Whisky Magazine Issue 19
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Tom Bruce-Gardyne talks to self-confessed black sheep of the family, Peter Semple, who almost by accident found himself eventually running the largest chain of independent whisky shops in the UK
Try to discover Peter Semple's roots in the trade – that ancestor who worked on a bottling-line or kept an illicit still – and you will search in vain.
Disappointingly he dismisses any smuggling heritage or any story of a long-lost uncle famed for his propensity to gamble and quaff quarts of the hard stuff. “No, I come from a very tee-total, Presbyterian background in Northern Ireland,” he says but almost in the same breath he is quick to point out that he's definitely not that way inclined. “I suppose I am the token black sheep of the family!”
Almost by accident he found himself, at the age of 23, managing The Whisky Shop in Edinburgh's Waverley Market in 1993 which had just been bought by William Glen & Son. It was the firm's first venture into Scotch having retailed gifts and souvenirs to tourists in the Trossachs for the previous century. In the next two years the company chairman, Mike Cantlay, added another Whisky Shop in Glasgow's Princes Square and bought Hector Russell – the world's foremost kilt-maker with 20 shops of its own. Peter then found himself thrust to the forefront, the sharp end of the expansion. Thanks to the success in Edinburgh and Glasgow it was decided to expand north to Inverness, Drumnadrochit, Fort William and Oban. Today there are 10 Whisky Shops running alongside the kilt business: nine in Scotland and one in San Francisco.
The North American venture wasn't quite such a leap into the unknown as you might think. Peter had alread...