Last summer I visited a few prominent whisky stores in London (and wrote them up). Thanks to stupidity I did not make it to the Whisky Exchange. For some reason—probably the fault of Florin, Prince of Persia—I came to believe their store was closed on Sundays when it is not, and so I didn’t stop in even though I was right in Covent Garden for lunch on a Sunday. That omission is now being set right with a dedicated photo collage of their Covent Garden store. Located right off the Strand on Bedford St., this store is dangerously within walking distance of our flat and I’ve already contrived to walk by it twice and stop in. On both occasions I have purchased a bottle (Glenfarclas 15 on the first occasion and a bottle of their own Elements of Islay Lg6 on the second) and on both occasions I have confused the staffers by taking many pictures of the store: they either think I’m mad or casing the joint or both. Thus do I sacrifice my dignity for you, my ungrateful readers.
For many of us in the US who started in on whisky mania a decade or so ago, the Whisky Exchange has been a key part of our derangement, an early source of malts that were never available in the US, a place to gawk at legendary bottles we could never afford. Of course, I am referring to their online store. And indeed for most whisky drinkers around the world it’s the online store that is the Whisky Exchange. Nonetheless, they’ve had a physical presence for a long time now as well—and not too long ago it moved from the Vinopolis complex in Southwark (which shut down) to the aforementioned Covent Garden store. I have no idea what the Vinopolis store was like but I can tell you that the Covent Garden store is quite swanky: lots of dark wood as at Berry Bros. & Rudd, but the staff are not in fancy dress.
However, if like me, in your spare time you write fan fiction in which legendary characters like Sukhinder Singh and Billy Abbott hang out at the Whisky Exchange store in bespoke suits and monocles, solving crime over large pours of 1960s Springbank, I must break your heart: they are not there; their location is a secret, available only to those with the appropriate security clearance and the willingness to perform certain unspeakable acts. But it’s still worth stopping in the store—and not only because there are bottles available there that are sold out on the online store..
It is spread over two floors. When you walk in you discover that the ground floor is given over to American whiskey and brandy and rum and various other spirits. Just when you begin to panic and begin to wonder if everything is a lie you notice a neon sign that reads “whisky cellar downstairs”. You go down the stairs and then there’s rather a lot of malt whisky to be found. [I will now abandon the second person narration as suddenly as I took it up.] There are a lot of regular bottles and there are also a lot of very rare and expensive bottles. I asked one of the staffers how often they sell a bottle from the unicorn cabinets and she allowed that it’s not very often. So it’s both a mini-museum and a whisky store. You can stare at bottles of ancient Talisker before purchasing a bottle of the Talisker Skye. It’s also the place to go to if you want to see bottles in the Elements of Islay and Single Malts of Scotland lines in their natural habitat. And they quite sportingly have bottles from other independent bottlers as well.
Here now to illustrate all of the above are far more photographs than anyone needs. But I took them anyway and so you may as well look at them.
Next up—at some point next month, probably: visits to Royal Mile Whiskies and Vintage House and a return to Berry Bros. & Rudd.