A brick and mortar whisky boutique was recently named the “world’s best location,” and has caught the attention of the international whisky community.
And what’s unique about this boutique is that it’s in the United States. In Tacoma, Washington, to be specific.
McCallum & Sons Whisky Co. opened its doors in December of 2021, and has since been mentioned among the top spirits retailers in the world.
The awards and accolades rolling in for the independent boutique whisky shop continue to praise their success based on their dedication to giving every customer that walks in the door a luxurious and quality experience.
The business is owned and operated by husband and wife team, Glen and Maxine McCallum. And it was recently that the McCallums found out they won Whisky Magazine’s Icon of Whisky Award as Best Single Outlet Retailer in the World. This, following their win in the United States in the same category.
Glen and Maxine McCallum recently visited with The Whiskey Wash about their boutique whisky shop and its place in the industry, and what it takes to be successful on the opposite side of the glass and bottle.
The Whiskey Wash: Tell us how you first came to the spirits industry?
Glen McCallum: “This is one of the most common questions we get, and people are always surprised to find out that we come with no formal or professional background in the spirits industry. There are countless paths to owning or operating a retail shop. Some of the most common are: production – working in distilleries or vineyards; service industry – bartending or as a sommelier; professional education – Court of Master Sommeliers, Council of Whisky Masters, or similar organizations; or wholesaler/supplier – beginning as a sales rep for a distribution company. Having done none of these things, we knew that opening a whisky boutique was a risk. It was our faith in our determination and each other that allowed us to pursue the dream.”
“I served in the U.S. Army for 10 years, and during that time, whisky was a passion and a hobby of mine. My education on whisky came from reading books and articles, watching YouTube videos and reviews, and listening to podcasts. My collection started out humbly and it grew slowly over the years. I explored different countries, regions, and styles, and began to hone my palate and tasting ability on my own.”
“As my time in the Army came to an end, I contemplated careers in the corporate world. Maxine was the one who urged and supported me to pursue my dream of opening a whisky boutique. We operated excellently as a team. Product and inventory curation, as well as the business administrative side of things were handled by me. Maxine’s experience in design and real estate was vital for the project. She selected the location, designed the entire space from floor to ceiling, led the buildout with the contractor, and managed the allocation of our most valuable resources: time and money.”
“Opening a whisky boutique with no prior experience in the spirits industry was certainly the road less traveled. We don’t necessarily wear this as a badge of honor, it’s just our path, neither better nor worse than how others have done it.”
TWW: What was the first bottle you ever purchased?
Glen: “I’m sure there was some random bottle that I purchased during my younger and more ‘cost conscious’ years, but I don’t remember it. The first bottle of whisky I distinctly remember purchasing and enjoying was a bottle of Lagavulin 16 Year. I was living in Italy at the time, and a friend of mine recommended we buy some Scotch at the local grocery store. I picked up the Lagavulin and he bought a bottle of Laphroaig 10 Year. Two of the most heavily peated Scotch whiskies regularly available, and not expressions that I would necessarily recommend for new Scotch drinkers – but we loved them! We would sip them over an ice cube while playing Call of Duty on the weekends. Great times!”
TWW: What about the whisky industry intrigues you the most?
Glen: “Well, the most obvious answer would be finding and tasting new whiskies. There are always new expressions and producers to explore. As a collector/connoisseur, it’s a very special experience to finally pour yourself a dram of something you’ve been eager to find and try.”
“Just last night I walked into a local Irish pub, and sitting on the back bar was a bottle of The Macallan Edition No. 2, which I had yet to try. No longer produced by the distillery and auction prices ever increasing, I had lost hope that I would ever get to taste some of the Edition bottlings at an approachable price. Experiences like this are so exciting to me, hunting and finally finding something you’ve been curious about.”
“Aside from drinking the whisky, what intrigues us most is the history and story behind each distillery and bottle. We’ve been absolutely enchanted by the tales behind certain bottlings. One that comes to mind and we love recounting is the Shackleton Blended Malt; in which modern whiskies were blended together by the legendary Richard Patterson to create a replica of the antique whisky supplied to the Shackleton expedition in 1907.”
