei Kobayashi.

Situated on Place Vendôme, one of Paris’s most famous and beautiful neoclassical squares, Pavillion Vendôme is the stage for the exciting showcase of this world-class creative collaboration.

Blue is most definitely the colour of the evening as the infamous striding man welcomes us before we stride out onto the inviting blue carpet where we are greeted with a refreshing ginger, honey, and lemon tea (no whisky – yet!).

We receive our ‘element passport’ – more to be revealed later – and enjoy sounds from the live DJ to the backdrop of the rolling blue waves which perfectly set the scene for this exciting immersive experience.

The lights dim and our highly knowledgeable Johnnie Walker Ambassador welcomes and introduces us to Johnnie Walker Blue Label, known to be an incredibly rare blend, which is elevated to another level of complexity in this Elusive Umami Limited Edition. He teases us with snippets of the sensory journey that lies ahead.

The sound of the gong and it is time to move on.

The Creators

With the strike of a gong, we embark upon the next phase of this truly sensory journey. Here we meet Master Blender, Dr Emma Walker and Chef Kei Kobayashi and see for the first time the beautifully bottled ‘Johnnie Walker Blue Label Elusive Umami’ packaged with a striking oriental design and a texture that stimulates the sense of touch.

We learn more about how the ‘fifth taste’ is a flavour that possesses mysterious qualities and how only one in 25,000 casks in the Johnnie Walker unparalleled reserves (of more than 10 million maturing casks!) made the cut when the duo painstakingly searched the reserves for that elusive flavour profile.

Dr Emma continues to tell us that “each expression of Scotch whisky was hand-picked to create an umami profile, just like ingredients for a recipe, allowing us to bring the unique character of this innovative whisky to life.”

Inspired by three of nature’s elements; earth, water and wind, the elusive blend presents a rolling wave of flavour that perfectly balances savoury and sweet qualities, with bright bursts and depth of flavour that give a lingering dry finish.

We nose it. We taste it. We love it.

The mission to elevate the complexities of the Johnnie Walker Blue Label, push the boundaries and create an innovative and unique blend has well and truly been accomplished by these two masters of flavours.

But the story does not end here.

A Feast for the Senses

Although not an obvious drink to pair with food, Chef Kei Kobayashi has expertly created a series of dishes that perfectly complement both the sweet and savoury notes of the Johnnie Walker Blue Label Elusive Umami. No mean feat for even the most creative culinary talent.

The first dish we discover on this journey to ignite the senses is a buckwheat waffle with Kaviari Kristal caviar, sour cream, and smoked salmon. The bursts of slight saltiness of the caviar and salmon on the fluffy warm waffle softened by the sour cream is a welcomed pleasure on the palate and if this is the benchmark for the next seven dishes we are in for a culinary voyage like no other.

The gong sounds again and our ‘element passport’ comes into play. Water, Earth and Air passports dictate which route guests follow to sample the rest of the menu.

Water. The depths of the aquascape present saline and umami notes that blend with minerality, savouriness and sweetness.

Stepping out onto a floating boardwalk, the darkened space has a tranquil ambience. Guests take their seats, highlighted by a personalised menu, at the transparent table and chairs which creates a further connection to the water below.

Our host is the General Manager at Kei restaurant who talks us through the next two dishes and guides us on how best to savour both the whisky and the delicacies presented before us:

  • Gillardeau Oyster Confit, Sea Water Jelly, Shallots Braised in Red Wine and Kaviari Kristal Caviar.
  • Hay-Smoked Lobster, Mushroom Fricassee, Homardine Sauce.

The textures were as exciting as the flavours for each of these dishes; fresh apple and peachy notes burst into life with each sip of the dram.

The sound of the gong and it is time to move on.

Earth. Elusive notes of umami, reminiscent of the depths of the earth combine with natural smoky undertones to give warmth of flavour.

This space presents a chabudair and is adorned with green and blue foliage with slightly rousing background music and here we meet the sommelier from Kei restaurant who is our host for the next two dishes:

  • ‘Kara-Age’ Free Range Chicken Spiced Sweet and Sour Sauce.
  • Mizo Glazed Pigeon from the Vendee French Region.

Both dishes were meaty yet delicate yet hearty with flavours that surprised my tastebuds. A slight spicy kick from the sauce of the chicken and the sweet savoury miso flavour brought out the sweet wood spice notes of the Blue Label Elusive Umami.

The sound of the gong and it is time to move on.

Wind. The winds of time that matures whisky in its casks. Reminiscent of the pure air of the stunning mountains in Nagano where the scent of the trees lingers.

Here we embrace an autumnal-like ambience with a standing bar set up connecting us to the air above and we meet our final host for the evening, Kei restaurant’s maître d’.

  • Japanese Curry.
  • Gorgonzola Foam, Muesli and Honey Infused Whisky.
  • Melting Chocolate Tart.

The transition from a deeply flavoured curry to a rich cheese dish and then a velvety chocolate dessert paired with notes of blood orange and red berries from this beautifully blended whisky was the perfect finish to the expertly and exclusively created menu.

It was absolutely fascinating to notice, experience and enjoy the changing characteristics of the Johnnie Walker Blue Label Elusive Umami with each different dish. I really did not want this to end.

Sadly, the sound of the gong and it is time to move on.

Final Thoughts

Wow. Wow. Wow.

The invitation to this event presented little detail and now I understand the mystery. The very essence of nature’s wonders is a mystery to mankind. The combination of whisky and French cuisine is a mysterious union.

But the mystery is no more. Thanks to the craft, expertise, precision and passion of Dr Emma and Chef Kei these two unlikely companions can live in perfect ‘elusive umami’ harmony for the world to enjoy. I certainly did.

The rarity and craft of Johnnie Walker Blue Label combined with Chef Kei Kobayashi’s exquisite and delicate cuisine, was a truly exceptional experience and one I will never forget.

Johnnie Walker Blue Label Elusive Umami is available exclusively at Johnnie Walker Princes Street in Edinburgh from September 18, 2023, before pre-sales launch globally on October 2, 2023, and available to buy globally from October 16, 2023

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