After many hours of planning headaches, Sebastian Woolf took over the former Trafalgar Wines shop in Brighton to open a hybrid whisky shop and bar in September 2021. He tells Lucy Britner about the perks of independent bottling and his ambitions for the shop reborn as Cut Your Wolf Loose

My background is in creating brands. I have an independent bottling business called Artful Dodger Whisky Collective – we source bulk spirit from distilleries and look to fi nish in various different casks to adjust the flavour slightly or, if the quality is there, leave it as it is. We also supply other independent bottlers.

This is our first retail space. The idea is that we’re able to source directly from distilleries and then keep track of the products that are coming in and see them consumed or bought by the customer. A lot of the time with an independent bottler, you rely on third parties to do your distribution. This covers supply, our own distribution and retail. It’s possibly slightly odd; I don’t know many others that do it.

We can see who the customers are. We can get to know and understand what they are looking for and we can understand trends in the market far quicker. We know what flavours people are looking for and which distilleries they are interested in. There are also cost savings. We’re not having to cut margins and when you’re a small to medium-sized business that is important.

Distilleries that produce and distribute their own product are popular. Nc’nean, Ardnamurchan, Annandale… they produce very good liquid at excellent price points. For £45-50 a bottle, you can introduce people to new brands like that.

We’re still trying to figure out on- and off -sales. The shop also does its own bottlings. Our first one was basically a Laphroaig 10-year-old and that has been the bulk of income to the business, even though there were only 305 bottles. So, if I look at cash received, I’d say it’s retail but if I look at busy-ness, it’s on-trade and people coming in for a dram.

In an ideal world I’d like to have retail running throughout the day and as we get into the evening, it’s more about having a few drams. It’s a blur between those lines. The licence I inherited with the building was off-sales from, I think, 8am until midnight, 365 days a year. After nightmare hearings and long meetings, I offered to cut the licence to have on and off -trade. Off -trade sales are restricted just to whisky and the hours are basically 10am-10pm. I’m looking to extend the hours to be later on a weekend evening.

I’m a huge fan of Kilchoman. Something lightly smoked, lightly peated. Especially the single cask bourbon barrel.