People

Peak practice

Adrian and Alison Murray are combining business and pleasure by selling whisky to tourists in England's Peak District. Dominic Roskrow reports
By Dominic Roskrow
It’s not actually what you might expect to stumble across after a hard day’s hiking in one of Britain’s most popular tourist resorts – a shop specialising in the finest malt whisky.But everything about The Wee Dram in Bakewell, Derbyshire, defies expectations.It’s the brainchild of Adrian and Alison Murray, who opened the shop some six years ago and haven’t looked back since.The Wee Dram is the result of partly passion and partly instinct. There is a rationale to its location, but it’s not a conventional one.“When I was young I remember going in to a shop in the Waverley Centre and seeing a row of Connoisseur’s Choice bottles all from different distilleries and all of different ages and I thought how impressive it was,” says Adrian.“I thought we needed something like that in England. We were living in Walsall at the time and we decided on Bakewell for a few reasons. Firstly, people tend to browse in shops in a place like Bakewell rather than rush past as they might in Birmingham.“Second, people tend to be in a better frame of mind and have the time to sample and enjoy the whisky.“And thirdly, most people visiting the Peak District, which is the most visited national park in the world, will come to Bakewell. The other thing that made our minds up was the fact that statistics show that people come back to the area time and time again. The average number of visits
per person is four. More people might go to Mount Fuji but they tend to go only once.And because people are making repeat visits we have built up a relationship with people.”But it’s not just a case of offering some passing tourists a few sips of whisky. The Murrays have gone much further, making the atmosphere in the shop friendly and accommodating and involving both enthusiasts and novices in the world of whisky by bringing some of the great whisky makers down to the shop for tutored tastings and taking groups of enthusiasts up to Scotland and to areas such as Speyside and Islay.This Autumn, for instance, there is a Japanese evening of food, culture and whisky (September 17th), a Gordan and MacPhail rare and old tasting featuring whisky from the ‘40s, ‘50s and ’60s (October 22nd), an Islay whisky tasting (November 26th) and a three course Christmas dinner with whisky tasting (December 11th).Such events build up a loyal customer base for the shop, and Adrian says that over the years The Wee Dram has attracted an eclectic mix of customers representing all ages, groups and social classes.The only really noticeable trend he’s noticed in recent years is the increased number of female customers buying whisky for themselves.“And they take a different approach to men,” he says. “Men might like perhaps a 15 year old Bruichladdich but only treat themselves to it from time to time because they feel they can’t justify it the whole time. "Women will decide they like a Bruichladdich 15 year old and that’s what they’ll drink. No matter that it costs a bit more, that’s what they like and that’s what they’ll buy.”With whisky currently in vogue The Wee Dram is benefiting from an influx of new customers curious to find out more about single malt. And the hard work of the Murrays and their staff is paying off. The shop’s work on behalf of Scotch whisky hasn’t gone unnoticed either, and this Autumn Adrian will be inducted as a Keeper of the Quaich.“It is one thing doing something you enjoy and running a business at the same time,” he says. “But it is very special indeed to be recognised by the industry itself. I’m very proud of that.”It’s just one more sign that The Wee Dram is establishing malt whisky in the heart of England. And just reward for an excellent if unconventional business.