TWW: What was your initial goal setting up a whisky boutique?
Maxine McCallum: “Our goal was never to win awards and accolades, or to be recognized on a global scale. We simply wanted to create a luxurious whisky-focused shopping destination that prioritized educating customers, stocking unique and rare spirits, and making each customer’s visit an experience that can best be described as remarkable. As in, we love when customers remark upon their time here to friends and family, because that’s how most people find out about us.”
TWW: What led you to base the operations in Tacoma?
Maxine: “Our last duty station with the Army was here at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. We fell in love with Tacoma and the PNW in general. It reminded Maxine much of her home in Germany, and she founded an equestrian training facility only 15 minutes from downtown Tacoma long before the inception of McCallum & Sons. We loved how supportive the community was of small businesses, and knew that there were plenty of whiskey drinkers in the area that would enjoy a boutique shopping experience.”
TWW: Is there something special about the Pacific Northwest and whisky connoisseurs?
Maxine: “We’ve been most impressed with the variety of whiskies that people are willing to explore with us. American whiskey and bourbon in particular is the heavily favored style, but we get an amazing host of clients who are always looking to try something new, whether it be a single malt, blended Scotch, Japanese, etc. Honestly, what really makes our community so special and what we value most is their trust in us. Countless customers have come back in the shop praising a recommendation we made for them, which opens up their willingness to try more obscure and unique expressions that they otherwise might never have.”
TWW: How has the national and worldwide recognition for your whisky boutique changed your operation?
Maxine: “The greatest aspect of winning these awards has been the celebration and pride from our customers. Each one who is part of our mailing list and social media circle has come in to congratulate us on our success. Many of them have been telling anyone who will listen about our shop, and how incredible it is to have an outlet like this locally. We continue to be humbled and honored each and every day through our small contribution to this community.”
“It has also been great to feel the recognition and support from our suppliers and distributors. Since our opening, many have been supportive by acknowledging that we are not your average liquor store and treating us as such. The recent recognition has increased that support and paved the way for new and exciting opportunities that not many other locations receive. The bottom line is, suppliers love to see their portfolio of spirits represented and displayed on our shelves. We cherish that responsibility and think of it as a privilege, not an obligation or something that is owed to us.”
TWW: Can you give advice for those just getting into whisky or looking to expand their collections?
Glen: “Don’t be afraid to start slow, the premium bottles will come in time! Select a few core expressions and drink them the way you like it. Share with friends and loved ones, conduct your own blind tastings, watch YouTube reviews (with a grain of salt), read books, and try unique drams at your local whisky bar. Your taste and preference will evolve. If you come across a style or brand you don’t like, that’s OK! Everyone’s journey with the spirit is different. You may discover that one day after developing your palate and expanding your knowledge, you’ll revisit that style and find it more enjoyable. And finally, strike up a conversation with your resident whisky merchant; don’t be hesitant to ask questions or request recommendations.”
TWW: What trends do you see among whisky enthusiasts that trade at your boutique?
Maxine: “Our top sellers month after month continue to be bourbons. We could write an entire separate article about the pros and cons of the secondary market, but one thing that comes through crystal clear is the market’s desire for quality, limited, higher proof bourbon. With more and more producers releasing limited-edition bottlings, allocated seasonal releases, and higher age statement whiskies, there seems to be no slowing down on the demand side of this industry.”
TWW: What can we expect on the horizon for McCallum & Sons?
Maxine: “We have many plans in motion for our space and the future of our family business. What has been a priority to us since the beginning is being able to pour spirits by the glass, so that clients are able to taste and enjoy the most premium spirits before committing to buying an entire bottle. This is a capability that we are unable to do in our current setup, as our liquor license is strictly for retail purposes. There are many methods as to how we can achieve that capability, and we haven’t quite pegged the route yet. What we can say is that we will continue to foster a luxurious, inclusive, spirits-focused and community-driven experience here in Tacoma.”
Gary Carter has been at the helm of metro newspapers, magazines, and television news programs as well as a radio host and marketing manager. He is a writer/editor/photographer/designer by trade, with more than 30 years experience in the publishing and marketing field. Gary enjoys working to build something great, whether...