Speyside's finest

Speyside's finest

Michael Lord bought his first single malt because he liked the look of it –now he owns a famous whisky shop

People | 23 Apr 2010 | Issue 87 | By Dominic Roskrow

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A chance decision and an impromptu purchase was all it took for Michael Lord, owner of The Whisky Shop in Dufftown to fall in love with single malt. A regular blended whisky drinker, he set off to an off licence in Bristol to buy a premium blend and came away with a bottle of Macallan.

“I bought it primarily because i liked the box,” he says. “But that was it. I was hooked on single blends. I had experimented with a number of different blends but there always seemed to be something wrong with that drink. I like to think that I had a discerning palate and was rejecting young grain whisky in blends but that’s almost certainly not true.

“A few years later I spent Hogmanay at the Craigellachie Hotel and that’s where my obsession for single malt and Speyside really took off.

“I started coming back to the area four or five times a year. Each year I would go along to the Spirit of Speyside Festival in May and the Dufftown Autumn Whisky Festival in September and ended up doing tastings. During that time I got to know the shop pretty well.”

So when the chance to buy The Whisky Shop came along, Lord took it – after some persuasion. And that’s how it came to be that an Englishman was selling whisky in Speyside.

Not that that’s a problem.

“There will always be a few who see me as an in-comer and even worse, an Englishman selling whisky in Scotland, which is just wrong for some,” he says.

“But when the previous owner decided to sell I had a posse of festival regulars corner me in the Royal Oak in Dufftown and insist I buy the shop. It wasn’t an easy decision but for once I decided to let my heart rule my head.

“I’m pretty much accepted by the locals now, and many of them have been very supportive and helpful to me and my business. Living and working in Dufftown is great. With six working distilleries in the town you are literally living and breathing whisky all the time. the shop is all about helping people have a fabulous whisky experience. The best thing is talking to people and helping them find the next whisky which they will really enjoy.”

It’s been a long winter for everybody but particularly in the Highlands of Scotland. Lord says it did make trading tough, but he’s not complaining.

“Eighty days of snow this winter wasn’t helpful,” he says. “It looked fabulous though. “Sometimes you feel bit isolated but that’s also why it’s such a great place to come and visit and we’re in touch with our customers through the internet.
“And plus we have such a variety of whiskies and the number of distilleries which are on our doorstep which is what makes the place so wonderful.

“We’re at the centre of whisky tourist destination so we meet so many different people.”

Operating as an independent in the face of stiff competition from the supermarket chains isn’t without its challenges, says Lord, but the sheer variety which a specialist shop can offer and the knowledge of people who work in them should ensure the future. That and the dynamic nature of the industry at the moment.

“There are companies which dump cheap stock in to the market,” he says. “They need to understand that they don’t engender brand loyalty in this way and that’s done through people such as me and the other independents talking to customers about their whisky and helping them appreciate it more.

“That said, with new whiskies coming out every week, new distilleries coming on line and more stock becoming available to the independent bottler sector now, you can only be optimistic about the way things are going –and, frankly, excited.”
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