Manchester now has its very own whiskey shop.
Last night was the official launch of the Whisky Shop’s flagship Manchester store so I went down to take a look (and try to score some samples, obviously). I may as well admit now that I’m not much of a whiskey drinker – give me a wine tasting or a wine festival any day of the week – but even so I was impressed by the quality of the drinks and the knowledge of the staff.
A spirited effort
I’m told the Whisky Shop is the UK’s largest whiskey-only retailer. And I doubt the Whisky Shop Manchester, its 22nd and newest store, will let the side down. It’s immaculately laid out with 600 sq ft of retail space full of sleek fittings, timber floors, glass displays and under-shelf lighting that makes the whiskey bottles positively glow.
Also, the store couldn’t really have a more central location than 3 Exchange Street (on St Ann’s Square).
The retailer’s big idea is trying to make whiskey accessible to everyone. Andrew Torrance, managing director of the Whisky Shop, explained: “Our aim is to inform and entertain our customers. Whisky is a wonderful and diverse drink that should be enjoyed rather than revered. We look forward to bringing the Whisky Shop experience to Manchester.”
Now if I’m being totally honest, I’d say the Manchester store’s almost too stylish for its own good – its whiskies are very much presented as something to be revered. There’s a fine line between enticing and intimidating, and I certainly wouldn’t have felt confident wandering in off the street armed with nothing more than my ignorance. Any store selling top-end spirits – one of the bottles pictured below costs £17,370 – inevitably feels a bit elitist.
From whisky to whiskey
All of which is totally unfair because the staff are some of the friendliest and most knowledgeable people I’ve met in the drinks trade. They’re approachable, well-informed and happy to answer even the dumbest questions I could think of. Like what’s the difference between Scotch whisky and Irish whiskey (apart from the extra e, Ireland’s version is lighter and more often comes in blends).
The Whisky Shop’s retail partners, Irish drinks giant Diageo and Kentucky equivalent Brown-Forman, also put on some whiskey experts for the launch, which was a nice touch.
Tom Vernon, brand ambassador for Brown-Forman (cool job), showed us how to make a mint julep (pictured below), a manhattan, an Old Fashioned straight out of Mad Men and a whiskey sour. And Colin Dunn, whisky ambassador for Diageo (very cool job), did some tastings of neat whiskeys that even an ignoramus like me could tell were pretty special.
Among other things, I learned that my favourite whiskey cocktail is the Old Fashioned (pictured below), possibly because it’s Don Draper’s favourite whiskey cocktail, and that the taste of a good whiskey really does change over the course of a minute or more.
I’ve always thought eye-catching events like these are the best way for new stores to get people talking and, when there’s alcohol involved, so much the better. If the Whisky Shop Manchester wants to encourage novices like me to take the plunge and step inside, they’d be well advised to do plenty more.