Here is the third in my deranged series of reports from this extended trip of some of London’s best known whisky stores, and the fourth overall (the two previous reports covered the Whisky Exchange and Royal Mile Whiskies and the Vintage House). The first entry was made last August. That gallery focused on Cadenhead’s, Milroy’s of Soho and Hedonism Wines. I had in fact also gone to Berry Bros. & Rudd on that trip but due to an unfortunately timed water pipe leak their spirits section was closed at the time. And so I was resolved to go back on this trip. I’d expected to go in earlier and do a lot of my shopping there for the bottles I am drinking while in London but for one reason or the other didn’t make it in till yesterday. Herewith my discoveries.
As you may know, Berry Bros. & Rudd are the oldest wine merchants in the UK, operating since the late 17th century. I’d guess they might well be the oldest wine merchants in the world but there may be contenders in France or Spain, I suppose. At any rate, Berry Bros. & Rudd have been around a long time, though not under the same name: a Berry did not get involved until the early 19th century and the first Rudd appeared on the scene only in the early 20th century. The business has been located at 3 St. James Street since the very beginning, however, and members of both the Berry and Rudd families continue to be in charge. They are the recipients of two royal warrants and continue to supply wine to the royal family—which they have done since the reign of George III. I was willing to overlook these latter matters (“Their goddam kings and their goddam queens,” as Michelle Cliff once wrote of the English) and visit the store because Berry Bros. & Rudd bottle interesting whisky under their own label and it was this that I was interested in.
One of the things you will quickly realize at Berry Bros. & Rudd is that the two rooms devoted to wine and spirits are not very large. This is not, however, because they don’t have a large selection (they do, it’s just not all on display—especially for wine) or because the store itself is not large. The store is large; it’s just that a lot of it is given over to displaying and establishing the firm’s history and milieu—you may get some sense of this in the early pictures in the gallery below. There’s a lot of dark and distressed wood and it’s all quite attractively done if you like that sort of thing. The staff—of which there are quite a few—are got up smartly in jackets and ties and most of the customers I encountered on both my visits (the shorter one last August and yesterday) were similarly well-heeled. Nonetheless, they allow rabble like me to enter as well.
The whisky on display is in a room labeled “Fine Spirits”. It shares the room with various brandies, rum and other spirits. There’s not a very large selection (on par probably with the Vintage House) but it’s curated well and attractively presented. Their ace in the hole, however, is Rob Whitehead, who was manning the desk on my visit. For the neophyte and experienced whisky geek alike, he is an adroit guide. I told him that I was interested in Berry Bros. & Rudd’s own bottlings and that in particular I was looking for something sherried and something peated. It was quickly established that they had little right now under their own labels that fit the bill. I asked if there was anything else he might recommend from their other selections and if it was possible to taste them. It was indeed possible to taste most of them and he poured me generous nips of a number of things, making observations on the character of the whiskies that actually matched what I was nosing and tasting and, most importantly, not going within a million miles of trying to sell me something. And though I let on at one point that I was one of the unfortunate people who writes a whisky blog he had no further interest in this, which is a further testament to his character.
As it happens, the first bottle I purchased was one I had not expressed interest in but which he suggested I take a taste of—an older Speyburn, if you can believe it. I was not entirely convinced by the others and turned my attention to their rum. Again, he poured generous samples of a couple and if he was put out by my lack of enthusiasm for his recommendations he did not let this show. And despite the fact that I had said early on that I was looking to buy two bottles soon for daily drinking (the older Speyburn will be taken back unopened to the US) he did not press me on any purchases—suggesting instead that I wait till their next outturn of selection arrives in the store, at which point I would be able to come in and taste them all. I will do that but to be safe also purchased a bottle of the latest release of Springbank’s 12 CS.
All in all, a very nice experience, even if the selection is not going to make anyone’s jaw drop, and I recommend a visit highly.
Well, I think this will be the last of my whisky store reports on this trip. I don’t think I’m going to go back to Cadenhead’s after all—it’s really quite a wonder how much one odd experience can turn you off a store you’re otherwise drawn to. In June we will be in Scotland for a while before returning to the US, but I won’t be going to any whisky stores there; you can, however, probably expect some distillery reports once I’m back in Minnesota.