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The-Eccentric-History-of-Berry-Brothers-and-Rudd-Part-III

by Michael Orson     3. July 2014 10:47

Berry Brothers and Rudd

In 1920, Berry’s was joined by Hugh Rudd, a lover of Bordeaux and German wines. Such an essential part of the business, Hugh Rudd’s name was officially added to the door when the firm became a limited company in the 1940s.

The Second World War raged on, and tragedy struck when two of the partners lost their sons: Francis Berry’s son George Gilbert died leading a charge against in the enemy in North Africa; and Hugh Rudd’s son Brian was killed in action in Italy at just 20 years of age.

No. 3 was never hit directly during the London bombings, though the top floors were badly burnt. The shop itself escaped too much damage thanks to the old wooden shutters which protected the shopfront. Years later, during the 2011 London Riots, these shutters were put to use for a second time (though, in my opinion, Pomerol probably wasn’t on the agenda).

Today, the shutters line the passageway to Pickering Place, which runs to the left of the shopfront. Should you walk down this passageway you’ll see an original wall to the right from the days of King Henry VIII. In fact, it was the original back wall of the King’s tennis courts, and has remained in place ever since.

Berry Brothers and Rudd Lantern on Pickering Place

Anthony Berry became Chairman rather quickly as a result of those tragedies of the Second World War, with Hugh Rudd’s widow, Ethel Rudd, taking over as Non-Executive Chairman in 1949. This was yet another noteworthy time for the firm. When so many other businesses of the day were sold and liquidated, BBR stood firmly independent. In fact, since 1698 to this day, the company has been independent and family-run, not going bankrupt once.

The second half of the 20th-century saw Berry Bros. & Rudd consolidate their position as world-famous wine and spirits merchants. The success of Cutty Sark Scotch whisky was also a constant theme during this time, particularly in the 1960s and ‘70s. Berry Bros. & Rudd continued to be famous for their Claret and Burgundy, and sold to many of the same families that had come to the shop for generations.

Royal Warrants

However the period was also one of great change. In 1967, BBR broke with tradition and became the first independent wine merchant to build temperature-controlled wine cellars, which were established in Basingstoke, Hampshire. Nowadays, these cellars hold 8.5 million bottles of company and customers’ wine, worth millions of pounds. The firm continued to bottle wines themselves until this time.

Since the war, Berry’s customer base had increased dramatically, with more and more sales being made by mail order and, in 1994, the very first wine merchant’s website was launched, in the form of bbr.com. As well as expanding electronically, the 1990s also saw Berry Bros. & Rudd expand the physical presence of the business. A series of Duty Free wine shops opened at Heathrow Airport, followed by the establishment of the company’s first presence in Asia, the Hong Kong Wine Club and in 1998 the first official overseas shop opened in Harry Street, Dublin.

More recently, in the first week of his tenure after joining Berry’s, Doug McIvor was given the task of sampling every single one of the 450 casks of whisky in the cellars. Almost all of these were from Glen Grant or Glenlivet, and to the horror of his new employers, he announced that only 90 were up to par. The remaining 360 were thrown away, and today of those 90 1970s vintages, only five remain.

The 1974 vintage Glen Grant was one such whisky, aged in sherry hogshead 7646 for some 37 years. By all accounts quite a rarity, this gem is notable for its stunningly orange, tawny, tobacco-like colour. The photo doesn’t do it justice.

BBR Glen Grant 1974

Glen Grant 37 Year Old 1974 Cask 7646

Nose: A leather pouch filled with fresh cherry and vanilla pipe tobacco. Spice notes are present but subdued. Notes of dried apricots and freshly ground Kenyan coffee beans (that same acidity and nuttiness). Orange rind develops.

Palate: Soft, developing spices with a cayenne pepper heat. Hints of Lady Grey tea, citrus and potpourri. Perhaps a touch of dark honey. Very mature indeed.

Finish: Spiced, woody, herbal finish.

Overall: Rich and complex. I’ve written down “relaxing”. Luigi said, “pre-bed”.

As part of Cutty Sark’s sale to the Edrington Group in 2010, BBR acquired The Glenrothes single malt brand. For the first time ever, a single malt whisky was sold by vintage, in keeping with BBR’s history as a wine merchant. This positioned The Glenrothes as a connoisseur product, with its minimalist packaging, distinctive round bottles, and the inclusion of notes and bottling details on the labels (which wasn’t always as widespread as it is today). Older vintages have become very collectible, the 1973 being a superb example, though now almost impossible to get hold of. Here are my findings:

BBR Glenrothes 1973

Nose: Malt and spice, with a predominance of citrus. Elegant, though fairly simple.

Palate: Very, very soft. Gingerbread, milk bottle sweets, clotted cream and hints of light lemon curd. A hint of toffee and chocolate, then Seville orange marmalade. Big, slightly bitter and mouthwatering.

Finish: A rich chocolate orangey finish. Plenty of malt and spice.

That first visit to Berry’s, amid rounds of fabulous whisky at the Three Martini Lunch, one of my co-diners piped up with the elephant in the room. “What exactly is this in aid of?”

Doug McIvor smiled heartily. “Well,” he said, “we thought it would be jolly fun to have a nice lunch.” And that was that.

The place is one of London’s oldest establishments, used by banking moguls, celebrities and royalty and home to no fewer than seven masters of wine (the highest concentration of MWs in the world), yet there’s no pretence, no airs and graces. You can go and spend several grand on a bottle of Petrus or part with a reasonable 8 quid for their Good Ordinary Claret, and I think that’s splendid.

Mike

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