Whisky Advocate

Paul McDonagh of Bon Accord – In 140 Or Less

July 18th, 2014

Author - Caroline DewarAnother in our occasional series of Tweet-style interviews. As always, it’s 140 characters or less (we don’t count the spaces) in the answers from Paul McDonagh. Paul is passionate about his Scotch whisky and the owner of Glasgow’s finest whisky bar, the Bon Accord. A man who’s enjoying the bar life.

What’s the view from your office window – if you have one?

I don’t have one but I do have some nice bottles of whisky to look at.

Good answer! How long have you been owner at the Bon Accord?

This is my 14th year but it seems like only yesterday that I took over. Am having a great time.

Good to hear. Customers & drinking habits—anything different now from when you took over?

We sell more whisky than before. 14 yrs ago we had only 5 malts, now we have 380; the trend seems to be for more sherried whisky.

McDonagh mans the bar.

McDonagh mans the bar, showing off the whiskies.

That’s some increase! Any thoughts on why an interest in sherry matured?

I think it’s because they may be sweeter and easier to drink.

Fair point—easier than some Islays for some people! Years ago the bar was known for real ales rather than whisky. Still big on beers? Numbers?

We are still big on ales—800 different beers a year and we host 4 ale festivals each year.

Busy life. Noticeable whisky industry price increases in shops in recent times. Have these affected you much, or bars generally?

Not a bit. People who drink good whisky know it comes at a cost and the older, the dearer.

Scottish government keen to get minimum unit pricing for alcohol in shops. If it happens, how would that affect your business: good or bad?

Not at all—people will still want to go out to the pub to meet friends. Most shops don’t sell the range of beer and spirits that we do and I think the plan is a good thing.

Why a good thing?

We have a problem in this country and in others with alcohol that we should do something about. Pricing is not the only answer but it’s a start.

Fair enough. You’ve won many awards as a whisky bar. How important are they and do they help increase business?

It’s great for me, staff and customers. We take pride in the pub’s achievements. The more you win, the more new customers come, but it’s hard work keeping high standards.

Much to live up to! Your best selling whiskies? And the rarest / most expensive?

Best selling: Macallan, Bowmore, Dalmore. Rarest is 70 YO Glenlivet at £900 per 35ml measure.

That one’s not for my pocket. What info do you have in bar to help customers choose a whisky?

Whisky menu on iPad with tasting notes, whisky distilleries and region map…and great staff!

Good innovation. How important is staff training on whisky and what form does it take?

Staff get basic training from day 1 and for the rest of the time they are here. They go to whisky tastings, distillery visits, but most training takes place in-house.

Does that include in-pub training sessions from brand owners too?

Yes, we have a lot of tastings in the pub with brand owners; we also have 2 whisky clubs that I run—and staff can join in—and 3 other whisky clubs which meet here.

I was going to ask about the Whisky Clubs: what do they do?

At my two, we have dinner and a 6-malt sampling. I do most of the tasting but bring in brand owners too.

And the other clubs?

The other clubs don’t have a meal each time, but always a 6 dram tasting with brand owners. The 5 clubs have a combined membership of 320.

Wow! How much tourist business do you get and does any one country predominate?

We are a global pub in terms of brands and customers. We get a lot of people from the US & Europe as we’re in various guides.

I hear one outside interest is football. Any particular team and why?

It’s Glasgow Celtic. I was taken along to Celtic Park aged 8 and have been going ever since: 47yrs. It’s in my blood; just like the pub business.

Giving away your age! Another interest is dining out. Where’s the best place you’ve eaten a) at home and b) overseas?

Best place in UK, Roux at the Landau: 5 courses and 5 malts, private dining room with Albert Roux as host. Overseas: the Waldorf Astoria, New York.

Good taste. From any international travels, do you think issues for bar owners are pretty much the same everywhere?

Yes, we all want more trade mid-week and have too much at weekends, but we must always stay on the ball with new trends and products/producers.

Any ideas gathered or lessons learned from bars elsewhere?

You always pick up something. Every bar has a unique selling point. Was in an Amsterdam bar and they let me go behind the bar to get my photo taken. Been doing that 20 years.

Anything you’d like to do at the Bon Accord that you currently can’t?

No, I’m very happy with the way we are trading.

Any future ambitions there?

Ambition? Yes: to do what am doing for as long as I can. This is THE LIFE.

Lastly, what’s your desert island dram? Just one!

Old Pulteney 23 YO sherry cask. There’s a picture of a boat on the label; that could be handy! LOL.

Oh, very funny…

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