Berri Casks On Special Assignment

Berry Bros. & Rudd are one of those names that if searching for a bottle of wine or a specialist spirit, it will be near the very top of your search engine. Why? Because Berry Bros. & Rudd is one of Britain’s oldest wine and spirit merchants, opening its doors way back in 1698 at St. James’s Street, London. Even to this day it continues to trade from the same premises.

So how has a business that has been around for over 300 years stayed to be one of the most respected? Well here’s a little history for you (1) –

Widow Bourne occupied No. 3 St James’s St and opened up a grocer’s shop – The Coffee Mill. No. 3 remained in the hands of the Widow Bourne until her daughter Elizabeth married William Pickering. In 1734, William Pickering died and his widow Elizabeth took over the running of the business until 1737, when she handed over both the grocery and the “arms painting and heraldic furnishing” side to her sons William Junior Pickering and John Pickering. Today the ground floor, entered from St. James’s street, instantly takes you back to the days when the Pickerings weighed famous visitors on the giant weighing beams, registering their weights with quill pens in morocco-bound ledgers.

John Pickering died in 1754. With no suitable heir, his brother William took as his partner John Clarke who was distantly related, through his mother, born Mary Crabb. Clarke died in 1788, and while he had no son, his daughter, Mary, had married John Berry, a wine merchant in Exeter, and their son, George Berry, although only one year of age, had already been designated by his grandfather as heir to The Coffee Mill. Before he died John Clarke found as a suitable “caretaker” to manage affairs, the Brownes of Westerham, a rich and prospering family of lawyers and yeomen into which John Berry’s sister had married, and they agreed to look after the business until George was old enough to take over.

George Berry, John Clarke’s grandson, was only sixteen when, in 1803, he made the two-day journey from Exeter. In 1838 the Chartist riots raged through provincial England and spread panic in London. Accompanied by his friend Prince Louis Napoleon, George Berry was sworn in as a special constable. This Prince Louis Napoleon, who as Napoleon III founded the Deuxième Empire in 1851, had a close association with No. 3, as during his two-year stay in London he used the cellars for sundry secret meetings with Sherer the (reputed) editor of the “Standard”. In 1854, George Berry died, and was succeeded by two of his sons, George and Henry. The style of “Berry Brothers” thus came into being and remained almost unchanged for almost ninety years.

George Berry II had seven children, of whom Henry Berry was chosen to represent the older branch of the family while the younger of the original two brothers was succeeded by his son, one of twelve children, Henry Percival Berry. These two cousins were succeeded in due time by Francis Lawrence Berry of the senior branch, and Charles Walter Berry of the junior. While unusual wines such as Constantia or Tokay or the Tuscan Montepulciano were by this time represented in the Price List, the mainstays of the older lists were Sherries, Madeiras and Ports, wines from the classic regions of France and Germany and brandies, liqueurs and whiskies. Henry Berry was almost certainly the partner who established this policy and was the leading figure at No. 3 between 1880 and 1907. However, both Francis and Walter Berry felt that the firm did need some changes.

The creation of The King’s Ginger Liqueur serves to illustrate the differences and strengths of each generation. In the early days of King Edward VII’s reign, the royal doctor approached Berrys for something to ward off the chill felt by His Majesty when out in his “horseless carriage”. Henry Berry promptly produced the firm’s brandy and ginger cordial originally known as “Ginger Brandy – Special Liqueur” but in 1906, three years after its creation, it was the younger generation who thought to add it to the Price List and in 1934 rename it “The King’s Ginger Liqueur” as it is known today.

Until 1914 Hugh Rudd had worked in the Wine Trade, first in London, then on the Continent, and from 1903 with his father in R.G. Rudd & Son, Wine Merchants of Norwich. But after the war, Norwich ceased to hold its former important place in wine. By agreement with his father Major Rudd then came to London to join Berry Brothers and Company as the junior partner. His arrival at No. 3 was timely. He was, like both Walter and Francis Berry, a fine judge of claret, and this was of course an essential qualification at Berry Brothers.

