With less than two weeks to go until the Drinks Retailing Awards 2024, the full list of finalists has been revealed
BRUNSWICK FINE WINE & SPIRITS
Carlos de Haan and Jamie Graham have expanded the private client business they set up in 2016 to create Brighton & Hove’s only genuine fine wine and spirits specialist. Just across the road from the city’s famous Pavilion, the Brunswick shop has a luxurious feel in keeping with its high-end stock, and delivers over 2,500 products while remaining accessible through a selection of more affordable wines.
JOHN DORY WINE SHOP & TASTING ROOM
A team comprising wine enthusiasts and leading lights of Folkestone hospitality have created this wine-focused hybrid in the Kent town’s Sandgate area. The store has a Tardis-like feel: much bigger than the modest fascia lets on, with a combined retail and seating space giving way to a bigger conservatory-style tasting room. There’s something of a French bistro about the feel, with a touch of modern metropolitanism.
THE SPIRITS ROOM BY CAVISTE
Mark Bedford, owner of Hampshire indie wine merchant Caviste, grabbed the opportunity when a unit became available two doors away to create a separate shop to showcase a broader and more specialist array of spirits. The stores are on a high-quality farm shop complex. Scotch is a specialism for Spirits Room manager Will Blakeley, but the store also excels in most other large spirits categories.
Virginia Myers and Sarah Hatton both had a hand in the success of a past repeat DRA finalist, Sheffield-based Starmore Boss, but decided to go it alone elsewhere in the city with a hybrid wine shop and bar with a different vibe. The aim was to create a space that was more appealing to women, with the look, range and service all playing a part. Though California is cited as a specialism, the range is tempting across the board, with Portugal and England also very strong.
Shajaz Ali spotted an opportunity in a closed down pub on a housing estate on the edge of Grangemouth, on the banks of the Firth of Forth. Adopting Booker’s Premier fascia, Shajaz has created a top-quality convenience store with alcohol as a focus category. Its Beer Cave is merchandised with astute attention to detail to make shopping for beer, wine and cider an easy and pleasurable experience. A refurb involved building a 14-space car park to help drive footfall.
PREMIER, HARLAXTON ROAD
When an Aldi opened to some fanfare close to his Premier store in Grantham, Seelan Thambirajah decided to meet the challenge head-on by investing in a six-week, six-figure refurb that included a new layout, a walk-in Beer Cave, hi-tech lighting, food-to-go and digital shelf labelling. The result has been an astonishing uplift in sales in the store – one of 18 that Seelan owns – with BWS one of the shining lights in the product mix. Staff provide sound advice and service with a smile.
If there was an award solely for the convenience store with the most successful pivot to online and local deliveries, this Sheffield operation would be a standout candidate. That it’s achieved that success by creating its own app rather than piggy-backing Deliveroo or Just Eats is even more impressive. A recent refurb included the installation of one of the first Premier Beer Caves, a move that resulted in a dramatic uplift in Singh’s own BWS sales, almost doubling its share of the turnover of the business.
BATH ROAD BEERS
This Cheltenham indie has taken its specialism in beer and decided to run with it – quite literally. A running club is one of several community groups that uses the hybrid bar and bottle shop as a base for social meet-ups, in its case directly after a session pounding the town’s pavements. Members get to choose from an impressive range of 400-plus beers in a spacious venue, whose walls are adorned with explanations of the brewing process and different beer styles, to enhance drinkers’ enjoyment and appreciation. The cider range has pretty much doubled in the past year.
KILL THE CAT
It’s been a busy year for the London craft beer shop since making the shortlist in last year’s DRAs. The original store in Brick Lane has been joined by a more seriously bar-focused hybrid in Spitalfields Market that retains Kill the Cat’s mix of playfulness and esoteric specialism. Smudge stout has joined the feline-themed house beer line-up and its range of no-alcohol and gluten-free beers has increased in response to trends in the capital. An expert and highly-trained team hold regular sampling and discussion sessions so they can pass on their expertise to customers.
STIRCHLEY WINES & SPIRITS
This family-owned business has been exciting the people of the south Birmingham suburb of Stirchley with quality drinks for over 40 years. Fuelled by owner Krishan Rajput’s passion for the subject, beer has become a specialism over the past couple of decades, despite the generalist name of the business. The store’s beer range continues to evolve, and now tops four figures. Championing local brewers is a firm mission, but it also bigs-up other worthy areas of the beer world and is well-known for its vertical box sets of vintages from Belgium’s Orval.
