Yes, yes, we know alcohol sits snugly on the shelves of Bangalore’s grocery stores, but buying spirits in Mumbai involves a great deal of jostling. Especially during the weekend. Most shops are on busy pavements and the counters right over them. Your feet are on the pavement and you’re craning your neck from left to right, mostly over different species of men, to choose your brand from over-stacked racks. It’s worse in New Delhi. You’re standing endlessly in long queues where you’re likely to be the only woman.
So, to walk into an air-conditioned store, browse racks arranged by categories and have a salesman ready with answers for your questions was a unique experience. Spread over 350 sq. ft of floor space, the Diageo group revamped an old over-the-counter outlet to open Johnnie Walker Select, India’s first walk-in alcohol store on Ambedkar Road, Bandra, in Mumbai last month. No unwanted glares from burly autorickshaw drivers here, while you shop for your poison.
The good stuff
Don’t expect to dash in and out unless you’re rigid about your brands. Apart from the Diageo brands that include Smirnoff, Haig, and Black, Red and Blue Label, there are wines from Australia, France, South Africa, Italy, California and Chile in different price ranges. The most expensive bottle is Chateau Margaux, Grand Cru Classe 1er Cru, a French red, for Rs36,823. All the Indian brands are here, too. That’s the other good thing about the store: While they stock A-list single malts, including Ardbeg from the House of Islay, matured for 18 years (Rs16,500 for a 1 litre bottle), and Ciroc, the French grape vodka (Rs3,000 for 1 litre), there’s also the medium range fare and the cheap packs and miniatures. Handy 60ml packs of Shark Tooth vodka are available for Rs30 each, great to carry on those weekend getaways. It’s also the right place to visit before a last-minute party. The best picks are five-litre barrels of Heineken that come with a quick fix tap, and the six-pack liqueur shots that come in a variety of flavours. For questions on history, trivia and cocktails, click on a ready-to-use kiosk that has information on all the Diageo brands. Did you know that the first cocktail made with Smirnoff was a Ginger Ale and Lime Martini, made in copper mule mugs in Russia in 1922? You can purchase replicas of the copper mules, glasses, shakers and shot glasses at the store. And yes, the prices are the same as in your neighbourhood store, and they deliver too.
The not-so-good stuff
For a walk-in experience, the store is not spacious enough. Although the alcohol is stored by category, the racks are overcrowded and don’t exactly allow for leisurely browsing. Another disappointment is the limited choice of beers. Barring Guinness cans, only the usual suspects—Heineken, Corona, Carlsberg and all the Indian brands—are available. According to the store manager, Guinness has been the hottest seller since they opened. An indication they could do with some European ales?
The wines range from Rs450 to Rs36,000 and whiskies from Rs600 to Rs16,500. Vodka, rum, gin, cocktail mixes and other kinds do not exceed Rs5,000. The most expensive beer is Guinness (Rs300 for a 400ml can) and the five-litre Heineken barrel costs Rs2,700.