Berry Bros & Rudd is the shining example of what a wine and whisky merchant can strive to achieve towards - an international company with offices all over the world, bottling their own casks of liquor acquired from the relationships formed over three centuries of business. This storefront has been around since the late 1600's when it opened as a coffee merchant. The store itself is more like a museum than an actual place of business. There are bottles to see and choose from, but most of the selection is buried under the building in the many rooms and cellars. The main entryway still has the scales that were used to weigh coffee beans.
When the coffee business ceased and the booze business began, BBR began using the scales to weigh customers as they awaited their wine. Apparently it was pricey to visit a doctor and receive one's measurements, so BBR offered it as a gratis service for their loyal patrons. The original logs are still located at the front desk where one can trace the growth of notable historical figures such as Lord Byron.
The whisky room is where I met Doug MacIvor, a Scotsman who moved to London as a boy and is now in charge of the liquor operations for BBR. He tastes and purchases all of their independently-bottled single malts and even does the blending for their own line of vatted malts. He was nice enough to take me around the store and into some of the more historical rooms in the building.
Behind the main storefront is a small and cozy lounge where one can quietly taste and concentrate on some serious whisky analysis. It also happens to be the room where the owners sat one evening and created a little brand called Cutty Sark. You might have heard of that whisky before.
Underneath the first floor is the famous Napoleon cellar where BBR still holds private events and corporate meetings with important guests. It's called the Napoleon celler because Napoleon used to visit and have a few drinks within it while plotting his subsequent invasion back into France. There was also once a tunnel that connected it with the royal palace where deliveries of wine would be transfered subterraneously to the king and queen. It's quite a sight and the room itself is filled with ancient relics.
Bottles from the 1600s adorn the glass cases attached to the inner walls. They are embossed with family crests for identification purposes because bottles were once more valuable than the commodities they contained.
The reserves of old wines and whiskies in the storeroom await the visitation of significant guests for whom they are intended. Some of the selections are incredible and I spent a few minutes just staring in awe. Did I tastes some whisky at BBR? A little. Did we discuss some future business? Of course. However, visiting the St. James St. location is like visiting Westminster Abbey or the London Tower, it's an experience in itself and needs to be given its proper due. Visiting Berry Bros. and Rudd is a must-do for any whisky fan who finds himself in London just because of the history. It was and continues to be the destination for any distinguished drinker and connoisseur of fine spirits.
And, yes, we will probably be bringing in some casks with them in the near future. Needless to say both David OG and I are excited about working with such an extablished and esteemed company with a flawless reputation for quality drink. We can only hope to achieve the same lofty heights.