Places

Pilgrim's progress

The Pilgrim Fathers who left the area for North America via Holland may or may have approved, but the East Midlands is now home to a thriving whisky shop. Richard Jones reports
By Richard Jones
Adversity is the first path to truth,” wrote Lord Byron “and especially if that path leads to your own whisky shop,” he might well have added.It’s fair to say that Christmas 2004 in the Henfield household wasn’t the jolliest on record. After spending most of his working life in Further and Higher education, Ron Henfield was made redundant from his position of college manager in the run-up to the festive season.“It was just awful,” he admits. “But then you step back, you think and regroup with family. I’ve been a whisky lover, collector and anorak for far too many years and it had always been my dream to run a whisky shop. By the first week in January the plot was hatched for Mainly Malts.” Mainly Malts is situated in the small market town of Bawtry, just south of Doncaster in South Yorkshire.The area is famous for its connections with the Pilgrim Fathers such as William Brewster who went first to Holland to escape religious persecution and then to found the Plymouth colony in North America after sailing there on board the ship Mayflower.“We get a lot of tourists from the nearby town of Scrooby,” Ron Henfield explains.“We’re also only a few miles from the new Robin Hood Airport and people will often stay in the town before their flights.” Mainly Malts opened its doors for the first time in June 2005 and the shop is bursting with original ideas, notably their in-store seating arrangements.“The concept is based around mine and my wife Lynn’s historical shopping habits,” Ron observes. “I love to take my time when I’m buying whisky and hop from bottle to bottle.Lynn used to get fed up with this, particularly because there was nowhere to sit. Out of that came the inspiration for the sofa in the middle of the shop.” Around the sofa the whiskies are presented in regional categories on wooden shelves, although Ron has tweaked the layout to avoid intimidating customers.“As people come in they are surrounded by whisky but we want them to be greeted by familiar faces. The likes of Glenfiddich and the Diageo Classic Malt range are situated by the door so they immediately see something they know and feel comfortable with.” There are no steps in the store and the flooring is level with the street, ensuring excellent access for disabled shoppers.The shop began with a core range of around 200 different expressions based on Ron’s own collection and personal favourites. Today, the stock has expanded to in excess of 350 bottles as he gets to know his customers and local market better.Mainly Malts now boasts a ‘Collectors’ Corner,’ a glass cabinet containing rarer and more esoteric selections such as Balblair 38 year old, Ardbeg Lord of the Isles and Port Ellen Fourth Release. The latter bottling reflects Ron’s love of silent distilleries.“There’s something romantic about a drink that won’t be made again,” he notes.Back on the more affordable level, Ron is a huge fan of Edradour.“We just love Pitlochry and pilgrimage up there once a year with some close friends.We’ve been there so often now that we don’t bother with the tour, but, even though I now own this shop, I’ll still come away with a bottle of whisky.” Ron has recently come back from a Gordon and MacPhail honorary stillman course and, unsurprisingly, his sales of Benromach have increased significantly since his return.Mainly Malts has achieved an enormous amount in a short space of time, but Ron still has ambitious plans for the future. He hopes to have his full e-commerce website (www.mainlymalts.com) working by the time you read this article and plans to expand his whisky tastings for groups large and small, publicised via a six-weekly postal newsletter.He is also in talks with hotels and transport companies to run whisky tours for groups of customers to Scotland.So from the lows of Christmas 2004 it seems that events have turned out pretty well for Ron Henfield.“Both my wife and I worked in education and like many people we both had alternative plans to get out of the sector.“Lynn’s get out clause was a campsite in France and mine was a whisky shop. Because I was made redundant first, I won.” Mainly Malts, 3-4 Courtyard Bawtry, Doncaster DN10 6JG Tel: +44 (0)1302 714 700 www.mainlymalts.com