What’s in a name?
One of the idiosyncrasies of living in London that I’ve always adored is the continuation of certain shops, brands and traditions. I know this is not a phenomenon that is exclusive to London – after all I was born in Istanbul where there are shops you can trace all the way back to even earlier times – however, seeing as I’ve now spent the majority of my life here in this city, I do feel it bears commenting upon.
I’m not just talking about the hallowed halls fancy department stores; I’m talking about places like “Algerian Coffee House” in Old Compton Street, which has quietly and assuredly been plying its trade since the 1800’s. Gerry’s, just down the road, may be the youngest of the bunch but is a mecca for anyone interested in any kind of spirits. There’s James. J. Smith with its array of umbrellas and canes, still proclaiming to sell sword canes on its outer awnings (a practice I believe is long gone), or Hatchard’s which has been selling books since 1797 to all literate Londoners. The list goes on, of course, and not just in the centre of town; the landscape of this weird and wonderful city is dotted with hidden gems.
I tell you this as an introduction because the brand (and the shop) I’m going to talk about fits into this category. Before we begin, let me say shamefully that it took a pandemic for me to discover them properly. I’ll be honest: of course I knew of Berry Bros. & Rudd, but had unfairly written them off. Being a wine and spirit merchant in the heart of St. James, I assumed they’d have the sort of price-tags mere mortals can only gawk at.
I am happy to report that I was wrong. Whilst the shop does indeed have some eye-watering bottles for those with pockets deeper than mine, there’s also an array of incredibly well-priced wines and spirits, including some beautiful exclusives. During Christmas 2020 they had bottled a beautiful Martini in conjunction with Duke’s Bar (another place of tradition and delight) which made a very reasonable Christmas gift for someone I loved, and tasted wonderful to boot!
So given half a chance to attend a preview of their Summer collection of whiskies, suffice it to say I was delighted. But, would the whiskies continue that delight, or create a rift? Well, we’d find out.
Before that, let me tell you a little about this 220 year old institution. BBR was originally founded for selling coffee in Westminster, but ventured into alcohol and spices somewhere around the beginning of the 19th Century, realising there was a bigger turnover to be had.
Of course, BBR is best known for their blends, with Cutty Sark being the most famous of these. The shop was also a destination for the rich and the famous to get themselves weighted on the scales, since these were such a fancy and new contraption. Berry Bros. & Rudd have indeed kept records of all the good and great who came in through their door and their respective weights, a little fact that made me smile.
We were led through the launch and the tasting by Doug McIvor and Ronnie Cox, the two beating hearts of the business. Let me say frankly that, even if the whiskies had turned out to be disappointing, I’d have considered the afternoon a win for having had a chance to listen to these great storytellers.
But of course, all that will only go so far if the whiskies were not up to scratch. So without further ado, let’s dive into the range.
All of the following should be available at Berry Bros. & Rudd or any reputable retailer.
Berry Bros. & Rudd Blended Malt Scotch, Sherry Cask Finish – Review
44.2% ABV, £35
Color: Beautifully dark, almost copper
On the nose: A touch of peat mingles with the sweetness of the sherry, a rich and deep walk through an autumnal sunset.
In the mouth: Rounded and fruity kiss mingles with an afterthought of ever-so-gentle smoke; it feels full and blissful. An intelligent marriage of flavors, fruitcake and ash.
This is a beautiful everyday dram at a very respectable price – perhaps it’s not incredibly complicated but sometimes all you need is something to keep you company, to help you ease into the night.
Berry Bros. & Rudd Linkwood 2009 – Review
Hogshead, 46% ABV, £60
Color: Light gold.
On the nose: Gentle aromas of dried apricot and vanilla, a little banana coming in at the end
In the mouth: Citrus hits first, like a lime lick followed by a gentle sweetness, like melon or red delicious apple – hint of oak and perhaps even the remotest note of freshly baked sponge.
Lovely, light Speyside which seems fair at the price – for those who love this type of dram, it’ll certainly do the job.
Berry Bros. & Rudd Lochindaal 2010 – Review
Cask No. 4348, Bourbon Barrel, 60.2% ABV, £200
Color: Almost silver
On the nose: Swirls of sweet peat come first followed by iodine and vanilla.
In the mouth: Lovely balance, peat and sweetness showcasing Bruichladdich’s beautiful spirit. A touch of ginger gives it a spice that only elevates the whole thing to another level. A whisky to contemplate.
Beautiful Islay whisky that’s only marred by a high price bracket that puts it out of the range of most drinkers.
Berry Bros. & Rudd Lark 2016 – Review
Casks #1244, #1684, #2177, #BB1, Bourbon Barrel, 60.2 % ABV, £250.00
Color: Deep sunrise
On the nose: Medicinal and yet inviting – citrus fruit and deep leather – something keeps calling back.
In the mouth: Powerful. An initial hot fizz dissolves into layers of fruit. There’s lychee and strawberry, even a touch of custard sweet. There is an earthiness that lingers… just a long finish.
It’s not very often we see independent bottling of Tasmanian whisky, and this is a beautiful example with a high price tag that marks it as a special occasion-only bottle.
Berry Bros. & Rudd Williamson 2014 – Review
Cask No. 06004, Guyana Rum Barrel Finish, 65.3% ABV, £80.00
Color: Clear, almost colorless
On the nose: Peat. Waves and waves of peat, washing over but far from one-note. There’s a symphony here: there ash, over there treacle, a marriage that seems both absurd and heavenly.
In the mouth: Burning tarmac, ash – the high ABV really shows off the rum and peat marrying to create something like a burning asphalt of highway. A drop of water opens up the landscape; beyond the smoke, gummy sweets linger.
A very unique whisky – perhaps slightly one tone – but will please the fans of the style.
Berry Bros. & Rudd Sutherland 2000 – Review
Casks 1432 and 1433, Hogshead, 50.4% ABV, £170
Color: Pale sherry
On the nose: Varnish and fruit, sweetness and sharp acetone; odd pairs that somehow work.
In the mouth: Honey and beeswax; maybe a touch of oak. Light, pleasant, floral, but with a flavor that keeps going.
A light, lovely whisky but perhaps a touch too expensive for what it is.
Berry Bros & Rudd Guyana Rum 2010 – Review
Cask No. 06003, Islay Barrel Finish, 60.5%, £100
Color: The palest of golds.
On the nose: Robust diesel and sugarcane.
In the mouth: Strong tobacco and Islay smoke in the background. A rip-roaring rum.
Not for everyone with its in-your-face character, but a delicious drink all the same.
Overall, the summer collection from Berry Bros. & Rudd is an embarrassment of riches, with something for everyone. Whether it’s a daily blend or a bottle for a special occasion, I just hope further seasons can expand the price range towards the affordable end more to allow more people to experience a variety of whiskies.
Samples provided courtesy of Berry Bros. & Rudd, which does not affect our notes or scores. Lead image by Evrim. Other images courtesy of BBR.