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Meet Sandy. She works for Blackjack promotions (and Diageo) at World Duty Free Group’s London Gatwick Airport North Terminal store.
Sandy knows more about malt whisky than just about anyone I know. And I know quite a lot about malt whisky.
En route to Rhodes, Greece, I wanted to buy a nice bottle of Scotch for my Kiwi host, friend and Moodie Report colleague Colleen Morgan. I asked Sandy if World Duty Free Group sold Diageo’s Cragganmore, my favourite Speyside malt.
“Ah no,” she said. “We haven’t sold Cragganmore here for a long time. It was part of the original Classic Malts Collection, you know.”
I did know. Which aged me, way more in fact than the age statement that Cragganmore’s usual age statement (12 years old, I think). Sandy then went on to describe Cragganmore’s virtues and taste characteristics and recommended some interesting alternatives, The Singleton included – which she invited me to taste. I did, of course.
“Would you like some angel’s tears to open it up a little bit, some water?” she asked. As I say, Sandy knows her stuff.
Sandy had no idea who I was, just another slightly naïve consumer trying to buy the right whisky, I suppose. But my god she did a good job of ensuring I didn’t leave without buying an alternative. She was personable but never pushy; helpful not hustling; informed rather than irritating.
In the end I opted for something a little different, the fuller, sweeter, exquisitely rounded Jura Turas-Mara travel retail exclusive, which was also on tasting (and there, readers, is classic evidence of the difference that sampling can make).
Sandy and I talked some more. She told me about the single malt boom of the past decade, of how the category had reached way beyond its traditional male middle-aged and over audience, of how the tricky economics of laying down sufficient stock to meet future demand was a key challenge to the Scotch whisky industry. She talked me through a few more malts before I made my choice, which rightly she did not try to talk me out of despite it being a non-Diageo brand [in fact she complimented me on it]. Wow. Sandy we should bottle your spirit like a 12yo Cragganmore and serve you in tiny drams to every one of Gatwick’s travelling consumers.
I duly paid for my Turas-Mara (along with a couple of bottles of Cloudy Bay and Matua Lands & Legends Sauvignon Blanc from my homeland) and headed for the best stress-busting cure in travel retail – Caviar House & Prunier. I have said this before, but Caviar House & Prunier is a role model for an airport restaurant (apart from the lack of phone chargers…). It is an oasis of calm among the clamour; a reminder that travel can be pleasurable, even glamorous; a place where people indulge themselves and each other, eat, drink and hey, even talk and smile (maybe there’s logic in the lack of phone chargers after all). A humanising antidote to the widespread dumbing down of the travel experience.
I ordered 6 oysters from a charming young man called Peter (or Piotr, I’m not sure). “I must warn you these are very milky oysters,” he pointed out helpfully. I pondered my choice for a moment (like many people I’m not a big fan of the plumper, creamier style of oyster) but ordered them anyway with a glass of chilled, flinty Chablis to wash them down. A side plate of delectable marinated herring and all was right in my world. Almost. As it happened the oysters were not to my taste. No problem, said Peter, who kindly didn’t charge me for those I hadn’t touched. Small gestures like that will bring you back time and again.
Having, untypically, arrived at the airport four hours early (I had confused my return flight timings with those of my outbound – these things happen to me with increasing frequency these days; it is a miracle of our times that I generally manage to spend most of my time flying around the world without ending up on Pluto) there was ample time to set up an interim Moodie Report Caviar House bureau, from which I penned this Blog [penned but did not file until a day later though, thanks to the frustrations of Gatwick’s Boingo wifi system, which should be renamed Bongo as it’s about as endearing as loud drum music from your neighbour’s party in the middle of the night while you’re trying to sleep].
Alas, with me there is always a postscript, usually involving lost possessions, and true to form my trusty Blackberry (pictured while still in active service) is probably still sitting there along with my sunglasses by the £10 Caviar Shots pictured below (what a brilliant idea by the way. If you want to know more, watch this short You Tube clip – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sYJawpoywec)
If you’re reading this Peter, please hold on to them for me. The Blackberry and Sunglasses, not the Caviar Shots. Though I’ll be back for them too.