However, he also had an unsurpassed knowledge of German wines, embracing every conceivable facet of viticulture, vinification and development in every region of the Rhine and Moselle. His palate was as accurate as his knowledge, so that when the outstanding vintage of 1921 came on the market, his advice enabled Berrys to make a selection of such supreme and unequalled merits as to secure for themselves yet another reputation, to add to the ones they already enjoyed.

On the 23rdMarch 1923, an important piece of Berry’s history was made.

Seated round a table at lunch discussing whisky were the partners together with James McBey, the well-known Scottish artist. Berrys was already selling their own brands of Scotch Whisky to customers at home, and just a little had been sold before the war to private customers in the U.S.A. There were signs that the disastrous experiment of Prohibition would not last for ever and they now sought a new and different blend for the export trade.

Like his cousin Walter, Francis Berry was an authority on fine Cognac and he supported the suggestion that they should choose a blend made up from only the very finest and most delicate whiskies. It would be bottled at its natural pale colour to avoid the danger of the caramel colouring masking or destroying the gentle and crisp flavour which they enjoyed so much – but which was far away from the fashionable idea of dark, heavy and oily Scotch whisky.

All the new Scotch whisky blend lacked was a name and a symbol. At the time, the famous clipper ship “Cutty Sark” was much in the news as she had just returned to England after many years trading under the Portuguese flag. McBey, who was a keen sailor, suggested that this would be an admirable name for the new whisky. McBey also volunteered to design the label which remains today almost exactly as he originally drew it, even to the hand-drawn lettering and the use of the correct descriptive word “Scots” rather than the Sassenach’s “Scotch”. Only the colour of the label is different. McBey had suggested a creamy shade to imply age. The printers, by accident, used a bright yellow so striking in its effect that the partners decided to keep it. Eighty seven years after it was born in the parlour at 3 St James’s Street, the Cutty Sark brand was sold.

Between the two wars the two Berrys and Hugh Rudd had steadily built up an ever larger and more rewarding business. In 1931 they were able to restore the width of No. 3 to the full extent enjoyed by William Pickering and John Clarke. By happy circumstance the new lease was signed by Sir Charles Bunbury, the direct descendant of the original landlord of 1731, but it was not until 1966 that the firm was able to acquire the freehold.

Success continued to attend the house, but not always good fortune. In 1936, only five years after his retirement, and at the early age of 59, Francis Lawrence Berry suddenly died. His elder son George Berry was already a junior partner along with Walter’s son, Reginald Berry, and the family’s continuity seemed doubly assured. However, in March 1939, ill-health led Reggie to retire, and in 1941 George Berry was killed in action in North Africa. It had been agreed that George’s younger brother, Anthony, should also enter the firm, but as a rating in the R.N.V.R he was called up for service almost immediately. And soon Walter Berry was to be lost to the firm as well. Hugh Rudd managed the business with help from a greatly reduced staff.

In the immediate post-war years the management team at No. 3 consisted of Anthony Berry, Kenneth Upjohn and Leonard Rowell under the guidance of Hugh Rudd, whose son, John, joined in 1948 after completing his military service.

For legal and financial reasons the firm had in 1943 become a limited liability company. Hugh Rudd was Chairman and Governing Director. Kenneth Upjohn held a valuable appointment as Clerk of the Royal Cellars and also played a leading role on the export side. Leonard Rowell was the Director and was responsible for the care of the buildings and cellars, which now included No. 4 St James’s Street, brought largely at his instigation during the war.

With the U.K. market still strangled by import restrictions and price controls, Berrys looked to develop sales abroad. The drastic reduction in whisky distilling during the war meant that every drop was still precious and it was almost twenty years before supplies of Cutty Sark matched demand.

