During my last trip to London I was lucky enough to receive a tour around notable wine and spirit merchants Berry Bros & Rudd.
Berry Bros. are the oldest wine and spirit merchant in the UK and have been trading from the same shop since 1698 at 3 St James Street, a short walk from St James Park and The Mall. Like most spirits merchants it started as a grocers and still trades under the sign of a coffee mill. By 1760 they were suppling to the Royal Family under King George III. The company still proudly holds two royal warrants. One for The Queen and one for The Prince of Wales.
What becomes apparent very quickly whilst looking around is the sheer amount of history surrounding the shop and the efforts made to archive and research it. Pictures charting the history hang on every wall. Sitting in a frame in a corner is a telegraph sent to Berry Bros. from the White Star Line advising them that their ship, The Titanic, had sunk with the loss of the cargo it was transporting to America on behalf of Berry’s.
As was the fashion in the mid 1760’s many of Berry’s customers were weighed in the shop. A rummage through the archives reveals records of one of their most prominent customers at the time, Lord Byron, who was a British nobleman, politician and most notably a poet, the recordings of his weight are still in the ledgers.
It is only when you go down the stairs that you realise the scale of the wine cellars. There are a full two acres of storage facilities under this tiny shopfront. The corridors twist and turn as you are led up and down ramps in a seemingly endless maze of cellars, storage racks and tasting rooms.
BBR run a very successful wine school and the tasting rooms and event spaces underneath the shop are spectacular. It is hard to imagine you are still underground in the middle of central London. This huge oak table is just crying out for a whisky tasting…
The Berry Bros & Rudd family private cellar is as you would expect. Bottles upon bottles of unique wines and spirits, many of which are one of a kind and bottled privately at source by some of the great wine houses from all across the world.
A quick look reveals a 1864 Claret and a 1949 Chateaux Lafite amidst the myriad of dusty bottles.
Everywhere you go each twist and turn reveals little nooks filled with old bottles, trinkets and curios. One of the most impressive of these is a replica of a wine cellar that was commissioned in the 1920’s for Queen Marys dolls house. Produced to an exact scale each miniature was filled with the genuine samples of the wines and spirits they represented. There is a scale miniature of a whisky barrel which contains (or more likely contained as its all probably evaporated by now) some 1910 Glenlivet.
Around the corner I am shown the oldest bottle that they currently have in the cellar, a 1790 Malaga, a sweet Spanish wine.
Berry Bros no longer use the old shop as their main store. The entrance to their current shop is just round the corner at 63 Pall Mall and is a very impressive space indeed with all manner of wines, whiskies, armagnacs, sherries, ports and cognacs.
With time pressing on and with a flight to catch it was time to head away, but not before a couple of drams from BBR’s own label. A tasty Braes of Glenlivet and a pleasant Glen Grant.
Many thanks to Will from Berry Bros for his time and for the generous offer of a tour.
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