Places

An offering you can't refuse

Luvian's Bottle Shop has built a reputation for fine drinks products. Gavin Smith looks at its whisky offering
By Gavin D. Smith
The historic university town of St Andrews in north-east Fife is renowned the world over as the home of golf. Recently, however, it has also been attracting attention because one of its current undergraduates is Prince William.The chances are that if His Royal Highness requires a drop of Château Mouton-Rothschild 1990 or a sparking shiraz to go with dinner he will call into Luvian’s Bottle Shop on Market Street, where he will also be faced with a tantalising array of more than 500 whiskies.The man responsible for sourcing all those whiskies is Vince Fusaro, Keeper of the Quaich, whose family of award-winning ice cream makers also operates a similar outlet in the nearby town of Cupar. The Fusaros have been in Fife since 1961, having originally come to Scotland from Italy by way of Ayrshire.Brothers Vincent, Anthony and Luigi, opened their delicatessen and specialist off-licence business in Cupar in 1983, and the St Andrews Bottle Shop followed in 1996. It boasts a clientele of golfers, students, tourists and discerning locals, and today sales of whisky make approximately 30 per cent of the company’s overall business.“We opened in Cupar on Christmas Eve 1983”, recalls Vince. “Our opening whisky stock was two bottles of Glenmorangie, two Glenfiddich, two Chivas Regal, and two Johnnie Walker Black Label.“Two or three years on from that I saw that Oddbins was boasting that their shops had more than 20 whiskies.“I took a look at our shelves and saw that we already had more than 60. That spurred me on to be serious about whisky, and I started reading a lot about it.”Vince Fusaro is refreshingly forthright, and says “I don’t subscribe to the view that there are no bad whiskies. Some of the new expressions that we have seen recently are not fit to bottle in my view. Whisky companies are doing it almost for the sake of doing it, it’s a scattergun approach. Does it get to the point where I say to the companies ‘pay me to promote your product, because there’s only so much room on my shelves’? How many wood expressions do you need?“I also worry about value. Take Glenmorangie, for example, is its true price something like £13.99, which is about what the Co-op were selling it for a while ago, or is it £25.95, which is what Glenmorangie wants? What is the ‘proper’ price? Value is about an awful lot more than just money.”When it comes to purchasing strategy, Vince says: “much of my buying is done on personal relationships. That’s very important to me.“I buy a lot from Gordon & MacPhail – the true whisky broker, working in the old grocer tradition. It buys in bulk and it bottles when it should. It has integrity.“I also buy from Signatory, and I have good personal relationships with people from Diageo, Highland Distillers, Whyte and Mackay, Bruichladdich and Springbank.“Our best-selling malts include Macallan, Balvenie, and Ardbeg, along with Dalmore and Highland Park. And the Gordon & MacPhail portfolio, of course.“It’s also important that you have a few good offers, because the market has been fashioned in that way by the marketing people, and it’s important we play the game. Sometimes I buy heavily when a good offer comes up.“I can do that because I don’t have an accountant breathing down my neck.”With a tongue-in-cheek gesture towards the family’s Sicilian origins, whiskies on offer are promoted by The Malt Mafia – using the slogan ‘Offers you can’t refuse’.At the opposite end of the price spectrum, Luvian’s can provide customers with fat wallets with a 1943 Gordon & MacPhail Glenlivet, priced at £2,000, a 1940 Gordon & MacPhail Speymalt Macallan at £1,750, a 40 year old Bowmore at £4,000, or a Springbank Millennium Set at £5,000.“My all time favourite personal whisky is 21-year-old Springbank,” notes Vince. “It delivers true quality and value for money. It has everything I’m looking for in an alcoholic drink.”He is also a fan of other whiskies including Highland Park and Dalmore. Vince says that the company would consider expanding.“Ideally we would like maybe five outlets in total, but they have to be the right outlets. Turnover doesn’t give you profit, and low margins are an inescapable part of this business, but the drinks industry is a lovely industry to be in.”Asked how Luvian’s survives and thrives in the shadow of outlets such as Oddbins, Bottoms Up and their ilk, Vince is quick to point out that competition also comes from all the major supermarkets.“Don’t forget about Tesco and Safeway,” he says. “They are very much our competitors too. But remember that until all the Goliaths gang up on David, David will always end up beating Goliath.”