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UK’s 50 Best Indies 2021: 31-50

Published:  07 September, 2021

Welcome to the release of our second tranche of our 50 Best Indies list, from 31-40, also featuring all of those that have made it into the 31-50 ranking so far.

We will continue to release the results, counting up, 10 a day, until the final Top 10 are unveiled this Friday (10 September) at 11am during a live webinar with those leading merchants.

To register for Friday’s final reveal, please follow the link here.

Congratulations from the Harpers team to all below who have made it on to our UK’s 50 Best Indies 2021 so far…


A superb all-rounder. From its quality portfolio of both esoteric and more mainstream wines to varied customer services and in-depth staff training, this Northern Ireland-based indie also continues to grow its high-end agencies across the Emerald Isle. With greater emphasis on one-off parcels and gifting during 2020, online sales witnessed an overall uptick of 49%, also reflecting 3,000 new customers that flocked to this vinous oasis.


The name of this small but enticingly formed company says it all, with a range rooted in individual and often eclectic finds from Central and Eastern Europe, along with emerging Mediterranean hotspots and more besides. Founded with an aim to “excite the curious drinker”, this West Country merchant nonetheless used the crisis to focus on expanding its range around £10 to help draw in retail adventurers straying from the supermarkets. All of this was backed by a roster of virtual tasting events, mixed-case deals and a new line-up of novel spirits.


With three stores and a very loyal following, this Scottish star met the pandemic head on, flipping almost its entire range online, accelerating an ongoing shift from wholesale to ecommerce, while moving to the portfolio-protecting safe haven of UK buying. All of this simply represents the latest in a series of ongoing innovations and evolutions since Vino first opened in 2010, keeping this unstuffy but quality-focused indie ahead of the game.


Founded in 1999, this specialist has since become the number one online retailer of whisky and other spirits, with a simple guiding premise of “never resting on its laurels”. Innovation and outstanding customer service, coupled with word-of-mouth recommendation and fair pricing, have driven strong growth in recent years, with the company taking the challenges of lockdowns in its (online) stride. Listing 9,500 products, this nonetheless is a merchant that makes every single one count and its spectacular range is still growing.


One of the UK’s bigger family-run indies with six branches to its name, plus a thriving wholesale side. As such, this still very independent Shropshire-rooted merchant continued to do what it does best during the pandemic, swinging its premium focus on to private clients and online trade, while keeping its supply to the on-trade “agile”. Climbing five places, Tanners upped its social media presence, while also showing a neat blend of tradition and modernity – all befitting one of the stalwarts of the indie trade.


With two hybrid sites, a straight wine shop and now a dedicated wine bar, this Surrey favourite has firmly stuck to its founding principles of “great wines, no nonsense”. Virtual tastings and wine-focused tours, refocused logistics and a shift to featuring wines from stricken on-trade accounts to help out have all been part of the mix. This is a merchant that has managed many innovative twists and turns throughout the pandemic, while expanding and fine-tuning its superb range.


Tucked away in Hereford, the long, bottle-lined entry corridor more than hints at the breadth and diversity on offer at this multichannel indie. During the pandemic Secret Bottle Shop once again upped its game, working hard on its quality entry-level offer to lure shoppers away from the supermarkets, while fine-tuning its delivery services. It also ramped up its highly successful Zoom tasting series and continued to work closely with suppliers, including whisky producers, to deliver new release and limited-edition bottles. An all-round enticing package.


With more than 60 years’ experience under its belt, this third-generation family business has never stood still. Hennings has steadily been adding to its two-shop strength as a traditional retailer with an incredibly healthy and still growing wholesale side that has for a while now led the business. There’s a fantastic breadth to the portfolio here, with many wines brought in direct. Add in much emphasis on high levels of customer service that carried over into the recent growth of online, and this merchant remains a regional star.


With two connecting stores and wine bars, a healthy wholesale arm and a now vibrant online operation, plus 40 years’ experience of sourcing from hand-picked quality producers,

the integrity of this merchant clearly shines through. And, as the pandemic forced a shift to online, use of cheeky, energetic and ultimately highly successful engagement via social media – including supplier-backed competitions and charity tie-ins – formed the icing on this tasty vinous cake.


