Mark Davidson has managed Cadenhead's for eight years and
is passionate about sharing his knowledge with his cosmopolitan customers. Here's why.
What sparked your interest in Scotch whisky?
I used to be a barman at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, which has its own premises in Edinburgh. It was a members-only club and was independent then, but is now owned by Glemorangie.
How long has Cadenhead's Edinburgh shop been open?
has been open for 25 years
and the current franchisees have had this business for 19 years. Cadenhead
dates back to 1842, although its original premises were in Aberdeen. It's Scotland's oldest independent bottler.
What's your point of difference?
We specialise in selling whisky from individually-selected casks and we do not filter
it, add colouring or reduce the strength to the legal minimum. We're linked with the Springbank distillery in Campbeltown as the Mitchell family owns us both, and we also sell our own-label gin and rum, which goes back to Aberdeen being a port.
What are the main challenges of your business model?
Some distillers treat us as a kind of pest as, in their opinion, we're taking their brand which they have taken a lot of time, money and effort over to have us come along and sell it. That's often a smokescreen because we're bottling at a limited quantity and can afford to bottle nothing but the best.
Who are your customers?
Most are tourists .
About 70 per cent of customers
we probably won't see again, but it's interesting to hear how many people are referred by other customers. Because of how quiet we are, we can take time to talk to customers and, whereas Royal Mile Whiskies up the road is really like a supermarket , we can nurture them. I'll often ask a customer to wait while I serve another.
We get a lot of established whisky drinkers. A lot of Swedes are very knowledgeable, while the Japanese and Germans tend to be
well-established whisky drinkers and can be very particular. Americans seem to be here a lot more in the
past couple of years - there's a strong heartbeat in America for whisky . We also have young, not particularly affluent, drinkers interested in the flavour complexity that Scotch whisky can offer.
How do you attract new customers?
I run regular ticketed tastings at a nearby pub.
The idea is to educate because people are curious about how things taste. We have a laugh. I don't make a lot of money but do it to supplement my income. I'll serve something like oatcakes, which are very good to cleanse the palate. I'm also planning a tasting matching whisky with dark and milk organic and
Fairtrade chocolate. Shortbread is really inexpensive but is very appreciated. I'm also planning a tie-up with cheese.
How do you explain whisky to complete novices?
I've got a lot of props lying about and it's quite easy to use sign language as well . We've got a strong policy of try before you buy and think buying whisky should be like buying a second-hand car. I'll start them off on something like a Lowland
because if they don't like that, then they are in trouble. A lot of people are buying whisky as a gift, so if they ask questions, they are in trouble because I'll answer them . Some people
don't know what they like. I'm almost envious
because they have
all these whiskies, idiosyncratic and rare, to look forward to. You can go from knowing nothing to getting by in five minutes. I'm always humbled by people's deep understanding of whisky, though.
What trends are you seeing in whisky?
There's been a wave of interest in malt whisky. People are drinking less but better. There's also been a mushrooming of companies mimicking this bottling style .
How were sales over the past
Sales are down significantly because when you're as small as this you're susceptible to
small things. It's
of niggly things, starting with this ban on alcohol bottles in aircraft.
But it's a good time for the industry . Diageo is building a new distillery, Glenfiddich is opening one in Fife. There's one opening in Shetland and one in Islay. It seems very optimistic.
Which other retailers do you admire?
Richard Joynson of Loch Fyne Whiskies in Inveraray [Argyll].
He's got a good sense of humour. Some Americans were in his shop and he convinced them he'd never heard of America before .
Take five: four whiskies and a rum
Banff 27 Year Old (54.4 per cent) £88.50
Caol Ila 22 Year Old
(55.5 per cent)
North Port 25 Year Old
(56 per cent) £70.90
Port Dundas 10 Year Old
(59.6 per cent) £34.80
Cadenhead's Cask Strength Demerara rum
29 Year Old £73