Parker's Progress

Parker's Progress

Richard Parker is turning a passion for whisky in to a healthy business. Dominic Roskrow reports

Places | 10 Nov 2006 | Issue 60 | By Dominic Roskrow

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The High Street in Banff doesn’t look like a mecca for whisky. In fact at 7pm on a warm summer’s evening on a weekday it doesn’t look much of anything.The shops are all shut and the pavements deserted.Which is a problem because we are due to start a whisky tasting, the shop is empty, and I can’t help thinking that it’s a long way to come to speak to no-one.“Don’t worry, they’ll come,” says Richard.“It’s always like this. Five minutes before we’re due to start it looks like no-one’s coming and then they suddenly appear from nowhere.” He’s right. Moments later the first guests start arriving and they continue to stream in until the shop is full, standing room only.So after selling coal to Newcastle, what does an Englishman bring to a tasting for a large group of Speyside farmers? I opt for Arran 10 year old, Scapa and Bunnahabhain 18 year old to show that Speyside isn’t the only region to do creamy and fruity, and Benriach Curiositas to show that Islay isn’t the only place doing peat. Last up is the recently-released organic Benromach.It’s a strange tasting. The audience say little and give little indication as to what they think. Until the end, that is, when each of them comes over for a brief chat, pick up one or two bottles from the group we have tasted, pay and leave. In all they spend more than £1500.For Richard regular tastings have become an integral part of his business, and it’s paying off. He doesn’t charge for his evenings but says that most people don’t take advantage of his generosity.“They appreciate the fact that I am giving them the chance to try whisky before they buy and if they do find something they like they tend to buy it,” he says.He’s building up custom for unexpected malts in his region, too. My visit was a few months back, for instance, and when I caught up with Richard again recently he says that the whisky part of his business has moved forward further.“Arran 10 year old has become very popular,” he says. “We had Euan up from the distillery and had a tasting with six expressions. There has been a lot of interest in the special finishes they do.” Richard is an out and out salesman, and he isn’t slow to spot any opportunity to drive his business.“About half our customers are collectors, and the rest just enjoy whisky,” he says. “But I have noticed a trend towards more unusual whiskies, cask strength and rare and collectible bottles. Some of them sell before we even get them on to the shelf.” The shop, which is still predominantly a gift shop, has limited space for the whisky offering but Richard offers an impressive range. With the aid of a barrel and a few posters he has given the area a distillery shop feel. He’s even done a shop bottling and is searching for something to specially represent the Banff region.There was a distillery at Banff, for instance, but what little stock there is left is in short supply and hard to find.The business is clearly going from strength to strength but while Richard is acting local he’s clearly thinking global and increasingly turning his attention to his internet business.He advertises through Whisky Magazine and specialises in searching out hard to find bottles.“I have built up a good group of contacts to help find unusual bottles,” he says. “We have already found some whisky for someone in America and that’s the direction I want to go in.“The shop is becoming well known beyond Banff. And I am determined to make it known across the world?” Ambitious plans indeed. So is Banff going to become a whisky mecca despite appearances?You better believe it.
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