Working in harmony

Working in harmony

The new Whisky Exchange shop at London's Vinopolis is part of a new project that shows how grape and the grain can make a harmonious blend. Kate Ennis reports

News | 12 Jan 2006 | Issue 53 | By Kate Portman (nee Ennis)

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For fans of renowned mail order website The Whisky Exchange the news that proprietor Sukhinder Singh has opened a retail shop in central London will be music to the ears.Before now, experiencing Sukhinder's vast selection of whiskies was only possible by appointment at his showroom tucked away on the edges of London.This new shop is part of a bigger whisky project at Vinopolis, a visitor attraction within the cavernous arches of a Victorian railway viaduct on London's South Bank dedicated to the education and enjoyment of drink.When the two and a half acre venue first opened in 1999, wine was its sole focus.However, in the past two years Vinopolis has been ringing in the changes, fine tuning its contents and orchestrating new projects to incorporate spirits into its interactive tour.Gin and absinthe were the first spirits to join, and now a new whisky area has been added. Included is 'The Still Room', which was installed by Diageo and plays a key part in the venue's educational tour. It's an informative display and tasting bar offering three Diageo whiskies to try. Next door is The Whisky Exchange's shop.Vinopolis says this project is the latest fulfilment of a vision it has always had to promote the experience and enjoyment of both wines and spirits. For The Whisky Exchange, however, the project was more of a happy accident."Though we'd always thought it would be nice to have a shop in London, we weren't really looking," admits Sukhinder. "We started speaking to Vinopolis about a year ago but felt that having a whisky room as part of the educational tour was the icing on the cake," he says.Vinopolis certainly provides the potential to attract new drinkers with 1,200 visitors coming through its doors each Saturday during peak season. It is a diverse range of people, too - with the venue appealing to Londoners and tourists alike. Pensioners and foreigners may tour during the day, then hen or stag parties and corporate groups in the evening.The Still Room area is where the fun, informal self-guided drinks tour at Vinopolis reaches its crescendo. Visitors are offered a sample of Dalwhinnie, then Johnnie Walker Black and finally Talisker, one that shows whisky newcomers just how distinctive malts can be. Many visitors stay in this area for up to 15 minutes tasting and ask questions of the knowledgeable staff so it's a fine opportunity to introduce them to what whisky is about.The Still Room and shop are designed to work in harmony with each other."The way I look at it, the Still Room is to educate the customer," says Sukhinder. ". This first experience with whisky usually stirs excitement and more interest so when they come into the shop, hopefully they are eager to learn more." The tone of friendly help and advice continues here, often from the shop's manager, Andrew Holden, who is a seasoned whisky expert. He feels the shop is looking to attract the whisky drinker as much as the newcomer, particularly as you don't need to do the tour to visit the shop. He believes drinkers want to be taken on a journey."They may know some whiskies but want to take the next step and progress to new ones." The shop is pitched to hit the right note with this variety of visitors. It houses around half of The Whisky Exchange's comprehensive range with the main back wall lined with 500 single malts and another 200 whiskies to the side, including 100 bourbons, plus about 150 other spirits.There are five small wooden barrels where you can fill your own bottle (either 20cl or 50cl) with one of the whiskies inside them then create a personalised label. These make mementos popular with tourists, as do the many miniatures on sale.For the serious enthusiast, The Whisky Exchange has a reputation for stocking a few 'off the wall' whiskies so you'll find an unusual Glenmorangie 100 proof here. The tantalising, rare collectors' items are housed in shining glass cabinets. Their contents include the shop's most expensive whisky - a Dalmore 50 year old at £4,500 and the oldest - a Macallan from 1937.Andrew describes how an American whisky collector who was briefly staying in London was thrilled to find a rare old bottling of 12 year old Lagavulin so easily at the new shop. Of course, if you can't find something in the shop itself, the staff will call on the other 700 whiskies back in Sukhinder's main showroom or try and track it down for you.Tasting events play a key part in The Whisky Exchange's future plans here."The venue is perfectly suited for them," explains Sukhinder, "and it has four different sized rooms, including the Great Halls, which can cater for 1,000 people. We are currently working with ideas for tastings, as well as looking at setting up a tasting club to have monthly events here." This new project adds to the growing success of Vinopolis as a whole so it seems the blend of grape and grain under its arches is a harmonious one.A small but intriguing part of the display in the Still Room seems to sum up just how the new and improved Vinopolis project works. It shows a diagram showing how a blended whisky is like an orchestra made up of many diverse components that all work in harmony to create a great end result. This thought applies to the venue, also composed of many different instruments to provide visitors with a true drinks concerto.Vinopolis is creating an experience that will appeal to all drink lovers and having whisky in the mix can only add to that appeal.For further information contact:
The Whisky Exchange at Vinopolis
Tel: +44 (0)20 7403 8688
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