London: Day 2 - Keeping Pace With Macgyver
You have to be a drinking professional to attempt this type of journey that David and I do each year. I know a lot of people think it’s just jet-setting and tasting Scotch (and that’s definitely a big part of it), but doing business with people in the liquor industry involves serious levels of boozing—morning, noon, and night. If you can’t hang with the big boys when it comes to handling your liquor, then you’re not going to get anything done. We realized quickly last night that Doug “Macgyver” McIvor wasn’t just a serious industry professional; he was a real contender for the pub crawl hall of fame. Seeing that both of us had been up since 3 AM, I decided that I needed to get a serious walk in before our morning meeting at the Berry Bros & Rudd storefront, so I hiked on down to the Thames and did a four mile loop. David OG went for a run. We had to get the blood flowing and the old hearts pumping.
We met Doug outside the James Street store at 10 AM (at that point I’d already been up for seven hours) to take a tour of the grounds. This was my second visit to BBR (maybe you remember this blog post from 2011), but I had forgotten much of what I had previously learned, so it was nice to get reacquainted. Berry Bros & Rudd isn’t just a historic merchant dating back to 1698. It’s a national landmark located in London’s most prestigious and storied neighborhood.
For example, just across the street are the grounds of the Royal Family: St James’s Palace. Built by Henry VIII in the 1530s, the fortress—according to Doug—is where all the serious royal business goes down. Meetings, business negotiations, and all matters of the high court are handled not at Buckingham Palace, but rather at the James Street locale. Imagine having Prince Charles as your next-door neighbor.
Then, just behind the main store building, there’s Pickering Place: once the location of the Texas Embassy in the 1800s (when Texas was still a country) and the site of London’s last ever official duel. When I say that business in the UK requires a serious commitment to drinking, I mean there’s a hardcore historical precedent already set. The man who lost that final duel in the late 19th century actually went to the pub next door, ordered a pint, and drank until he eventually bled to death right there on the bar stool. That’s the type of bloodline (pardon the pun) we were up against today with Doug.
So what were we doing today at BBR besides drinking? Just shooting the breeze, taking in the sites, and talking shop with the world’s most iconic retailer. If you weren’t aware, the laws in the UK allow merchants to take part in the production side of the business as well, so Berry Bros & Rudd actually owns a number of famous products. They invented Cutty Sark Blended Scotch, which they traded to Edrington a few years back for the single malt label they currently own today: Glenrothes. They also do a number of their own gins and things like the King’s Ginger, which we carry at K&L. BBR also owns a part of Anchor Distilling in San Francisco, so there’s a serious partnership already with the Bay Area and California. We were here out of respect, and out of a desire to begin working together on some exclusive retailer-to-retailer business.
Before sitting down for a serious chat, it’s always fun to check out the BBR family stash downstairs in the cellar. Just a few bottles for weddings, birthdays and celebrations.
And, of course, the vast stocks of aging claret.
One part of the cellar was once used by Napoleon to plan his recovery of France after exile. Perhaps he spent too much time drinking and not enough time strategizing. Another part was used by Henry VIII as a squash court. And I thought the history of the K&L Redwood City store was interesting! We’ve got nothing on this.
You could do an entire tour at BBR just based on old bottles and ancient labels. The amount of historic glassware on display is a history lesson in itself. There’s a legend that the term “the real McCoy” originates from a rum-runner during Prohibition named Bill McCoy, who helped BBR (and a number of other brands) sneak bottles of Cutty Sark into the New York harbor. He was known for having all the best booze, never watered down, hence the term used in reference to his booty.
Then it was time to talk shop. We started with a few drams of BBR Blue Hangar in the main retail shop, before heading over to the local pub for a pint of London Pride. After beers, it was time to grab some food, so we went across the street for lunch and a glass of Champagne, followed by a bottle of white wine, and then—of course—a few glasses of single malt. This is all before 12 PM mind you. Now we’ve got to fly to Edinburgh, rent a car, and drive to Pitlochry for our appointment with Signatory tomorrow. I passed out for the entire ride to the airport, then fell asleep in a chair for about forty minutes before waking up to type this. But that's OK. That's the job. What matters is that we did the meeting earlier today, took our drink like professionals, kept up with Macgyver, and got the serious business done. There will be some trade later this year between two of the world’s leading wine retailers. It just won’t involve any wine. It came at the expense of our livers and the rest of our productivity for the afternoon, but we represented America well. Doug is amazing. I hope some of you can visit the store in London and pick his brain someday. He's a true gentleman and a wealth of incredible information. I appreciated his company even more this time around.