No other multiple devotes quite as much space to cider as Asda. Multipacks of major brands play a big part in driving volumes, but smaller producers also have a role in the product mix, which acts as a showcase for the breadth and depth of the cider category. Flavoured ciders abound, alternative packaging formats meet specific shopping missions, low/no stretches across brands and styles, and traditional apple ciders retain a central role in a great all-round offering.
Tasting notes and food matches are usually the preserve of the wine aisle in supermarkets, if they appear at all, but Sainsbury’s has included them on a number of cider brands, acknowledging that cider fans are equally entitled as wine buffs to a bit of help. Sainsbury’s cider fixtures host niche imported brands and Taste the Difference vintage and fruit ciders, alongside mainstream and premium brands, in a fixture that genuinely does offer something for everyone.
Few categories have delivered the variety that cider has recently and the Tesco team has worked hard to make sure its range stays on trend. It’s been quick to market with the latest flavoured ciders, championed up-and-coming brands alongside blockbusters and responded to demand for innovation with a range of bag-in-box options. It also acknowledges the importance of variety with apple and fruit ciders on its alcohol-free fixture.
Ben Cluroe was the successful 2023 candidate in Aldi’s annual search for a beer taster from its customers to help shape its range of exclusives, which currently includes Kentish Pale Ale, London Porter and Dorset IPA under its Specially Selected label. Last year also saw the return of its Yorkshire Pudding Beer, made by the Malton Brewery and the fastest-selling product from contracts awarded through Channel 4’s Aldi’s Next Big Thing.
For many small independent brewers the Co-op offers a route into the multiple and convenience markets, with many stores featuring locally made beers. These sit alongside a selection of nationally-known brands, and a lager selection covers established brands and recent entrants into the world beer arena. All are available chilled in-store or for local delivery within a couple of hours, making the Co-op a go-to retailer for impulse beer shopping.
Sainsbury’s offers something for all tastes and budgets, from major names in world beer, through more esoteric continental brews, some of the hottest names in UK craft beer and an eclectic range of own-labels. Its Taste the Difference range includes regulars such as American Pale Ale and Chocolate Orange Stout, and seasonal or event related specials, including Winter Porter and, in 2023, a Coronation Ale.
Amathus is a spirits importer as well as a retailer, which means customers have access to a wide range of brands that aren’t readily available in supermarkets and many other spirits specialists. It has seven stores in London, and one each in Bath and Brighton, all of which put spirits front and centre in their all-round BWS selections. Recent highlight categories include agave-based spirits, Japanese whisky and whiskies from the lesser-known origins of Sweden, Denmark and France.
Hedonism’s central London store is a must-visit for spirits enthusiasts visiting the capital. Unsurprisingly for a drinks shop that aims to be the best in the world, quality and luxury are top of the shopping list, and the buying team has found 3,000 iterations that fit the bill. There are plenty of wallet-challenging items but everyday brands also find a home on the shelves. The past year has brought additional premium and craft offerings in whisky, gin, tequila and rum, with diversification in more niche sectors
THE WHISKY EXCHANGE
The London-based spirits specialist always seems to come up with new ways of enthusing customers. The latest is a distillery school, at its London Bridge branch, one of three shops in the capital which combine unrivalled range with exceptional customer service. Strong relationships with independent bottlers and well-known brands help it to offer a stream of exclusives and limited editions, and it runs a number of annual product awards to showcase the best up-and-coming producers.
MARKS & SPENCER
Marks & Spencer followed up the successful launch of its Distilled spirits range in 2022 with last year’s introduction of Collection. The latest innovation has seen it link up with well-known distillers whose names feature prominently on the labels as a mark of quality. The range gives M&S extra strings to its bow in premium vodka, Islay whisky, Cognac, cream liqueurs and Caribbean rum. They join a spirits range that was already suitably premium in its approach and strong on visual as well as flavour appeal.
Sainsbury’s was ahead of the game in championing high-quality premium spirits and it continues to adapt to modern changes in tastes. In 2023, it became the first supermarket to team up with a specialist ecommerce retailer when it launched an exclusive range of craft gins in 52 stores in partnership with Master of Malt. It also showed leadership in sustainability when it became the first UK supermarket to sell spirits in paper bottles. Spirits are merchandised with header boards highlighting categories.
The Tesco spirits range is all about balance and providing something for everyone. Big brands naturally feature strongly, providing comfort zones for mainstream shoppers, but there’s also room for fast-growing products to get a chance to shine, satisfying the inner spirits geek of its customers. Emerging or on-trend categories such as tequila and spiced rum play strong supporting roles to the behemoths of vodka and gin, with an emphasis on Clubcard prices rewarding customer loyalty.
ELLIS WHARTON WINES
Ellis Wharton’s warehouse-style wine shop in Cornwall provides plenty of space to browse. Sampling through a Wine Emotion machine and monthly tasting events are key to customer engagement. The store leans towards European wines and favours small growers using organic, biodynamic and sustainable methods.
