Keeping a business going through the COVID-19 pandemic can be challenging to say the least. Every business needs to adjust to our ‘new normal’; changing and modifying to social distancing and home working, and most importantly placing the health and well-being of staff first.

There are many positive stories of businesses which have successfully altered what they offer during lockdown. The Grail, a Scotch Whisky and Scottish Gin specialist based in Doune, is a great example of a small business which has pro-actively changed, including taking their mouth watering whisky and gin tasting sessions online.

Owners, Jen and Rachel, had a chat with Best Bar None Scotland discussing what its like to run a small business during lockdown.

Tell me a little bit about your business?

We are Jen and Rachel and we have a wee boutique craft drinks shop and tasting experience in Doune, Stirlingshire. We specialise in Scotch whisky and Scottish gin but have an interest in most craft drinks! We opened in December 2018 and together we have over 10 years of experience in the drinks industry. Our background is in whisky and we first met through working at a local distillery. We consider ourselves whisky geeks, not whisky snobs, so we enjoy all types of whisky and enjoy chatting with our customers about this and letting them try something new!

How has the Coronavirus pandemic affected your business?

We initially saw a little bit of panic buying immediately before lockdown, then we heard we had to close as a non-essential retail store. It was later announced that off licences could stay open, but we didn’t feel it was safe or responsible to do this so we pulled an all-nighter and finally got our online shop up and running!

How did you have to change your business to adjust to lockdown?

With the shop now closed we had to work out how to get the products we sell to our local customers, and without too much extra cost, so we started offering free local delivery in the surrounding area.

But our main issue was that all our tastings had to be cancelled. Tastings are a large part of our business so we started thinking about how we could continue to run these. Neither of us are very tech savvy, so technology was our biggest challenge but we are learning all the time!

We were hearing about lots of people having holidays cancelled and thought it would be a nice idea to recreate, in a silly, entertaining way, some tastings that might help people feel like they were having a holiday of some kind. So we are currently running a Tour of the Scottish Islands Gin Tasting and Tour of the Scottish Islands Whisky Tasting, and next we are running International Gin and International Whisky tastings. We send out the samples and our tasters join us online for a tour. We try to make it as realistic as you can online, detailing our route and transport methods etc with some fun facts and a quiz thrown in! These can be booked via our website, but we also offer private and bespoke tastings for groups. We have had a few birthday parties and work groups join us so far!

Do you think these changes will continue after lockdown finishes?

Yes we think we will continue with many changes we have made during lockdown. Being in a rural area with few public transport options, travelling home after tastings for people is an issue but with virtual tastings it is not a problem! It’s also a great alternative for customers who might have mobility issues and for those further afield – we have had customers from Caithness, London, the south coast of England and even Ireland join our tastings!

How do you think the pandemic will change your business, and businesses in the license trade in general, moving forward?

We are lucky that we have been able to make some positive changes during lockdown and that we have very loyal customers who support us which we are extremely thankful for. We really feel for others who have not been able to continue to operate and hope they manage to find ways to keep going.

It’s forced us to innovate in a way we never would have thought of otherwise, and you can see this type of innovation in lots of wee businesses which is obviously amazing!


For more info, contact: 

The Grail

5 The Cross, Doune, FK16 6BH

E: [email protected] T: 01786 542 098

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