Whisky is like many of today's 'luxury' items and people are forever looking for the
cheapest way to own a particular bottle, but is this right, should be looking for the cheapest
version of our favourite whiskies, or should we be taking into account more things about our
I could easily come on here and say why pay x for a bottle of Glen Awesome 12 Year Old at my local whisky specialist when I only have to pay y on-line, or at my local supermarket, for it, but I won't, it's not something I agree with.
Like many people at the moment money is not as easy flowing as it used to be but I still believe in certain things, one of those things I believe in is that a quality service is worth paying for.
Lets ignore Whisky all together for a moment and look at good old mince, now mince comes in many forms but when I have mince I like to have good quality mince. I can go to the supermarket and buy mince there for a reasonable price and I get pre-packed, or sometimes a halfway house butcher counter, mince. That's not what I do though, I go to my local butchers, the wee guy on the street who's shop has been in the family for 50 years, who source their beef from local farms, who employee local staff and who know me by name and offer a level of customer service I just can't get anywhere else.
The guys, and gals, in my local butcher shop are specialists, they know what is good and what isn't, and they live on the reputation of the quality of their product and service. They also have the knowledge and expertise to help guide a customer to the correct choice of product for the recipe they have in mind.
For this I pay a premium, not overly bad but usually a pound or two more than at the supermarket, but what I've gotten was a great service, knowledgeable staff and a first rate product that suits my needs.
I think that's worth paying that little bit extra to get a specialist service, a knowedgable member of staff in front of me who can talk to me about the product and who I can ask stupid questions of to my heart's content.
So back to whisky and a look back at that price, buying online is cheaper (much of the time) but what do I get from whisky specialist shop that I don't get online or in the big supermarket? Well for a start there's all those things I've just mentioned, specialist knowledge, the ability to ask questions and get answers there and then there's the customer service, that's worth paying for on it's own.
So lets take an fictional example, a bottle of Glen Awesome 12 Year Old.
From my favourite on-line retailer it sells for £30, I pay £5 on top of that for delivery so it costs me £35, I wait a day, or two, and it arrives at my house. I did this all online and spoke to no-one.
From my local supermarket it usually sells for £40 but is on offer for £25 'bargain' I exclaim as I pop to my local supermarket to pick up a bottle. I leave with a till receipt for £65 though and wonder why the hell I've got bags of milk, butter, bread, that chocolate that was on offer too and some juice. It's almost impossible to walk into a supermarket for one thing and only come out with that. I spoke to the girl at the till who asked me do you need help to pack and any stamps or top-ups.
From my local whisky specialist, the RRP is £40 and that's the price I pay in store for it and I walk out with the bottle in my bag. I spoke to the guy in the shop, we chatted for 10 minutes about what I like in whisky, what new releases there are, what special offers are on. He offered me a wee sample of the whisky I was about to buy, or another that he thinks I may like. He points out that they have a whisky tasting that evening, it costs £10 but that I get to sample 5 whiskies and get a money off voucher for my next purchase.
Now can you see why the third option works so well for me? Yes it costs a little more, yes I might end up tasting something I don't like, but then in all but the worst of cases I won't have arrived home with a bottle of something I actually don't like. I end up socialising with a group of like minded whisky buffs, I get talking and end up swapping samples with a couple of them.
Now I'm not against on-line retailers and supermarkets so please don't get me wrong, I think they have their place but it does really get my goat when people complain about the price of something in a specialist shop compared to on-line.
Lets not get into the fact that the shop has a lot of overheads that the on-line retailer doesn't such as retail rents versus warehouse rents, specialist staff versus people who put things in boxes, samples and tasting bottles etc.
I use a mix, if I happen to be in the supermarket and there's a bottle I like at a good price I'll buy it. If there's something I want and don't have time to go to Edinburgh or Glasgow to my nearest proper whisky specialist then I order on-line. But then I only tend to do that for bottles I've tried, things I'm sure about, when I want to ask a question, when I want to see if I can try a sample of something before buying it... that's when I head to my whisky specialist shop.
Please do not abandon the on-line retailers or the supermarkets but please do remember that the shop that you can pop into, talk to someone in person who's enthusiastic and knowledgeable about their product needs you to buy from them too.
We've lost almost all of the butchers, greengrocers, fishmongers etc from our streets, let's not lose another specialist to the on-line world, or the supermarkets please. Keep supporting your local whisky specialist shop, they may be a few pounds more, but it is worth the difference for the service you receive.
I do understand that not everyone will agree with me on this, so if you would like to send comments either agreeing, or disagreeing with my points you can reach me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and if i get a few comments i will do a follow up article.