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Agony Aunt - Emily O'Hare

Published:  06 May, 2009

I was thinking of creating a whisky list to complement my wine list. How can I make the most of this new list? 

I was thinking of creating a whisky list to complement my wine list. How can I make the most of this new list? 

Im not sure many can say on return from a wine trip that they feel rejuvenated and restored. Inspired - yes, but not rested.

I am just back from a whisky trip to the Islands - Jura and Islay, and visited the distilleries at Ardbeg, Laphroaig, Bruichladdich and Jura and am desperate to communicate to my customers, responsibly of course(!) the sense of peace and pleasure that comes from a dram.

A whisky list has the potential, like a well crafted Champagne list, to increase customer spending. Just as Champagne can turn a simple lunch into a sudden celebration, so a good whisky can encourage the customer to remain in your restaurant and perhaps order more cheese or simply another whisky.

A good selection of whiskies, of spirits in general is always a good reflection on the standards of the restaurant. It always depresses me to see a wonderful, eclectic wine list offering wines from a variety of vintages and smaller producers, but then to turn to the spirits list and find I am faced with a batch of commercial brands I could buy in a corner shop. It just looks lazy and does nothing to encourage the customer to stay put and spend.

I do agree that selling lesser known brands is hard - almost always a hard sell, but if you work in a restaurant where you are lucky enough to have a strong set of regulars who trust your judgement to choose them a match for their dish, or a good digestif, you can personally promote these great spirits. Or, if you organise a tasting package perhaps you could incorporate some special whiskies into the meal. A strong, well thought out list of whiskies is a fantastic element to a restaurants drinks list. Guidance - in the form of hand selling, or short tasting notes is essential to really promote these drinks.

With regards to structuring the list, I believe AGE is the most important consideration. I know Place is a key point with regards to flavour profiles, but it is not always a reliable way to structure a list. Laphroaig and Bruichladdich make very different stlyes of whisky only a few miles apart on the island of Islay. The 10 yr olds from both distilleries however make delicious drinks with which to match light snacks or as an aperitif. The older whiskies, like us human beings, tend to get much more complex with age, and therefore make better digestifs or matches for cheese or dessert.