Meet The Maverick - Shof Choudhury from Beverage Boutique
Jul 31, 2023
Charlie Pountney (CP): Hi, thanks for the next episode of The Edge On Whisky. It's Charlie from Charles Edge here, and I'm with Shof from Beverage Boutique, a lovely Boutique Bottle Shop. So, thank you very much for joining us Shof.....
Shof Chaudhury (SC): Yeah, cheers to the dram as well!
CP: So, let's hear a little bit about your background.
SC: I won't bore you to death, but yeah, the experience was I used to be a chef. I moved away from cooking and learned how to make cocktails. Cocktails are my kind of thing, and that allowed me to understand spirits much better. In particular, I found my favourites, so I became a lover of whiskey, enjoying the whiskeys that I've been trying. As you can see behind me, there are lots of different whiskeys that we have [at Beverage Boutique]. We understand the differences and flavours because of my experience as a chef. I can really combine the two together.
CP: So, how did your journey lead you to start the shop?
SC: Redundancy opened up an opportunity to create something different. We are deep in the middle of Northwest London, out of the way of the hustle and bustle, where you find some of the great spirit shops that offer fantastic experiences with wines and everything else. I wanted to try and create that kind of concept outside of that area. We wanted to showcase not just to this area but to a wider area that you can find much more specialty spirits and fine wines outside of Central London.
There's nothing more overwhelming than walking into a supermarket and seeing hundreds of different alcohol brands. You get narrowed down to one thing, and that is price. But you have no understanding of the spirits or wines there.
Here, we are all trained, which helps us assist customers. We break down the collection behind us and help customers understand what they're worth, what's worth more, and what they might enjoy.
CP: Quite a Maverick idea, I would say, opening the company. It's very premium, feels like a mixture between a bar and a cocktail lounge. It's dark, moody, but very luxurious. It's quite a novel idea to bring that premium experience out to the suburbs. How have the locals found it? Have they taken to it?
SC: Everyone that walks in here says, 'Have we just left, Riuslip and landed in Soho?' I think that's part of the inspiration. Collectively, we're all Soho bartenders, and that finesse and quality give customers a full-on experience as they expect. We showcase that you don't have to be in the centre of the city to have that concept.
CP: That's the message I can really see coming through when you talk about it. Your smile shows your passion, and it's great to see you really living that passion through the shop.
It must have been quite a journey to get here. Was it?
SC: Yeah, it wasn't easy, we faced some very interesting challenges. But now we can say we are not just a Bottle Shop; we are also a spirits and cocktail Wine Bar. Everything you see on the shelves, you can try and buy. We adapted our concept to make it better over the two years we've been here. We keep elevating that experience, and that has given us a chance to shine.
CP: Was it ever tempting to waver from that cool, top-quality experience, especially when things weren't working or if some customers were put off by it?
SC: There will always be haters. It's a given, but generally, 99% are wowed by what we have. We are not necessarily priced the cheapest, but we showcase that level of expertise. We know the huge supermarket brands, but we help customers understand what's worth trying, whats value for money and especially what they might be looking for or not discovered yet.
Anyone that's in business knows that you have to adapt to the trends and if one concept doesn't work don't don't change it adapt it make it better and that's what we've done especially in the two years that we've been here. We started off with a retail concept only but we've just kept elevating elevating that experience and that's what's been giving us a chance to do now offer both drink in and drink out.
CP: It must be a really great feeling to kind of go on that journey with your customers so they come in and you introduce them to something they've not had before. Then the next week or the following months you take them on a journey of discovery....
SC: 100% yeah yeah it's that experience from from the moment they walk into the moment they walk out and let's not just that it's the continuity that means they will keep coming back again and again. That's the loyalty that we get from the experience we offer.
Our USP is taking people on their educational journey and there is nothing better helping people who walk into the store and opening up a whole new world of knowledge and understanding for them. We get to fulfil that experience for them.
CP: Cool so let's talk a little bit about whisky and how are you looking to build your collection, where do you start what? What kind of taste preferences or styles are you looking to offer?
SC: That's a great question. So the way I like to position ourselves is what I sell here it's all based on flavour. Like as I said earlier you know it's all about me being a chef and the whole flavour aspect.
A wise man wants told me; you can break whisky down four key areas which are the four key regions in Scotland. They each have their flavour characteristics; sweet, spicy, fruity, smoky etc. So you have, lets say sweet from Speyside, Spice from the Highlands, delicate from the Lowlands and smoky from Islay of course. Knowing that these four regions produce slightly similar characteristics then I can then I can choose the best whiskeys which sit into these flavour categories from each region.
CP: So you're trying to build a collection around around the flavour experiences similar to what you are trying to achieve in the shop as a whole.
SC: Exactly, then you can look at regionality to help educate people and then pinpoint what kind of whiskeys that will suit them. You have a profile in mind and direct people towards distilleries or flavours that are similar to others in that area.
CP: So what about in the independent bottlers, have you had much success in the shop indy bottlers?
SC: I actually love independent bottlers. You have some some great distilleries out there but when you whack on their normal label the price can sky rocket. With an independent it can makes the product a lot more accessible without the brand name on it, you can get the exact same liquids for a fraction of the price. I believe it's all about tasting the liquid rather than necessarily keeping it for as a collector's bottle. Whiskey is best to be enjoyed, not just staring at!
CP: Yeah what's interesting as well is that you were talking about specific styles and flavors from regions and actually, some of the bottles that we do at Charles edge with the single casks are from a region yet the flavour of the whisky is very different to what you might expect. That's because it's a single cast and it's not influenced by blending any other cask within the Distillery.
CP: So what do you see as the major trends coming up in Whisky?
SC: Our customers are coming in here and constantly looking for something new. So I think we are going to move away from the typical age statement e.g. 30 year single malts and towards flavour instead. Blended Malts would be a good example that are more accessible from a price and flavour perspective.
These kinds of whiskies are more versatile too, for mixing cocktails or highballs. With the price of everything so expensive at the moment, I predict that the more accessible whiskies will start doing well. These will bring younger drinkers into the category as well.
An example for me is the Smoky Coky - Lagavulin 16 and coke served as a highball. It's completely breaking rules but its worth trying! Just finding these small changes so then it's suited for for the younger man or lady.
Coupled with this we're also thankfully seeing a movement away from the view that whisky is an old man's drink. We're seeing younger people enter the category and also women.
There are a lot of excellent English whiskies around as well so we are encouraging people looking for something new to try these.
CP: So, you're really bringing in that younger generation, how are you doing this?
SC: Through advocacy and teaching them how to understand whiskey.
The beauty of it here at Beverage Boutique is that we can not only show people and talk about it but we can try it with them, which you can't do in an online store or supermarket.
We also break down that fear by showing them how to mix cocktails and try different flavours. Whiskey is best to be enjoyed by drinking, not just staring at it. We want to create a more accessible and versatile experience for the younger generation.
CP: That sounds great! And you have a great position here with the bar to do that and bring in younger drinkers. You're doing a fantastic job.
SC: Thank you, I appreciate it. We just want to keep evolving and showcasing the best of whiskey to everyone who walks in.
CP: I think we're good, thank you so much and I hope everyone found that interesting. It was really great to get Shof's insight into his experience in whiskey and his is clear love and passion for the spirit. If you are in the London area check out Beverage Boutique, they run lots of events, they do cocktail master classes, you can hire the bar and it's a beautiful space. Just to come and hang out!
Give us a subscribe on YouTube and we'll hopefully bring you some more Mavericks like Shof to the channel soon, cheers thank you.