France 2013 - Day 7 - A Tale of Two Cities (Paris)
Ahhh......Paris. What a beautiful place. The buildings are stunningly gorgeous, the atmosphere is vibrant, and the streets are alive with energy.
Mopeds and scooters are constantly zipping in between the cars, the roundabouts are like warzones, and even the bicyclists are well-dressed and full of gusto. We saw a woman peddling her way around a bus with an Yves St. Laurent handbag. That blew my mind.
You may not think of Paris as a whisky capital, but it's home to one of the most impressive collections of single malt we've ever seen: La Maison du Whisky. We headed over to the original store location this morning and met with Salvatore Mannino – the brand ambassador for the company. He explained how their operation worked while David and I sat there with our mouths open, practically drooling over every word.
There's all kinds of shit you can do in Europe that would be completely forbidden in the United States. First off, you can be an importer and a retailer. Basically, you can buy it directly from the producer and sell your product to yourself, along with other retailers. La Maison du Whisky is the importer for Compass Box, Glendronach, Benriach, Gordon & MacPhail, Nikka, and a number of other producers for France. In other words, they make money by selling it directly to you as well as to every restaurant and retailer in the region. It also means they're free to do all kinds of mix and match gift sets like the ones pictured above. You can get a sample pack of ten different whiskies all in little vials for a variety of different flavors. It's absolutely genius.
While we're stuck with the three-tiered system in America, where retailers are beholded to importers and distributors, there is something to be said for both systems. The French market allows retailers to buy directly and sell to restaurants. That's great if you're the one in control. However, if you're a small retailer who wants to get into the business you have to buy your booze from your competitor, La Maison du Whisky. What if Wally's or Beltramos had to buy their booze from K&L every time a customer asked for Kilchoman? They could never advance beyond us or be competitive with pricing because we would determine what they paid. The American system adds extra tiers into the market, but at least we all have to buy from the same people who are not competing with us. Distributors cannot sell directly to the public for that reason.
Quite an interesting education today! We're headed to London in about forty minutes. The next time you're in Paris you should definitely stop by Maison du Whisky and check out their old and rare collection. It's jaw-dropping. They can buy bottles directly from private customers, so they work as high-end whisky pawn shop as well. It's an amazing store and we want to thank Salvadore for taking the time with us.
You should go there. And you should go here:
L'as du Falafel. David OG's favorite restaurant in all of Paris. There's a line to get in all day long, but it's totally worth waiting. The best falafel in the world? Perhaps.