London Whisky

Milroy's of Soho
I’ve been in London for little over a week. By the time most of you will read this—Wordpress stats tells me that most of my readership is in the US—I will be in a plane flying back to Minnesota. Instead of putting up another London restaurant review—believe me, there’ll be quite a few more in the coming weeks—I thought I’d put up a gallery of images of and in some of London’s major whisky stores. If you’re like me before this trip you may have wondered what these stores whose names we know actually look like. If so, here’s a peek at Cadenhead’s, Milroy’s, Berry Bros. & Rudd, and Hedonism Wines.

Now, I know you’re thinking, “What about the Whisky Exchange?” Yes, I’m an idiot. I planned to go to their new Covent Garden shop on the Sunday that I visited Hedonism (my friends and I had planned lunch at Dishoom in Covent Garden) and, of course, I discovered on Saturday evening that they’re closed on Sunday. Personally, I blame Jebus. But I’ll be back in London in the spring and I promise you an extended photo-essay on the Whisky Exchange then.

The gallery is organized in chronological order of my visits but you’ll notice that quite by chance the sequence moves from one end of a stylistic continuum to another: the Cadenhead’s shop is small and quaint; Milroy’s is also small (and unexpectedly, for me, is a combination bar and store) but altogether more casual and cool; Berry Bros. & Rudd, which is bigger, exudes old world sophistication (in both decor and the staff’s attire); and Hedonism Wines is bigger still and much flashier (there’s nothing particularly English about it).

Approaches to customer service also differ but don’t map on to store aesthetic. The gent at Cadenhead’s was perfectly polite but I got the sense, perhaps unfairly, that it would have been all the same to him if no one had come in to the shop that afternoon. He was also not very forthcoming with details on the whiskies (perhaps he didn’t have them—I wanted to confirm that the Cadenhead’s Auchroisk I was purchasing was indeed as fruity as older Auchroisks can be and all he would venture was that it is “smooth”). At Milroy’s, on the other hand, the bartenders, who also double as the salesmen, are friendly, chatty, full of information and quick to pour samples. At Berry Bros. & Rudd there was greater formality but they also seemed helpful (I couldn’t gauge much of their whisky selection or guidance as their spirits section was closed on account of what later emerged was a water main problem). Hedonism, which is owned by a Russian oligarch on the run, was very flashy and the kind of store you’d expect in a neighbourhood with Bentley and Rolls Royce showrooms, but the staff were very friendly and knowledgeable and their selection ranged beyond bottles with vertiginous prices: indeed, I purchased the 2015 Lagavulin 12 CS there for about the same price that is being asked for it at less flashy stores in London (and for less than is being asked for it in the US). Both Hedonism and Cadenhead’s gave me the paperwork to submit at the airport to get a portion of the VAT refunded (as to whether I’ll have the patience or energy to actually follow up at the airport I’m not sure).

Descriptions of the shops are in the captions to the image gallery.

Are there other stores (besides the Whisky Exchange) that you feel I should visit on my next trip?

 

11 thoughts on “London Whisky

  1. Hi there,

    I would recommend

    Royal Mile Whiskies
    3 Bloomsbury Street
    London WC1B 3QE
    England
    Phone: +44 (0)20 7436 4763
    info@royalmilewhiskies.com

    Opening Hours:
    Monday – Wednesday: 10am – 6pm
    Thursday: 10am – 8pm
    Friday – Saturday: 10am – 6pm
    Sunday: 12 – 5pm

    and

    The Vintage House
    Phone: (+44) (0)20 7437 2592
    Address: 42 Old Compton Street,
    London W1D 4LR
    Email: info@vintagehouse.london

    Mon-Fri 9am-11pm
    Sat 10am-11pm
    Sun 10am-10pm

    and while you are there

    Gerry’s
    74 Old Compton Street, Soho,
    London W1D 4UW
    Call Us: 020 7734 2053 or 020 7734 4215
    Fax Us: 020 7287 9858
    Email Us: info@gerrys.uk.com

    Opening Hours
    Monday – Thursday: 9am to 7.30pm
    Friday & Saturday: 9am to 9pm
    Sun: 12pm to 6pm

    opening hours just in case… 8-)

    Greetings
    kallaskander

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  2. Heathrow VAT refund update: I arrived at the airport 45 minutes earlier than I otherwise would have with a view towards leaving some time to find and negotiate the VAT refund counter. It turned out, however, that to process the refunds and get on my flight I would have needed to arrive at the airport at least three hours early. This because there were approximately 17,000 people in line—I only counted twice and so can’t be sure.

    The other thing about the VAT refund thing is that you don’t get all of the VAT refunded anyway. The companies that process those refunds pocket up to 50% of the refund. So, unless you’ve bought something particularly expensive it’s really not worth the time. I, for example, would only be getting £17 of the refund I was due, which was not worth standing in a long, hectic line for. But if you are owed a significant refund you should budget quite a bit of extra time to get it done.

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  3. Actually, it appears that the Whisky Exchange shop in Covent Garden is not in fact closed on Sundays. What a genius I am! Why on earth did I think it was closed? Actually, it may be because my friends have BT internet filters active in their home which were not allowing whisky sites to load–so I probably got the bad information from a different internet source. Ah well, to think I was right there on Sunday!

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  4. If you email me next time you’re over, I’ll take you to one of the whisky bars there (members only). They have around 700 whiskies there, from 5 to 300 pounds a dram with lots of single casks and indy bottlings.

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  5. Shame about Cadenhead’s…I’ve always been impressed by their product, but they don’t seem to care very much about staff. There was a very helpful and knowledgeable gent in the Edinburgh shop (you might have heard of him), but he’s no longer there.

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  6. It is indeed a shame. The shop has so much character and is so different from all the others; if the staff were a little less (okay, quite a bit less) stand-offish it would be great.

    And yes, the helpful and knowledgeable gent who used to be in the Edinburgh shop was very helpful and knowledgeable indeed when I sent a proxy to the shop a couple of years ago: he selected a couple of 200 ml bottles for me that I’ve really enjoyed.

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