Boisdale Canary Wharf’s Joe Boxall on crafting a winning whisky list

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Joe Boxall has been making improvements to his tome of a whisky list at Boisdale of Canary Wharf for a few years now, shaping it into the worthy winner of the Imbibe Whisky List of the Year 2018 award.

It was the competition itself that inspired him, sort of. ‘We entered the first awards and were shortlisted. When we were given feedback, they said that ours was too encyclopaedic to win,’ he remembered. ‘Which I thought was really funny, so as an anti-gesture I decided I’d make an encyclopaedia.’

Joe Boxall with Boisdale’s Imbibe Whisky List of the Year award

The format and scale of the thing – it approaches 100 pages – is well suited to the venue and its vast whisky offering. Each whisky is listed with an abundance of detail, including info about the distillery, tasting notes and more. ‘We don’t have the ability always to go through the tables and talk through the whiskies with our guests, so I thought it would be good to have something they could refer to, that would be educational and provide tasting notes on the whiskies,’ he said. ‘It’s also good for those people that are very knowledgeable about their whiskies and know which region or distillery they’re looking for, because we have some rare and older bottlings.’

Another feature of the menu is a flavour map that plots bottles according to four attributes: smoky, rich, winey and delicate. ‘The map is a great tool. To open that menu can be very scary for some people, so it’s great for that reason,’ he said.

The back of the menu also offers a number of whisky flights, another useful way to navigate the daunting selection here. ‘We’ve always done flights, but we’ve always said they need to be pre-booked because it’s hard to organise it quickly,’ explained Boxall. ‘I decided to put them in the menu. Even if it’s difficult to arrange, we’ll make it happen.’

Boxall has has made is an increase in whiskies from further afield than Scotland, as well. ‘Obviously the popularity of Japanese whiskies is huge right now, but you’ve got some amazing whiskies coming out of Australia and Taiwan and India, for example,’ he said. ‘Having a bigger breadth of world whiskies has got more people involved. I had a guest from Kazakhstan the other day who said he’d send me a bottle of Kazakhstani whisky for the bar.’

Pulling all of the information together for a regular-sized list is already quite a decent task, let alone compiling a whisky encyclopedia, but Boxall has had some help. ‘It’s been a huge process, and a labour of love for a lot of people,’ he said. ‘We have a contract with The Whisky Exchange, so a lot of the information we’ve got from them. Other information was put on the menu by Hannah Lanfear who was the original bar manager here, and some by Ernest Reid too.’

The menu itself, a folder with pages that Boxall can easily update as the whisky selection changes, received one upgrade recently that he reckons gave it the extra push to take the award. ‘Every section and every region is now tabbed, so you can flip straight to the section. That was the killer. It made it a lot easier to navigate.’

Boxall has been getting a growing number of requests for a copy of this singular drinks list. ‘I think that’s a conversation I need to have. It could be a yearly release,’ he said. ‘If we did a hardback edition it would be very cool, although it would be out of date in a week.’

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