Your friendly local whisky shop is waiting……
One of the best ways to help you build your whisky collection, knowledge or experience is to visit your local whisky shop. My journey between where I live and my hometown of Aberdeen takes me through the vast bulk of the whisky producing region of Speyside. I pass many distilleries whose produce simply isn’t available in a supermarket, which makes a visit to a decent whisky shop essential.
Although my journey does take me past a few towns with whisky shops, the two I tend to visit are the Whisky Shop in Dufftown and the Speyside Whisky Shop in Aberlour. This is not because of the other shops being lesser quality , but solely because these are on my direct route between home and Aberdeen, and stopping there is easy.
So what does visiting these types of shop give you over shopping elsewhere for your drams? Firstly, it can give you an excellent choice of whisky that you are quite simply not going to get in your local supermarket or off licence. You will find whiskies from all five Scottish whisky regions and world whiskies too. Don’t think it is all about the whiskies, Scottish Gin is represented too, and apparently 70% of Gin distilled in the UK is actually made in Scotland. Don’t quote me on that though.
Secondly, you are going to have the ability to obtain special releases or collectables which your local off- licence may not stock.
Thirdly, you are going to be able to speak to people who have a very good knowledge of the whisky industry, and where better to be based than in Dufftown? With a total of nine distilleries over the years (count them – Mortlach, Glenfiddich, Balvenie, Kininvie, Pittyvaich (demolished), Parkmore, (Silent), Dufftown, Glendullan and the sadly silent Convalmore), where better to start a whisky shop than there? The area is filled with people who have worked or work in the whisky industry. With this we have a visit to the Whisky Shop in Dufftown.
Depending on which route I take home, I am often passing through Dufftown, and WSD is a great place to stop off to browse their well stocked shelves, with many of the items for sale are at decent prices. This is the shop where I tend to buy the majority of my miniature bottles for the taste reviews I provide as part of my blog. There is always a good selection, and just in miniatures alone, you can get a good experience of Scottish whisky, not to mention the great selection of full sized bottles.
Mike, Vicky and Kat are always ready to chat, and I have always received excellent service there. One of my best purchases there was a whisky aroma training kit, which was actually cheaper than the majority of online retailers. Quite a win!
My other go-to whisky shop is a new arrival, and is the Speyside Whisky Shop in nearby Aberlour. I cannot avoid going through Aberlour to get home, unless I take the Lecht route, but this would drag me past the Whisky Castle in Tomintoul (will visit sometime!). The Speyside Whisky Shop is one of the shops that I noticed opening, and was trying hard to resist thinking it was just another faddy whisky shop, but curiosity won me over, and on the first visit, I walked out with a bottle of Old Pulteney 17, also cheaper than many online retailers. Plus, Emily who works there is a former employee of a local well known distillery, and certainly knows her stuff.
I had an interesting experience at the SWS during my first visit. The card machine wasn’t working very well due to BT working on the phone lines, so I ended up telling one or two whisky tales. This has helped form a customer – retailer relationship, which is invaluable when you visit a whisky retailer. Why? Because the shop owners will then know your tastes, what you are looking for and may be able to suggest one or two things that you may not have thought about.
Since then, I’ve been able to pick up Glen Moray Cider Project and also the three recent wood finish bottlings from GlenAllachie. I had to pay for them while offshore which may have been the first time Matteo has had to take a payment over a satellite link phone!
Just like the WSD, Matteo and Emily also provide a first class service that makes it a pleasure to shop there.
Don’t assume that you have to visit in person – both shops will ship internationally, subject to postage rules in your country.
These shops, and perhaps your own local whisky shop can provide so much more than an online retailer. Don’t just go to an online retailer assuming that the cheaper price is worth it – you have to remember to apply shipping charges. An even better reason to visit your friendly local specialist whisky shop.
However, you have to remember one thing when visiting your local specialist retailer. Your manners.
These people are specialists, and to be honest, unless you are directly involved in the whisky industry, or you are Richard Patterson, Jim McEwan, Billy Walker, Jim Murray or Charles Maclean amongst the multitude of genuine experts, then you aren’t really an expert. You are like me, just an amateur with an opinion. Don’t go in these places thinking you know the price of things, that you are getting ripped off, or deserve to get unlimited free samples. You do not. By all means, have a bit of a craic with the staff, but respectfully. Chances these guys know far more than you. Don’t criticise their prices; great shops like this are usually small independent retailers, and don’t get mass discounts, as they don’t purchase hundreds of bottles at a time. Yes, their prices may be a little bit more than a typical online retailer, but you are paying for the personal service, and I’ve also said, factor in delivery charges, and you’ll often find your local whisky shop cheaper.
And, especially in Speyside, don’t ever say that these shops are tourist traps. Nobody is forcing you to go in and spend your money there. If you want the definition of tourist traps, then go to the chain whisky shops, especially in Edinburgh and Inverness, where I have seen 20CL bottles go for as much as £13 more than RRP. Miniatures often cost more, due to their small size, but the expense of the glass packaging. Vicky in the WSD told me last time it is harder to get miniatures, possibly due to lower demand.
Don’t demand free samples, or don’t get huffy when asked if you are likely to make a purchase, certainly not in Speyside. Bear in mind it is a tourist area, and if a small shop like this was to give out free samples to tourists willy-nilly, especially of the good stuff, they will be out of business in seconds. Once that seal is cracked, the bottle is worthless.
To emphasise the point, go to your local pub and ask them to give you a sample of whisky to see if you like it or not. The refusal is likely to offend. It’s a business, not a charity. And don’t come out with the total pish that you were going to spend several hundred pounds. Chances are you weren’t, so don’t bother embarrassing yourself. There aren’t that many people who spend hundreds on a bottle to drink so stop pretending.
Leave being a tightwad to the Aberdonians. We know how to do it properly.
Certainly don’t belittle the staff if you do happen to think that you know something they don’t or when you don’t get the free samples you mistakenly think is your god-given right. The world of whisky is one that should be based on shared interests and friendships. It is certainly one that I have experienced in my whisky journey by speaking to retailers, work colleagues, people whom I have given a whisky tasting or talk to and even people that I meet on the train.
If you think this negative behaviour and total lack of manners exists in the whisky community, then check out the WSD Facebook page. Unfortunately, this has happened recently and is not an isolated incident with self entitled arseholes everywhere. Don’t be an arsehole. Be a bon vivant. Much more fun and socially acceptable.
So, basically, to wrap up, if you want to be a member of a great fraternity of whisky enthusiasts, expand your horizons and visit your local specialist whisky retailer. Now. Spend your money there, knowing that it will be purchases well made. Don’t go there looking for Famous Grouse or Bells. Put your brown paper bag over your head and go to your supermarket for these purchases in complete anonymity. Or claim it’s for medicinal purposes.
Lastly, if you are the sort of person who is the boorish arsehole in the WSD post, please remove yourself from my following, or please be ready for some whisky re-education. We’re all friends here, but in the majority of cases, we’re yet to meet.
This article was written without any input from the shops mentioned, and I am not tied to them in any way, nor do I receive any payments or benefits from them. I prefer to remain entirely independent in my views, and being in the pocket of a retailer or producer compromises that. This article is based solely on the fact I visit these whisky shops the most. But if anybody from the WSD or SWS is reading this, I’ll be happy to accept some takeaway samples to review of the three GlenAllachie wood finishes. Of course, I’ll demand to pay for them! (That’s the Aberdonian in me coming out!).
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