How rare whisky expert Tod Bradbury is helping collectors find their passion through virtual tasting appointments

By Michelle Johnson | 15 May 2020 | Indulge

Head of Rare and Collectable Whiskies at Justerini & Brooks Tod Bradbury is hosting expert tasting appointment during isolation

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* Head of Rare and Collectable Whiskies at Justerini & Brooks Tod Bradbury is hosting expert tasting appointment during isolation

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While fine wine tastings via Zoom have become the booking du jour during lockdown, I have to admit to at first feeling a little more sceptical when invited to take part in a similar session for World Whisky Day. Having experienced Tod Bradbury’s unique tasting appointments in person last year, at Justerini & Brooks’ elegant Mayfair offices, I can’t help but wonder how my familiar home office will compare to their oak-panelled, sunlight-dappled tasting room; or how my admittedly poor selection of glass tumblers will stand up against the delicate sipping glasses designed for enhancing the nose, viscosity and smoke of each rare dram. 

Yet, while many wine tastings have been at the producers’ discretion, Justerini & Brooks’ approach is, as their clientele might expect, altogether more personalised. As the firm’s head of rare and collectible whiskies, Bradbury has an enviable knowledge of Scottish whiskies, their qualities and quirks, and it is thanks to this that he can scope out your taste preferences with just a few questions about your own palette to curate a perfect sample of whiskies to delight and challenge your taste buds. 

I receive four generous samples ahead of our video call – Cambus single grain 40-year-old, Johnnie Walker Blue Label Glenury Royal, Mortlach single malt 20-year-old and a very rare Caol Ila 35-year-old single malt – and am asked to pour a generous dram of each about half an hour before our scheduled meeting. During our call, Bradbury is as engaging and knowledgeable as he is in person, and the one-on-one nature of the appointments ensures I am fully immersed in the world of rare whiskies.

We try the unique flavours of Cambus – rich toffee and fruit on the nose, developing on the palate as tropical peach and mango, with fragrant finish – compared to the Mortlach – a single malt with a complication 2.81-times distillation process. The difference is stark; the Mortlach 20-year-old is robust and spicy, with a rum-and-raisin nose that reminds us of Christmas cake. The Johnnie Walker blend combines single malts and grains (including Cambus) to create a perfectly balanced explosion of smoke, spice and fruit: pears and peaches on the nose, sherry and cinnamon on the palate and fine chocolatey elements that last. Finally, we taste the Caol Ila, a secret weapon of master blenders thanks to its solidity: it’s fresh and beachy on the nose, sweet and smoky on the palate with an ashy finish. >>

Related: Why rare whiskies and ghost distilleries are worth their weight in gold

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* Glenury Royal Distillery

It is a joyful tasting experience – not only did Bradbury judge my preferences with precision, but challenged my nose and palate with his choices, all while painting a picture of the distilleries and heritage of each brand. And this experience is not just for clients. Bradbury tells me that, although he is unable to visit the distilleries of Scotland for some time, he and a community of whisky experts, collectors and blenders are continuously swapping samples of rare spirits and new discoveries, ensuring that their passion only grows during lockdown. Here, we speak to Bradbury about how Justerini & Brooks is determined to use this time to help connoisseurs expand their love of rare whiskies…

Justerini & Brooks is known for its intimate and highly personalised tasting appointments. How have you adapted this during the current times of isolation?
As a 270-year-old business, Justerini & Brooks knows that adapting and changing to the times is paramount – whether this is through the changing tastes of customers or more challenging times, such as isolation. We are very aware that needs are different, and we want to be sensitive to this. For example, we are noticing that more people are buying for drinking now, looking for bottles that can be enjoyed (and delivered safely) at home with family or virtually with friends. We have always had a passion for sharing our expertise and that of the producers and distilleries that we work with. We continue to engage with customers through our bespoke online offers, and emails to customers, choosing delicious drams they can enjoy now and, in the weeks to come. We also offer virtual tastings for those customers that might want to purchase something a little more special. We are seeing a real rise in the interest of those looking at the top end of the market too, casks and bottles alike. Whereas I can usually be found travelling the globe to see customers, now I advise them virtually.

Could you talk us through a virtual tasting?
Obviously, there is nothing that can replace the atmosphere of tasting at a distillery, connecting with the heritage and sense of place that comes from these experiences, however, we are fortunate in that we can still taste the liquids and enjoy learning about what makes a whisky unique. Virtual tastings in that regard are a great way to connect and share stories and insights on special drams. Much like a ‘real life’ tasting, I usually guide my customers through 4-5 different whiskies, talk to them about the style, the taste, how it’s made and why they are interesting or rare and collectable and why I have hand-picked these examples for them. Each customer has their own preferences – they may be looking for a certain style, or they may like a particular region or distillery; an age statement or simply be looking to build a collection. These are bespoke tastings whether virtually or in person. It is all about finding those hidden gems and connecting with the customer. >>

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* Tod Bradbury, Head of Rare and Collectable Whiskies at Justerini & Brooks

What are some of the rare and collectable whiskies available for no contact delivery upon purchase?
Justerini & Brooks is fortunate in that we are still able to safely deliver whiskies from across our portfolio. Any whiskies that you find on Justerinis.com are currently available for delivery. We have a fantastic customer base, and are regularly sending out offers, highlighting bottles we think are great for drinking well now. One of our points of difference is that we have a unique storage facility that is entirely separate to our customers’ own supply. This means that bottles we have safely stored in perfect conditions from the 29 distilleries that we have direct access to are available for our customers. The best thing to do is visit the website, and if there is something you are particularly looking for, then to speak to a member of our team.

Although virtual tasting appointments have been created to cope with the current situation, have you seen them open up any new possibilities in how you work with your clients?
Although nothing can replace experiential moments, the art of collecting whisky, however, is not limited to this. By finding new ways of connecting – virtually, over the phone, online and through the liquids themselves, I am finding that customers who are often time-poor are able to spend longer diving into the world of fine and rare whisky. They want to spend time getting to know the history and stories connected to certain liquids – Mortlach is a perfect example of this. The uniqueness of the liquids and the stories behind the distilling process make these special releases something customers want to learn about, to understand why their bottles are special. Enriching my relationships with customers is a great way to better understand their needs. By engaging virtually, not only can we be more efficient with their time, but without having to travel we can be more mindful of our carbon footprint.

What should our readers be looking for in a fine whisky as we approach the summer months? 
I like to look for something that sparks my interest – such as a distiller’s edition or those drams that might be under the radar, such as Clynelish 14 Year Old, or Mortlach 20 Year Old. Both fantastic whiskies, with their own unique style that never fail to transport me to the distillery.