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Berry Bros. & Rudd is one of the oldest wine and spirits merchants in the world and the story of how it all came to be is a long and complicated one.
It begins in 1698, when a widow by the name of Bourne established a grocers at No. 3, St James’s Street, London. When the widow Bourne passed away, the business was inherited by her daughter, Elizabeth, who ran things with husband William Pickering.
When William passed away, Elizabeth carried on alone until their two sons were of an age to take over. William Jr would later form a partnership with relation, John Clarke. In 1803, Clarke’s grandson, George Berry, travelled from Exeter to London, at the tender age of 16, to begin work at his Grandfather’s shop. By 1810, his name was displayed above the door.
George was a highly successful merchant who brought an increasing focus on wine and spirits, before his sons, George Jr and Henry, followed in his footsteps. George and Henry Berry took charge in 1845, christening the shop, Berry Brothers.
War, Prohibition, War (again)… & Rudd
More success followed, until the tumultuous early years of the 20th century brought some tough times. The shop survived the First World War, only to be confronted by the prospect of Prohibition in the United States. Berry’s owned the popular Cutty Sark brand, which had gained a following across the Atlantic. Rather than allow that to slip away, regular shipments were made to the Bahamas, where the stock could be collected by smugglers, willing and able to transport it to the speakeasies that had sprung up across America.
Back in London, meanwhile, a new member of staff was to have a dramatic impact. Hugh Rudd left the family business in Norwich and moved to London. His expertise in wine proved invaluable and when it was time to register as a limited company, the name was registered as Berry Bros. & Rudd.
Then came the Second World War. Thousands of German bombs fell upon London but, despite extensive damage to the upper floors, the original Berry’s store on St. James’s Street survived. It remains in operation to this day, in the very same spot it was first established by the widow Bourne, more than three centuries before.
First of all, I feel I should declare that I have a bit of a soft spot for Berry Bros & Rudd. Full disclosure and all that. The first whisky tasting I ever attended was a selection of Berry’s drams at the Good Spirits Co. in Glasgow. Prior to that evening, the whiskies I bought came from the local supermarket or from the distillery’s I visited occasionally. That Berry’s tasting was my introduction to independent bottlers and to single casks. It opened my eyes to a world of whisky that I had never encountered before. There was a blended malt, grain whisky and single casks from distilleries I hadn’t even heard of. Most notably of all, the quality of experience was superior to everything I’d come across in the supermarket. That evening was a turning point. My casual interest in the drink changed to a driving passion, if not an obsession. So for that, BB&R will always have a very special place in my affections.
Berry’s Sherry Cask Matured Blended Malt Scotch Whisky is bottled at 44.2% and retails for around £30 a bottle.
Smell: Raisins and currants. Orange marmalade. Slightest touch of struck match sulphur. Charred oak. Dark chocolate. Caramel. Treacle, brambles and red berries.
Taste: Jamaican ginger cake, raisins, sultanas and cinnamon. Burnt caramel and maple syrup. Oak and over-brewed tea.
Thoughts: Heavily sherry-influenced whisky often comes at a premium so whilst this blended malt fails to provide much in the way of complexity, it is one of the more affordable ways to get that ever-popular sherry hit.
I do feel like the whisky gets a little lost in the onslaught of sherry and oak and it’s possibly lacking a wee bit of depth but there’s no doubting that it’s an enjoyable sipping experience and 44.2% makes for an ideal quaffing strength. Tasty and affordable. Always a good combination.
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