Hugh Rudd had worked hard during the war and in 1946 he suffered a stroke. Although he lived until April 1949, his illness naturally restricted his capacity and in his absence the four other directors ran the day-to-day business and Mrs. Rudd became a Non-Executive but highly competent Chairman until 1965, when Anthony Berry took over. Anthony Berry was to continue as Chairman for twenty years until handing over to John Rudd and retiring in 1985.

Between 1961 and 1971 Cutty Sark totally dominated the U.S. market, with sales rising to more than 2.5 million cases annually. If the 1960s was the decade of USA, the ’70s was the decade of Japan. Cutty Sark raced ahead and by 1979 was selling almost half a million cases a year, and challenging the leader in the complicated Japanese market. Meanwhile, the rest of the world was not being neglected; by 1970 Cutty Sark was sold in over a hundred different countries including such unlikely places as New Caledonia, Nepal, Tahiti and Taiwan.

The Georgian ambiance of Number Three St James’s Street and Berrys uniquely historic image disguise the modern business methods and systems which now hide behind the façade. The physical atmosphere of oak panelling and quill pens may remain but in fact the business is conducted and controlled in a very up-to-date fashion.

On the wine side, a temperature-controlled wine cellar was built-in Basingstoke in 1967 and since then the premises have been greatly extended to include a bonded section, additional offices, a modern tasting room and a retail shop. The Widow Bourne and William Pickering, who started humbly enough under the sign of the Coffee Mill, may take comfort in the thought that Berrys huge expansion over the years has not been at the expense of its unique character or its reputation.

So after an extensive history lesson, below i offer to you tasting notes on some of ‘Berrys’ Own Selection’ that i have been fortunate enough to try –

Berry Bros. & Rudd Mortlach 1998– 56.8%

Very light on the nose with hints of grass notes coming through slowly. Rather strong on the palate however with an instant hit of malt and ripe fruit mixing well. Results in a long tingle.

Berry Bros. & Rudd Glen Grant 1974 (Cask Ref. 7643) – 47.8%

Stong on the nose with an iodine aroma dominating, although a sense of cleanliness is apparent. Surprisingly smooth on the palate which develops into a long offering of citrus with a spice hint near the end with a whisper of smoke.

Berry Bros. & Rudd Glen Grant 1974 (Cask Ref 7646) – 49.3%

A soft nose with hints of sherry and malt. Instant mouth-watering effect on the palate with a strong, sharp flavour of oak and raisins with a sweet and spicy end.

Berry Bros. & Rudd Bowmore 2003– 57.9%

Strong hit on the nose but smooths out into a lingering peatness. A small hit of peat hits the palate but expands well. Quite sharp and sticks around for a long time.

Berry Bros. & Rudd Clynelish 15yr 1997 (Cask Ref 6470) – 46%

Apricot and honey notes blend well on the nose, An oily texture on the palate, with a hint of sea salt and olive brine. Vanilla pops up at the end with a slight kick of smoke to finish.

Berry Bros. & Rudd Blue Hanger Blended Malt, 6th Release – 45.6%

Rich orange and vanilla on the nose alongside waves of peat aromas. Fruits are present on the palate, with the well-rounded finish of sweet orange and smoky flavours.

Berry Bros. & Rudd have many more whiskies under their belt, as well as other spirits including Glenturret 34yr, Aberlour 1988 and Demerara rum from 1988.

You can purchase all these and others on their site where you can also find information of wine classes and events.

(1) All history and production methods taken directly from the Berry Bros. & Rudd website. Subtle changes have been made for narrative purposes only.

© David Marsland and Drinks Enthusiast 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog/sites author and owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to David Marsland and Drinks Enthusiast with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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The Lebanese supreme council of the tribal federation trying to reach a deal for the millionth time in three years this month. (Image source: September 5th 2016, The Daily Star/Parliament, HO)

This is the 24th post in a series of monthly posts covering the presidential elections. This post is about the month of August and the first half of September 2016 (the second half of summer).

