The Whisky Exchange London’s Scotch whisky cathedral

The giant store near Covent Garden stocks more than 800 single malts and 200 other whiskies, plus 800 bottles of other spirits

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Whisky exchange scotch londonPORTLAND, Ore. / Troy Media/ – London has become a mecca for fine whisky retailers.

If the iconic retailer Cadenhead is a shrine to Scotch whisky, then its retail rival The Whisky Exchange (TWE) is Scotch whisky’s cathedral. The giant store, which recently relocated to larger facilities near Covent Garden, stocks more than 800 single malts and 200 other whiskies. It is one of the largest selections of any retail whisky store in the world, not to mention that it stocks another 800 bottles of other spirits.

According to events co-ordinator Andrew Milne, TWE can deliver on 48 hours’ notice an additional 3,000 varieties of whisky drawn from its online offerings. With around 4,000 varieties of whisky on offer, the majority of them Scotch, it can also claim to be the Internet’s largest purveyor of whisky in general and of Scotch in particular.

The Whisky Exchange was opened in 1999 as an Internet-based retailer of whiskies and fine spirits. Once the company was established, it opened its first store in 2005, in the Vinopolis wine and spirits complex near London Bridge.
The retail store quickly became a fixture in London’s retail whisky scene, as well as a favourite stopover for TWE’s worldwide customers. The store was recognized as independent spirits retailer of the year at the Drinks Retailing Awards in 2009, 2010 and 2011. In 2014, Whisky Magazine chose it as overall whisky retailer of the year, as part of the magazine’s Icons of Whisky Award.

The company always intended to open a second, larger store near Covent Garden, but the new store became a necessity when the owners of Vinopolis, where the previous store was located, sold the retail complex in 2015. TWE is looking for a site for a second store in the London Bridge area.

TWE’s whisky selection of 1,000 expressions, most of which are single-malt Scotches, will increase to around 1,200 expressions by the end of 2016. The store intends to start stocking the complete collection of Macallan Fine and Rare vintages and the Glenfarclas Family Cask offerings, as well as an expanded range of what Milne describes as “very rare premium whiskies” from other distilleries. Among some of the “rare” expressions offered are a selection of two-dozen 50-year-old whiskies, and a 1919 Springbank, one of only 17 bottled in 1970 and available for a cool $95,000.

The company also offers a broad selection of limited release bottlings. Most of these are single-cask offerings from specialty bottlers like Signatory and Gordon & MacPhail, but also include special bottlings exclusive to TWE. Some of the specialty bottlings are only offered in the retail store in order to differentiate its selection from the online offerings. It’s one more reason to visit the store if you are in London, although TWE’s legions of online fans need little incentive to drop by should they be in the city.

Among the company’s most requested categories are Japanese whiskies and American bourbon. The former category still has supply issues, according to Milne. Limited-edition bottlings of bourbon are also showing consistent strength. Scotch whisky is still TWE’s most significant market segment, however, and remains hugely popular among the company’s customers. American customers make up the company’s largest Internet segment and Canada is, from a percentage standpoint, one of its fastest growing markets.

TWE offers a custom filling in its store from a selection of 40-litre cask barrels. The in-store fill program features a blended rum, a blended cognac, and a choice from an ever-changing selection of blended single malts from Scotland’s various regions. The Scotch selection features a nine-year-old (YO) Covent Garden Select Reserve Blended Malt drawn from throughout Scotland’s whisky-producing regions, a nine-YO Covent Garden Peated Reserve blend and a 14-YO Covent Garden Sherry Cask Reserve blend.

The in-store cask program is extremely popular with customers as each blend is unique. It typically takes around a month to cycle through a cask, although popular offerings can sell out within a matter of days. To comply with Scotch Whisky Association rules, the casks need to be lined with an inert material.

In addition to its broad whisky selection, TWE also has a growing specialty in rums. The company was able to secure the last ever consignment of official Royal Navy rum. This batch was released in 2011 and there are still a few bottles available. It was packaged as Black Tot, to commemorate the last serving of rum aboard Royal Navy ships at precisely 6 bells in the forenoon watch (11 a.m. to you land lubbers). The occasion was dubbed Black Tot Day by diehard navy rum fans. It ended a 300-year-old Royal Navy tradition.

The Whisky Exchange is one of London’s most iconic whisky merchants. With the largest selection of whiskies on the planet – you could say in the universe – it’s a stop not to be missed on any whisky enthusiast’s London itinerary.

Joseph V. Micallef is an historian, best-selling author, keynote speaker and commentator on wine and spirits. Joe holds the Diploma in Wine and Spirits and the Professional Certificate in Spirits from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (London). Bottoms Up is included in Troy Media’s Unlimited Access subscription plan.

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