“Wisdom is knowing when you have enough”, said Marty Rubin.
We ask, what is ‘enough’?
But for the young Shane Batchler, this question could be excruciatingly difficult to answer.
Shane lives in Brisbane, and when he isn’t smooth talking frequent flyers into trying new whiskies at the duty free lounge at Brisbane Airport, he’s busy pursuing what can only be described as an addiction – collecting rare Johnnie Walker whiskies. Much like his obsession with tattoos, Shane picked up his first bottle of Johnnie Walker about a decade ago and before he knew it, a simple spur of the moment decision, became a lifetime obsession. One that we are completely on board with, of course!
Over the years, Shane has amassed a more than enviable collection of prized expressions, limited editions, drams that a whisky lover can only hope to try, let alone own someday. Currently at 240 bottles, this collection of Johnnie Walker is possibly one of the largest in the world.
We had a little chat with Shane about this Johnnie Walker fetish and we must admit, the level of commitment has been not only evident, but terribly fascinating. Read on to find out the how and why behind Shane Batchler’s very own house of Johnnie Walker.
What was the first whisky that you were introduced to?
Back in my younger days when I didn’t know how to appreciate whisky, I used to drink pre mixed cans of Johnnie Walker Red Label and Cola. Being only 18 years young, it got expensive buying the pre mixed cans so I decided to buy a bottle of the Red Label and mix it myself. Then after a while, I saw there was Johnnie Walker Black Label that was $20 more expensive, so I thought it has to be better, right? So I purchased that. Then I slowly learnt there was a Green Label, Gold Label and Blue Label and they all intrigued me…then finally for my 21st birthday I purchased my first bottle bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue Label and everyone thought I was crazy for spending over $200 on a bottle of whisky, but I never looked back! And it all started from there.
How did you decide to start collecting at such a young age and how did you go about acquiring the whiskies?
Since I had already tried what I thought was the entire standard range, I thought “how cool would it be to have one of each all lined up and un opened, and be able to drink what ever I felt like at any given time?” Eventually I did just that, never opened them, and found out there were more available after the Johnnie Walker Blue Label such as the Swing Edition and the King George V, and my curiosity was piqued yet again. I had to try them and add them to my collection, and it started to grow from there! I then realised there were even more expressions and limited edition bottling designs and the hunt continued.
Was there a method you followed – only certain types of whiskies, only certain expressions?
Back when I started collecting, eBay was more relaxed with their liquor laws and it was a gateway to the collecting world, being able to search and find rare limited editions across the globe! And over time I acquired the right contacts of people who could find the editions I desired. After eBays new strict laws came into place, I started following auction sites and had access to even more rare limited editions with the help of social media and collecting group pages such as Johnnie Walker History and Evolution on Facebook and the Johnnie Walker Collectors Australia page, which I run, where people can swap, sell, trade and show off their rare limited editions. In the last 3 to 5 years, the Johnnie Walker popularity has sky rocketed and 2 to 3 new editions come out monthly; it’s very hard to keep up and keep track and it’s thanks to pages like this that everyone is up to date with what’s new.
What is your long term plan/goal for this collection?
No real plan, just keep collecting and showcasing the new with the old Johnnie Walker editions, who knows…maybe later on in life I’ll sell it as a set at an auction!
What is the rarest whisky among these?/ What is your most prized possession in it and why?
I have a few prized possessions, some that have more sentimental value than actual value. Some of my rare gems would be two bottles of the Johnnie Walker Directors Blend, a bottle of only 500 or so were created every year from 2008 till 2013 and only given as gifts to directors of Johnnie Walker and Diageo, never for sale in the retail world, I am lucky enough to have the 2008 and 2013 editions, the full set of 6 would be priceless! Only 5 or so full sets are believed to exist!
Another would be my Johnnie Walker Blue Label Robbie Burns Edition.
A very rare special edition commemorating Robbie Burns. The front of the bottle has been engraved with Burns’ song ‘Rantin’ Rovin’ Robin’ which was written on the 25th of January 1759. In April 2006, a dinner was held in honour of Robert Burns and the RSVP invitation was in the form of this Johnnie Walker Blue Label bottle, roughly 200 of Scotland’s elite where invited and most of these bottles where consumed at the dinner, roughly only 5 survived the night making this one extremely collectible!
Lastly, in 2013 Johnnie Walker released a series called the Cityscape set, which contained a limited edition Blue Label from 7 different cities around the world, each bottle only available exclusively at each city’s duty free store, the set consists of a bottle from Singapore, Hong Kong, Mumbai, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, and Auckland. Each bottle has a gold engraving of the city’s skyline, each numbered from 1 – 300 and some 1 to only 100 except the Mumbai version – only 50 bottles where produced making this one, one of the rarest in my collection. Only around 6 full sets of 7 bottles are believed to exist, one being mine. This set opened the door to my future travels with Johnnie Walker.
Any particular experience comes to mind when you think back on all your experiences over the years collecting all these whiskies?
Many experiences come to mind, if it wasn’t for collecting Johnnie Walker I would not have visited half the places I have traveled to. For example when they released the Cityscape series, the only way to obtain these bottles where from the DFS duty free store in each country, so I would get a flight to Singapore for example and buy as many bottles as I could and then sell them to the other collectors who couldn’t make it to Singapore for the price to cover my expenses. These collectors where happy to pay extra as they were so limited. Thanks to this I ended up traveling to places such as Singapore, Hong Kong, Macau and New Zealand to do the same, all places I probably wouldn’t have visited or experienced if not for collecting, I have now since been back many times for holidays.
Another trip comes to mind, recently this year, thanks to collecting Johnnie Walker I had the chance to visit the Beijing Johnnie Walker house and had a private tour and tasting, another country I never imagined visiting. Thanks to this, I spent 5 days exploring Beijing city and had an amazing experience.
And lastly, recently on a trip to Scotland I had the privilege to visit the Diageo Johnnie Walker archives where some of the rarest and most prized Johnnie Walkers are kept! An absolutely amazing experience, especially seeing a bottle of the Johnnie Walker White Label that dates back to the early 1900’s. So much history all under the one roof!
Any particular one you have had your eyes on and dream of owning?
There is a few that I dream about, such as the Diamond Jubilee, which is just physically impossible, but being within reason I have been trying to obtain the 4 remaining directors blends to complete my set. Also the Johnnie Walker Blue Label 200th anniversary edition or the Johnnie Walker Honour edition, one day hopefully these will be mine.
What percentage of the collection do you actually consume on an average…..let’s say every month? Or is each bottle sacrosanct and not meant to be opened?
Once the bottle is in my collection it won’t be opened, it took many years of self control to stop my self from opening a few special editions. If something is released that really intrigues me and is reasonably affordable I’ll buy one to drink and one to collect.
We are still hoping to get a glimpse of this collection in person one day. Until then, we’ll be living vicariously and oh-so-enviously.
Follow Shane on Instagram if you’d like to do the same: @shanescotch
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