The Whisky Shop Dufftown celebrates its 10th Anniversary next year and when Mike (Lord, the owner) approached me about designing a commemorative t-shirt for it, I jumped at the chance. For several reasons, but mainly because I know Mike, his shop and Dufftown very well indeed!
You see, the first whisky tasting I ever attended was in that very shop (in its previous incarnation). This was back in 2002 - I had just started working at Springbank and as part of my ‘training’ was at the Dufftown Autumn whisky festival to learn about other distilleries. Coincidentally that first whisky tasting was hosted by my now husband, Mark Watt, although obviously neither of us made a very lasting first impression on each other on that occasion since we both remember the whiskies from that night, but not each other!
Who would’ve thought then that a handful of years later, I’d be living in Dufftown, with the man holding the tasting, sharing a house with the guy that was to buy that very shop?
Did you follow all that? Suffice to say that that tasting was the first of many, many Whisky Shop Dufftown tastings that I have attended over the years and the first of many, many evenings that I have spent drinking with Mike!
Anyway, enough of the back story, let’s get back to the 10th Anniversary celebrations. So, the deal was Mike wanted me to design a commemorative t-shirt building on his ongoing ‘Dufftown whisky region’ gag. He even helpfully sent me a list of all the Dufftown distilleries (maybe he thought I’d forgotten them all since moving back to Campbeltown) and a rough outline of the Dufftown urban area (if you can call any part of Dufftown ‘urban’) courtesy of google maps.
Then, inspiration struck again (I was on a roll that day) as it occurred to me that I could do something like the London tube map (cause Dufftown is just like London) with distilleries instead of stops. After all, Mike used to live in London, so it tied everything together quite well I thought. This then, is the final design;
So, Dufftown as a whisky region, what's all that about?
Dufftown is a small town but it is the beating heart of the whisky industry. It has 11% of the whisky production capacity. It is home to some of the biggest single malt brands like Glenfiddich and Balvenie. Also, it is difficult to see how the blended industry would survive without it. Even the mighty Johnnie Walker would struggle to survive without the whiskies from Dufftown, Glendullan and particularly Mortlach distilleries. Why should it not be a recognised whisky region? But it is often just a mangled blob on most whisky maps with all its distilleries overlaid over each other. This is about giving Dufftown the space on the whisky map it deserves.
What made you decide to leave the high flying city life in London and buy a whisky shop in Dufftown?
My love of whisky is the simple answer but it was more complicated than that. I had not really planned the change. I had been coming up to Dufftown for many years and knew the shop well. I was told it was up for sale and was likely not to continue as a whisky shop. The next thing was that I was in the local pub and being congratulated on buying the shop and saving it so I thought why not.
In the (nearly!) 10 years you've had the shop, what do you think are the biggest changes you've seen in the whisky industry? Any predictions for how the next 10 years will go?
It would have to be price but that’s more of an indication of how long I have been drinking whisky than anything else. The rise of the no age statement or more precisely the dropping of age statements is a biggie. We have gone from being told every year counts to being told that putting an age statement on a whisky is an unnecessary restriction.
What I have been talking about for the last year or so is that the boil must come of the whisky market and that has started to happen with the sale of blends which has caused a few nerves in some areas of the industry. All hail the continuing success of the single malt but the very big brother is blended whisky and even a small down in that market has a big impact. So we are going to see more and “better” whiskies becoming available to the Independents again as the distilleries won’t need to keep such a tight hold on their stocks. But maybe that is already starting to happen with single malts becoming available from distilleries you would not have expected even 12 months ago. May be then my prediction for 10 years time is a massive up-turn in the sales of whisky and a race to expand distilleries and build new ones. It’s all very cyclic anyway.
Favourite thing about running the shop?
The best thing is finding a new favourite whisky for a customer and the look on their face when they try it. There is nothing else that comes close.
Least favourite thing?
There’s a list and maybe people asking for discounts should be at the top but a real frustration is people coming in to the shop and asking for directions to a distillery because they must go to the distillery shop to buy their whisky. The couldn’t possibly buy it from me. “Which way do I go again?”
What are some of the best questions you have been asked by customers? (I know you have a list!)
Another list you mean. One that really stands out is the couple that came in to buy a train whistle and could not understand why I did not sell them. I was recently asked the way to Jameson distillery – I did start my reply by saying the first they had to do was go to Aberdeen Airport and fly to Ireland. I have been asked to fix some ones glasses. I was once asked by a group to organise for them a day trip to The Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival. They were staying in Brighton. This is a very long list.
Anything you can tell us about what your anniversary year has in store for us?
There’s a fantastic commemorative T-Shirt! (Thanks Mike! - ed) A special single malt which was distilled in the first place I ever stayed in Scotland. A special Glencairn. These are all in the bag or virtually so and a few more things that are not quite finalised yet. Hopefully there will even be a spirit made to my own recipe that has no need to go in a cask– the trial sample went down very well at our bonfire party! We also have a few upgrades in train for the shop.
Playing his cards quite close to his chest there about what else he’s got in store for the Anniversary year but I’m certainly looking forward to finding out more in due course and hopefully joining in the birthday celebrations with Mike, Val and the rest of the Whisky Shop Dufftown team. Congratulations on the first (nearly) 10 years guys - here’s to the next 10!
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Whisky Impressions is run by Kate Watt. Previously at Springbank and then Glenfarclas, I now design some whisky related stuff and write about it, and anything else that takes my fancy, on this blog.