Sit back and relax. This is going to be a long, long, long post. You have been warned.

Let’s start by playing a little exciting game. The game is called “calculating the number of members of parliament that haven’t been elected for 8 years yet are still eligible to elect a president and vote laws although they practically do nothing other than give speeches and maneuver all year”.

In order to play this little game called “calculating the number of members of parliament that haven’t been elected for 8 years yet are still eligible to elect a president and vote laws although they practically do nothing other than give speeches and maneuver all year” (yes, I copied and pasted that entire paragraph, just because I can), one needs a table that makes it easier. Lucky for you excited gamers, there’s a table for you here on the blog:

In the dark cold month of February, and while Michel Aoun and Samir Geagea were forging their alliance and everyone else was panicking, I uploaded that table to tell the world that their alliance practically meant nothing: Aoun had the public support of the March 8 alliance (minus Amal and Frangieh) and Frangieh had the (not so public) support of Amal, the PSP and the FM. That meant that both candidates had around 45 to 50 votes (since you can never predict how smaller “offside” blocs such as Mikati’s and Murr’s bloc would behave with a Frangieh-Aoun confrontation in parliament), and both Frangieh and Aoun still needed around 15 to 20 votes to garantee their election after the second round (you need 86 votes to make it through after the first round).The main obstacle for Aoun was that Amal did not eventually support him, while the main obstacle for Frangieh was that Hezbollah – basically the core of the M8 alliance – never really fell to the temptation of saying yes to him instead of Aoun –  which was the goal of the entire FM maneuver of  endorsing Frangieh in December. So as predicted in February, the deadlock stayed and stayed and stayed although the alliances had completely shifted.

How it began

Then came the (politically) hot month of July: Berri and Bassil made a deal on the Lebanese gas and oil dossier,  and Berri suddenly started saying nice things about the FPM, which is why I assumed back then – like everyone – that there was a very high probability that Berri’s bloc would eventually vote for Aoun since the FPM and Amal are more or less on good terms since the beginning of this Summer. But that was pure speculation.


So Frangieh – in a probable panic mode – was meeting Gemayel in in his northern Lebanon home, perhaps in order to lure him into making the 5 MP Kataeb bloc side with the Marada leader to counter the recent Aounist momentum. The FM meanwhile were doing the same: The FM bloc met in Beirut and decided, via a 23-3 “internal” vote  that they would not stand with Aoun in the presidential elections. The vote was made public for obvious reasons: Sending a message to everyone, that even with a Berri blessing, they would still stand against the election of Aoun.


In Lebanese politics, a no never means no (sometimes I say very deep quotes). Seriously though, a no in a Lebanese political negotiation means that you want something more. And that’s what the FM probably meant with their very public No. They would not elect a president for 6 years without something in return that would have a long-term effect as the term of the Lebanese president.

Wait? What?? Deal???

And Berri got the message fast. Less than 5 days after the internal FM vote, Berri publicly promoted a package deal – confirming that electing the president alone doesn’t solve the crisis. Right after that happened, we saw three interesting stances:

In other words, the FM were hinting that with a good deal they would be ready to abandon the Frangieh candidacy if a good deal is on the table, Salam was hinting that the alternative would have to be someone else than Aoun, and the FPM…were still holding on to Aoun (surprise!). Probably depending on the deal, the name of the president would have to change. If the deal favors the FM a lot, Aoun would become president. If not, the name of the president would be the result of a more moderate compromise.

What package deal?

For this, we’re going to fast-forward… one day: on the 13th of August, Hezbollah SG Hassan Nasrallah finally indirectly told us what the package deal – for the M8 parties at least – would look like: In his speech commemorating the 10th year since the July war, Nasrallah voiced his Party’s commitment to supporting General Michel Aoun for Presidency, adding that “House Speaker Nabih Berri, our long term partner, is our only candidate for heading the Parliament Council,” while expressing “openness” with regards to the Premiership issue after the Presidential elections.