Thirsty is a stereotype-breaking East Anglian merchant that focuses on small, similarly independently minded producers, with organic and natural liquids to the fore, complementing a highly sustainable focus throughout all it does. Throw in comedy and music nights, tastings and bottle swaps, a double-dozen great beers on tap and strong support of local producers, and it all adds up to a dynamic mix of indie energy.


The sheer spectrum of spirits alone offered by this merchant might be enough to make our 50 Best. But add in the expansion into a great wine offer and great roster of craft beers in the two new shops, plus a “fiercely independent” and passion-driven approach to sourcing, selling and educating, along with canny adaptation during the pandemic, and it’s no wonder this company has become a Glasgow institution.


This firmly family-owned business in North Wales excels for its range, its customer service and “putting our heart and soul into what we do”. The pandemic emphasised this ethos, with “no dumbing down”, but rather a redoubling of local community focus and customer service, including working with suppliers of other victuals on deliveries. Additionally, Gwyn Llyn worked ever more closely with its own suppliers to ensure that the quality of the offer remained to the fore.


Innovation has always underpinned all that this Scottish merchant does, with online tastings already part of the mix pre-pandemic. However, when lockdowns hit, the team ramped it up, instantly switching to a delivery-only model, honing its buying and offering pre-ordered sales, assisting other businesses with their ecommerce sites and creating initiatives such as ‘Winemakers live’ – a smart online tasting experience, in partnership with Daniel Lambert Wines.


From its original mini-Aladdin’s cave in East London to its four neighbourhood sites today, this fabulous merchant continues to push its ethos of appealing to the novice drinker as much as the seasoned wine buff. To do so, its dynamic and quality-driven team actively seek out highly characterful finds that offer true value and interest, with staff passion, rotating tasting samples and much immersion in the community all adding to the appeal.


Climbing five places is this Leicestershire favourite, offering “wines, beers and spirits with personality” to both retail and wholesale customers. Personality is the keyword here, with its eponymous owner and team packing in so much in terms of events and charitable activities, alongside a bijou wine bar, pop-up initiatives and a growing online presence. And this all feeds in to the passionate but unstuffy approach.


Describing itself as “a small, friendly neighbourhood wine shop in an unfashionable part of west London”, this indie nonetheless makes waves with its off-the-beaten-track selection, rooted in passionate sourcing and buying. Very much embedded in the local community, with a good sustainable ethos to boot, this is a merchant that has also reached out very successfully via social media and online to punch above its size.


Housed in a beautifully restored barn on a farm on the Surrey–Sussex border, this merchant offers the whole indie deal. With a strong ethos of sourcing direct from “classic regions” underpinning the mix of retail and fast ramped-up online sales, plus a highly active wine school and great sustainable ethos, this indie also did much throughout the pandemic to support suppliers and trade customers alike.


Describing themselves as “good people, selling good things to good people, made by good people” with no desire to make “shedloads of cash”, this idiosyncratic Glasgow outfit continues to cut to the heart of what makes a great independent. This translates as tasting, talking, truly listening to the customer, not taking themselves too seriously – except with the quality of the often off-piste wines, beers and spirits they find – while always injecting an element of fun.


As a specialist wine and bottle shop, comprising Enoteca, delicatessen, wine tasting and events space, all housing over 500 artisan wines, specialist beers and premium spirits, plus a counter full of extraordinary cheeses, charcuteries, condiments and chocolates, this Geordie oasis covers all the major necessities for life. During lockdown periods, the slow food/slow wine ethos behind this company was successfully grown through a massively expanded delivery service, a huge drive to boost wine club members, a fully revamped website and many other dynamic initiatives besides.


Ake & Humphris is an enticing family-owned business in Harrogate that majors in artisanal and less-well trodden finds. The dynamic team here, each bringing individual specialist areas of interest, such as South America, Riesling, whisky and craft beer, adapted fast during the pandemic, upping the ante on already strong elements of range, service, themed online tastings and – satisfyingly – sales.