Sunday, September 12, 2010

Why I don't drink whiskies in bars

Well I do, but there's actually a lot of reasons not to

1. Glass
Many bars do serve your whisky in proper glasses, but a lot don't. A copita type glass is needed. I wrote a bit of, what I consider good glasses, here :

A lot of bars still serves whiskies in tumblers. Even SMWS in Leith serves drams in bulk mini-whitewine glasses at the bar (but not in their tastings). No bars would serve a red wine in a milk glass, which in my opinion is not as bad as serving a whisky in a tumbler.

Glencairn glasses should be the obvious choice for the bars due their sturdiness

2. Temperature
Whisky should be kept cool. Not refridgerated, but the maximum temperature should be low room temperature. Heat will alter the whisky by removing flavour. The common source of heat in a bar is light

3. Light
Most bars store their whiskies in a spotlight. Heat and light is a no-no when it comes whisky. It removes flavour and can make the whisky appear flat

4. Almost empty bottles
When a whisky bottle becomes almost empty, the whisky inside it will be and will have been affected by a lot of oxidation. This will make the whisky go flat

Now here is a few things to look out for

Turnaround. If the pub has a great turnaround the above effects will be lessened substantionally. Most of these damage-effects are long time effects and nothing really happens overnight.

ABV. Cask strength whiskies takes a lot less damage than 40-43% watered down whiskies do

I have often been into a pub or bar that had a rare old whisky on the shelf. Old in the sense that it has been a few years or even decades since the whisky has been bottled.

I remember being in the Quich Bar at Craigellachie Hotel, who used to have the largest selection in the world. They also had the largest selection of bad dregs of around 5cl og 40% whisky in the world, very expensive and old whisky that probably had been on the shelf for years. I only made a mistake of trying one of these once, then I went for almost full cask strength bottles for the rest of my time there :-)

Another thing I think can be a problem is the price. The advantage of dramming in a bar is that it's possible to try a few things without purchasing a whole bottle. Most bars have a price somewhat proportional to the bottle price. This means that when it comes to the more expensive bottles, you actually start to pay a lot for the bar to open the bottle and pour the dram for you. 
I think expensive whiskies should be cheaper in bars in general. A bar might have a certain price policy, but selling nothing won't earn them anything. So often I have seen bottles in bars that stay unopened for years, or maybe just 1-2 drams taken.

Lower the price, get some turnaround. It doesnt cost you more to open and serve a 25£ bottle than a 200£ bottle. You might end up selling the 25£ bottle for 100£, so no need to sell the 200£ for 800£, I'd reckon 400£ would be enough and actual selling some drams would earn you money. Selling nothing won't.

The last thing I can mention that sometimes is a problem is selection. Most bars won't stack 50 or 100 different kind of bottles. 10 can do usually. But get some variety on your bottles. 3 Glenfiddichs, 2 Glenlivets and a couple of Glenmorangies and a Balvenie isn't what I describe as selection.

Make sure there is at least 1 from each of the below catagories :

1. Eye catcher.
A lot of people won't order things they haven't heard of before. Make sure you have a too well-known brand on the shelves. Glenlivet or Glenfiddich usually does this

2. Peated whisky
Get some Islay peated whisky up for sale. Caol Ila, Laphroaig or Ardbeg would be the classic choices. It's popular whisky as well

3. Sherry-casked whisky
Glendronach, Glenfarclas or Macallan (not the Fine Oak) could do this

4. Something not well known for the adventurous.
Tomatin, Balblair, AnCnoc, Benriach,  Bladnoch - there's loads of great malts out there to choose from

5. Get some age variety
Don't just stock 12 years old, get some 15 and 18year olds as well

6. Cask Strength Whiskies
The more the better :-). Well I do recognise that this stuff might be too strong for the average customer

7. Single cask bottling.
Independant bottle companies hardly does anything else. It shoudl be replaced by a different bottling when emptied

8. Other countries
Don't forget other great whiskycountries - Amrut, irish, japanese or american whisk(e)y also offers great quality products

9. Exclusive.
You want a rare and "expensive" on your shelf as well. Something really old. Remember :  don't price it too heavily :-). A Port Ellen, Brora,  old Ardbeg or Glenfarclas will do :-)

With a stock of 10-15 bottles the above catagories can easily be covered.

And remember. Put the dregs up for cheap offers!


  1. Hi

    I can agree most of the things in your post.
    But the truth about the situation of the whisky in the bars has a deeper problem,I believe.
    I work as a barman in Scotland,I'm hungarian,so I can judge the things inside and outside too..

    The Maltbank Herald

  2. Hi Norbert

    What problem are you thinking about ?


  3. Lovely post.

    I agree with you on most of the issues.
    The situation is no different in israel. Glasses are never a Glencairn, and if i ask for snifter (which is not perfect but better) they look at me weirdly...

    worst thing here is pricing. 10 GBP for a lagavulin?

  4. Steffen....Norbert may be talking of 'bar vattings'. Stacey will confirm this happens too. My ex boss has a nice selection of drams but a few times when he is left alone on a quiet Sunday afternoon it is very obvious that he has topped up some bottles with ones that are near empty. I once had a Cragganmore that near blew my head off due to its phenol content. I can see that this is something that could happen in other bars too...fortunately we have the Whey Pat in town that sells drams at a good price and has a good turnaround...and a good real ale selection too

  5. Very interesting Livvy. I never thought of bar vattings as being the "perfect" way to get some shelf space :-)

    Saves you putting the dregs on offer!