Let me translate the proposal: Aoun becomes president. Berri gets a share of the oil that makes Amal happy enough to vote for Aoun and stays as speaker. The FM get the premiership.With Aoun in power, Hezbollah makes sure that a cabinet hostile to its policies in Lebanon, Syria, and beyond would not see light in the near future. On the Christian side, Geagea becomes the de-facto second in command behind Aoun and an FPM-LF alliance crushes all the smaller parties in the Christian districts in the next parliamentary elections (The proof: The FPM and the LF said in the same week that they want an electoral law with a joint green light from both parties) which means bigger shares in parliament for Aoun and Geagea. Everyone is happy. Everyone gains more from this deal.

Everyone except the FM, the Kataeb, the Marada, and the PSP

When it comes to the FM, the premiership (for Hariri probably) is “a prize” too little for them to approve in the context of such a deal. The prime minister would leave after the first parliamentary elections, and even if the FM coalition wins, there’ll aways be a chance that Hariri would be ousted from the premiership like what happened in 2011 (throwback to when we almost had a civil war).

For the FM to agree on a 6 year long term deal, they would have to be given something that benefits them on the long run… and that would be an electoral law that favors them. Exchanging the premiership with the presidency, without having any guarantee about the next electoral law would be a rookie mistake that the FM are not willing to do no matter how tempting the presence of Hariri at the head of the government might be for the FM.

There’s also the part where the parties have to share the ministers in the next government, but that’s also a temporary developement and the key issue will always  be the electoral law, because governments come and go but parliaments tend to stay in this country (throwback to that time Lebanon’s politicians extended the parliament term twice).

For the Kataeb and the Marada, they clearly lose because they gain nothing in government and will have to face the LF and the FPM in parliamentary elections with an electoral law they will have no say in, while the PSP kind of lose their kingmaker status if a deal passes through without them in the middle being able to block everything.

This is exactly why the Kataeb panicked and decided to escalate their trash crisis struggle and take things to an entire new level by closing down the landfills in August with their protests – just to be clear, closing landfills is the right thing to do but I’m tackling the issue here from a political maneuvering point of view.

In case you’re not following, more trash escalating means inducing more anger from the Metn electorate against the FPM and LF before elections which means higher odds for the Kataeb to secure Gemayel’s home district in the next elections (here’s a post from two months ago that explains the Kataeb escalations in detail). The Kataeb stopped their trash escalation this week, but their strategy remains the same: Make the FPM and the LF suffer as much as possible in the Metn before June 2017 arrives because it’s the only district where they can hope to make it to parliament all by themselves.

The commander of the army: Complication or advantage?

One of the things that complicate the deal right now is that the commander of the army’s term is expiring, which means that the ruling parties have another thing to share ( = add to the deal). As a potential next president, Aoun obviously wants the LAF commander to be close to him – the Lebanese president after all presides over the Supreme Defense Council and is the commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces which falls under the authority of the Council of Ministers (article 49 of the constitution), which might explains why the FPM is refusing to extend the term of the commander of the army with the absence of a president in power.

2006 + 2015 = 2016

Another reason why the FPM is focusing on the LAF commander issue right now is  because they currently have more leverage than they will ever have: They’re the only major Christian party that still has an active presence in government and this means that appointing/extending the term of a commander of the army (something relatively important) without their blessing can be considered to be illegitimate (There shall be no constitutional legitimacy for any authority which contradicts the pact of mutual existence, article J, preamble of the constitution). Ten years ago (in 2006), March 8 blocked two years of political life in Lebanon with this article (when they argued that  a government – the first Siniora cabinet – without any Shia ministers had no legitimacy and had to resign), and it eventually worked to their advantage in the Doha agreement. And this is exactly what the FPM is doing now with their boycott of the cabinet sessions as well as the supreme council of the tribal federation sessions (the national dialogue got suspended too, in case you wondered) . So yeah, welcome back to…2006.

