Places

Norman's Wisdom

It may be ‘compact, cosy and bijou' , but The Lincoln Whisky Shop is now packed to bursting with unusual and exciting whiskies. Richard Jones reports
By Richard Jones
You should see it during the Lincoln Christmas market period, there’ll be 40 people inside the shop jostling for space. We have to put someone on the door, not for security, but for crowd control,” begins Norman Horton, owner of The Lincoln Whisky Shop.Speaking in January during the post festive malaise that strikes all wine and spirit retailers, it seems an unlikely picture. Not that you can’t imagine the shop packed with customers, after all it contains one of the finest ranges of whiskies, liqueurs, wines, spirits and miniatures for many miles around, but simply on the grounds of logistics. Sardines and tinned cans spring to mind.Anyone who has ever visited the city of Lincoln in Eastern England will know that the topography of the town centre is dominated by a particularly arduous hill. So much so that a walk and ride bus service operates to carry weary shoppers to the summit.The Lincoln Whisky Shop is situated in the higher altitudes in the historic quarter close to both the Cathedral and the Castle.“It has the feel of a village up here,” Norman Horton observes, “With lots of small businesses all supporting each other. It’s similar in many ways to the Shambles in York.” “It’s fair to say we’re not the biggest shop in the world. But every single bit of shelf space is crammed with bottles. The building itself is around 250 years old which means it has a great look and feel to it, but it’s impossible to expand.“Our selling space is a single room about the size of a double garage and within it we have more than 400 different whiskies and another 500 spirits and liqueurs. Plus there’s an extensive range of miniatures and around 100 wines.” Norman runs the Lincoln Whisky Shop in conjunction with his wife Annie. Before he joined the whisky trade, Norman spend some twenty years as a navigator in the RAF flying in Tornadoes, Phantoms and Vulcans. He left this seemingly glamourous ‘Top- Gun’ lifestyle for the rather more mundane pursuit of Post Office owner in Lincoln where he remained until one fateful Friday night.“I was good friends with the previous owner of the whisky shop. One evening we were enjoying a pint together in the pub and he mentioned in passing he was thinking about selling the business.“My ears immediately pricked up and when I got home I discussed buying the shop with my wife. She eventually said, ‘Fine, as long as you don’t drink the profits’. So we set the wheels in motion on the Monday.” Norman had always been a whisky fan but, perhaps understandably given the nature of his work, had not been a regular drinker during his time in the RAF. Today his favourite dram is Glengoyne, both the 10 year old and the 17 year old.“It’s such a good dram you don’t really need to go higher up the range to get a decent drink. Plus my wife won’t let me drink anything more expensive.” He also regularly recommends Glengoyne to his customers, particularly those who are looking for a gift.“At least two-thirds of our whiskies are bought by ladies, mainly as presents,” Norman explains. “We go out of our way to make it easy for non whisky drinkers to buy from us.“We always deal with people in the right way, without patronising them, and we really care that the present they pick is a success. Because of its soft, rounded style Glengoyne often fits the bill.” Other bestsellers from Scotland include Edradour, The Balvenie, Bruichladdich and Caol Ila.” Outside Scotland, Norman is pleased to report a significant growth in his sales of Irish and American whiskeys.“From Ireland, Jameson Crested Ten and Redbreast are favourites and we’ve gone from just four Bourbons to nearly twenty during my five years in the shop,” he notes.“Woodford Reserve is particularly popular, as well as producers such as Knob Creek and Noah’s Mill. A few customers requested Buffalo Trace so we got that in for them as well.” The only problem with expanding the range is finding the room to put it.“We’re currently in the middle of a refurbishment in the shop which should free up a bit of space, but it’s still difficult to get new products on the shelves.” Of course one domain where space is less of a premium is the internet and Norman acknowledges he’s been slow to enter the dot.com (or co.uk) world.“We’re hoping to have our websitewww.lincolnwhiskyshop.co.uk up and running by Easter, at least that’s what my wife assures me. We currently make quite a lot of mail order sales so we’re hoping the internet can help us to grow the business further.” While I wish Norman Horton every success with his website, I can’t help hoping that the venture isn’t too successful. More internet sales will mean less customers to his shop, with its wonderful, historic, tardis-like qualities. It’s more than worth a personal visit, just remember not to go during the Lincoln Christmas market rush.The Lincoln Whisky Shop
87 Bailgate,
Lincoln, LN1 3AR
01522 537834
www.lincolnwhiskyshop.co.uk
Opening hours: Monday to Saturday 10am-5pm