LEA & SANDEMAN
The west London wine shop chain is still on a forward trajectory 35 years after it first opened. The buying team has been busy adding yet more exclusive agencies to a portfolio already dominated by direct-shipped wines. Sustainable producers and grower Champagnes have been particular areas of focus.
The motto of Dorset-based Vineyards is to “educate, inspire and entertain”, which owners Sadie and Hannah Wilkins achieve through a range that celebrates emerging nations alongside classic regions. The team is fired with energy and enthusiasm that rubs off on customers through excellent service.
WRIGHT WINE CO
Skipton’s gem of a drinks emporium takes its name from Bob Wright, who founded the business in 1983, but it has been under the stewardship of Julian Kaye for the past decade and a bit. It’s a labyrinthine space that’s full of atmosphere – and full of wine. At the last count, the range stretched past the 2,000 mark.
The discounter has developed a reputation for its ability to source good quality wines at affordable prices. It stepped up a gear in the lead-up to Christmas 2023 with its biggest ever price-drop on wine, knocking 25% off more than 70 wines in its Specially Selected own-label range for a fortnight. It marked English Wine Week earlier in the year by offering vineyard tours with the producer of its Bowler & Brolly English sparkling wine, for just £2.67, the equivalent of a price of a single glass.
MARKS & SPENCER
Marks & Spencer took things up a notch in wine during 2023 with the launch of its Expressions range. The line-up of 12 single varietal wines sits between its other recent launches – the Classic range of familiar region-grape combinations and Found, which champions lesser-known countries and varieties – and is designed to help consumers expand their horizons. The chain is undergoing a wider review of its wine labels to make sure the look of the wine reflects its price position in the range.
Sainsbury’s was a trailblazer in supermarket own-label wine way back when and has taken steady steps to rekindle its past glories. Its Taste the Difference and House ranges provide clear price tiering on exclusive wines, while it makes connections between wine and fresh food by positioning promotional wines at the end of chilled aisles. It’s also taken a lead in sustainability in wine, becoming the first UK supermarket to list wine in paper bottles in early 2023, following a similar move in spirits.
Last year saw a resurgent Majestic build on a strong 2022 when it defied the cost of living crisis to deliver its second biggest Christmas trading period ever. Its buying team cultivates strong relationships with both big producers and small family-run enterprises and in the Definition range has brought to the market one of the most sharply focused exclusive-label brands around. Definition’s success has now been supplemented by Chosen by Majestic, designed to help those on tighter budgets.
MARKS & SPENCER
The Marks & Spencer team has found a rich seam of creative energy over the past few years, with game-changing innovation in own-label spirits and a sharper focus in both wine and beer buying. It’s been particularly adept at devising ranges to meet different shopping missions: a high-quality conventional wine range for its food halls, alongside smaller formats across several categories for those buying on-the-go from stores in major transport hubs.
If there’s one area where the Sainsbury’s drinks buying team isn’t as good as some of its rivals it’s in blowing its own trumpet. Instead of seeking publicity for its achievements, it goes quietly about providing variety and value in all areas of BWS. Its nomination in several categories of this year’s DRAs is testament to this all-round buying skill, from the vivid spectrum of the modern beer and cider world, through a wine range that satisfies mainstream and premium pockets, to spirits for everyday needs and special occasions.
Fizz is one of the cornerstones of the department store group’s beers, wines and spirits offer. Though Champagne is a big chunk of the product mix, there’s also been a drive behind other sparkling wines, with England and New Zealand among those leading the charge. Chile, South Africa, Tasmania and Cava are also playing key supporting roles in Harvey Nichols’ sparkling wine success story. Store managers have a degree of autonomy in shaping the range to suit their locations.
If any shop was ever meant to showcase the best Champagnes and sparklers from around the world then it’s the luxurious setting of Hedonism, in London’s Mayfair. Grand marques and other big Champagne brands feature heavily but the space dedicated to the category means there’s plenty of room for other regions, with Franciacorta, Prosecco, England and Portugal notable popular sources of late. The display has been tweaked to give more prominence to grower Champagne and pink bubbles.
LEAMINGTON WINE CO
Anita Mannion’s store in the centre of Leamington Spa is a cracking all-round drinks retailer, but one that’s particularly proud of its Champagne and sparkling wine offering. It’s a hero category given a prominent position and an attractive display. Big Champagne brands are an important part of the selection, but there’s been increasing emphasis on smaller Champagne houses, crémant, English sparkling wine, Franciacorta, quality Cava and fizz from Chile, Australia, Germany and Italy.