Yeah. Just kidding, it’s 2015, since FPM and the other parties also have the possibility of exchanging the amy command with the presidency as part of a huge package deal (in case you forgot about the 2015 Roukouz-Kahwagi-FPM dilemma, here’s a little reminder).

When it rains, it pours

Berri said in August that he was going to be with Hariri whether the former PM did something wrong or not (why so suddenly nice, Mr speaker…), while MP Raad of Hezbollah said that the situation was ripe for the election of president, so it seems that the speaker – as well as Hezbollah – are definitely on board with the deal. One might even say that Berri wants to force a deal: He warned that “the country is to face crossroad by year’s end if there’s no agreement“. And although the FM said that Nasrallah  has no right to impose Aoun as sole candidate, there is nothing the FM can do now since Aoun has ≥ 65 MPs behind him, except blocking the quorum session (ironically like M8 are doing right now). But this FM “negativity”, like I said earlier, might just be a temporary answer to get more concessions from the Aounist team (Aounist team = the parties who want to vote for him ): the definite proof? A Hezbollah MP said that “Mustaqbal may benefit most from Aoun’s election“.

Even Geagea wants the deal. Actually, forget Geagea: Even M14 MP Michel Pharaon wants a package deal.

Deal or no deal?

In other words, all of M8 (minus Frangieh’s 3 MPs), as well as the LF, and some random MPs from M14 are on board with the deal: That gives Michel Aoun more than half of the parliament on his side (cc the game we were playing before at the beginning of the post), and with the half of the parliament already on his side, expect more MPs to flock towards his nomination: Let’s call it the Pharaon syndrome: You know that the deal will happen since there’s already a majority that approves it, and if you stand against it, you get isolated by the deal. So you might as well embrace it, and hope to get something in return…like a parliamentary seat for Pharaon who will be crushed in the next parliamentary elections in case the LF and the FPM blacklist him (it’s definitely going to happen if he doesn’t stand with them), so you can say it’s his way of “redeemint himself” (by endorsing Aoun) . And in September, the Pharaon syndrome was everywhere: Even MP Makari (who represents a Christian district in the North and who’s closer to the FM than the LF), distanced himself from the FM.

All the politicians are playing it safe, and for a reason: A deal is coming, and you’re either on the winning side, or the losing side will abandon you. That’s why the minor politicians on the losing side are flocking to the winning side.


Berri’s indirect support gave Aoun a theoretical absolute majority, and once Aoun was there, his numbers only started getting higher. M8 just has to know what to concede so that the FM (and immediately after that the PSP) goes forward with his nomination and avoid another deadlock that would lead nowhere.

It won’t be easy to find a governmental formation and an electoral law that pleases the FM, but we’re almost there..almost.

I can’t believe I’m actually going to say it, but right now, Aoun has the highest chances of becoming president. Aoun’s chances are so high right now, Frangieh and Bassil clashed in the dialogue session on who represents the Christians more. But with the deal still in the making, Aoun is not going anywhere just yet, and if March 8 aren’t willing to concede something big (#electoral_law), we might instead find ourselves with the FM asking for a president that’s more to the middle between “March 8” and “March 14”: Two candidates fit the profile according to the partisan media: Jean Kahwagi and Jean Obeid. Which also probably explains why…the media has been circulating reports of Jean Kawhagi gaining momentum in the presidential game.

On the bright side, Lebanon’s politicians are actually looking for a solution to the deadlock. And it only took them three years to get here. Only three!

843 days since the 25th of May (presidential vacancy). 1201 days since the 31st of May (parliamentary extension) .



Posted in Lebanese Politics, Michel Aoun, Monthly Presidential Coverage, Nabih Berri, Politics on by Ramez Dagher. 1 Comment


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