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Issue 23 - Frontier spirit (Oddbins)

Whisky Magazine Issue 23
June 2002

 

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Frontier spirit (Oddbins)

A drinks retail pioneer, Oddbins stands head and shoulders above many other UK chains for the way it approaches and sells Scotch – like a fellow whisky lover. Tom Bruce-Gardyne finds out more

In a former life, living in Italy I worked for a big Sicilian wine producer. On one occasion my boss and I took a trip to London which involved a stately trawl through the West End and its myriad of Italian restaurants. This seemed to induce a worrying complacency in my boss who appeared blissfully unaware of what was really happening on the streets. It was time for some shock therapy and a visit to Oddbins – the maverick chain of drinks shops which now number 238 across the UK. Not only were the Sicilians conspicuous by their absence but Italy itself appeared like a tiny island bobbing on an ocean of Aussie Chardonnay and Shiraz. For it was here in Britain that the first wave of New World wines broke in the late 80s.

This pioneering spirit remains crucial to what Oddbins is all about, and inspires everything it does from promoting the next generation of Greek wine-makers to unearthing rare bottlings of Bowmore. Whisky buying is the responsibility of Grant Ramage, a 29-year-old Scot who took on the job three years ago. Despite coming from Paisley, which is just south of the Clyde from Auchentoshan and even nearer the big bottling hall of Chivas Regal, there was no family connection with Scotch. Neither was it love at first sight.

“I think I drank some horrible blends from my Dad's whisky cabinet when I was very young which put me off for a long, long time. It was only when I moved down here to start in the buying department that my girlfriend – who's now my wife – ...

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