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Byrne's right

The Byrne family has been selling whisky for generations. Richard Jones looks at the Lancashire-based business
By Richard Jones
Whisky isn’t just a passion for the Byrne family of D Byrne & Co, Clitheroe, Lancashire, it’s in their genes.Andrew Byrne is the fourth generation in a family firm that’s been around for the best part of 126 years and, when I visited him recently, he proudly showed me a clipping from a 1999 edition of Whisky Magazine. In it, his son Joe Byrne, then just 13 years of age, came second only to his dad in a nosing (note: nosing not drinking!) competition held at the Islay Festival.Perhaps unsurprisingly, Joe Byrne has recently decided to abandon his sixth form studies to join his father in the family trade.“Although we’re best known for our wine, whisky has always been extremely important to us,” Andrew Byrne begins.“Our original business was grocery, delivering to all the farms in the Ribble Valley on horse and cart, but we began to specialise in wine and spirits around 25 years ago.“We developed a reputation for stocking every wine and spirit that you could get, however weird and wonderful – today we have a range of over 300 different whiskies covering just about everything there is.” Although Clitheroe isn’t the easiest place to get to, a visit to the Byrnes’ shop on the main high street is always a memorable experience. This is the wine and spirit merchants that time forgot – think Ronnie Barker in Open All Hours with stripped wooden floors, a huge oak counter and shelves to the ceiling, alongside an original arched cellar full of nooks, crannies, cases of fine wine and authentic dust.The only concession to the modern age here appears to be a credit card machine and telephone; they don’t even have an electronic cash register, let alone a website (although they will do mail order). The service too also seems to belong to another era, with thick Lancastrian accents helping customers in a friendly but nononsense style.You don’t need 20/20 vision to buy whisky at Byrnes’, but it does help. The whisky section is found around the busy main counter of the store, stretching right to the very summit of the highest shelves.Arranged alphabetically within the main regions and countries, there is plenty of depth throughout the range although Islay is a particular highlight, and just happens to be Andrew Byrne’s personal favourite.“It’s a bit like wine,” he explains. “People might start out drinking Australian wines but when they start to look for a bit more they move to France. Islay is a bit like French wine, there’s more to it than other whiskies.” Longrow is another of Andrew Byrne’s favourites, hence the seven different bottlings in the upper echelons of the store including Longrow 10 Year Old at £39.89 and Longrow 1992 at £39.99.Looking around the shelves it’s also clear that Andrew is a big fan of the entire Signatory range remarking that “the price is extremely keen for the age of the whiskies.” He especially recommends the Signatory Mortlach Unchillfiltered 1991 at £24.79.Irish whiskies are well represented at Byrnes’ with names such as Green Spot, Middleton, Paddy and Lockes 8 Year Old all on display. Andrew also reports that, “more and more people are getting into bourbon whisky, especially the small batch stuff.” Hence his decision to stock top whiskies from the likes of Heaven Hill, Riltenhous Rye and Elijah Craig.Apart from their olde worlde shop, there’s another aspect at Byrnes’ that brings to mind the past – their prices. There can’t be many other independent merchants out there, for example, who can proudly claim that “we have something of a reputation for undercutting the supermarkets on price.” To illustrate the point, Andrew Byrne points to the special offers section where we find Ledaig Single Malt at just £12.99, Edradour 10 Year Old at £25.89, Old Pulteney 12 Year Old at £18.99, and Balvenie 10 Year Old at £16.99. The offers change all the time, but Andrew is confident they’ll always have something pretty exceptional.And ‘exceptional’ is the word that springs to mind when it comes to summing up D Byrne & Co. If ever there was a shop that demanded a personal visit despite its awkward location this is it.It was not without good reason that I decided to visit them on my birthday. And, by the way, if you think their whisky is good, just wait until you see the wine... D Byrne & Co
Victoria Buildings, 12 King Street,
Clitheroe, Lancashire, BB7 2EP
Tel: +44 (0) 1200 423 152