Enthusiasm for alcohol is rewarded with top assignment

A few weeks ago I was sent to do a special assignment in a barber shop.

The irony of sending a bald man to get his hair cut was not lost on some readers.

Graeme Cousins (seated) with Andrew Wright.

Graeme Cousins (seated) with Andrew Wright.

Last week I was sent to do a feature on a new off sales.

There was no irony in this assignment. I’m a big fan of alcohol.

I was given a warm welcome to Wright’s Off Sales on the Dungannon Road by Andrew Wright, a man as enthusiastic about the selling of beers, ciders, spirits and fine wine as I am about the consumption of them.

Andrew’s family have been on the Dungannon Road site for close to 90 years, starting to trade as a greengrocers before expanding to a shop and petrol station.

He said his latest venture, a specialist off licence promoting local products and unique tipples from around the world, was a new challenge.

Andrew described it as another string to his bow, or should that be Harp, in keeping with the local drinks theme.

He said, “I saw a gap in the market for an off licence on the site. The aim is to have a ripple effect with trade coming into the petrol station and chip shop.”

As far as the off licence is concerned, Andrew said, “It’s been a steep learning curve getting to know all the different wines, different types of grapes and different tastes.

“In this shop alone there are just under 300 varieties of wine.

“We’re also trying to promote local suppliers,” he continued.

Among the products from Portadown companies on sale in Wright’s Off Sales are Barnhill Farm and Long Meadow cider.

Andrew added, “As well as the ciders we’ve got a few craft beers from local suppliers.

“Farmageddon is one we’ve just got in from Comber. The plan is to promote as many local products as we can.”

The business has also ambitions to create a niche in the drinks market by sourcing unique wines, beers and spirits for customers.

To this end they were able to provide a customer with a case of Lebanese wine and in stock at the minute they have a white wine that has been the house white at Gordon Ramsey’s restaurants for the past 14 years and the house red from Burj Al Arab, said to be the world’s first seven star hotel in Dubai.

Andrew, who admitted he wasn’t a big drinker, said, “I’m coming from the grocery and supermarket end of things where it’s all about value.

“People still like a £4.99 or £5.99 bottle of wine, but when it comes to wine it isn’t all about price.

“People will pay for a wine they know is good.

“At weekends we like to open a few bottles and let people have a taste when they call in. There’s a certain reticence with trying a new wine in case you don’t like it.”

As well sourcing unique wines, Andrew is savvy enough to also stock old favourites.

He said: “Buckfast would be one of our biggest sellers. We’d be foolish not to stock it.”

All in all, it’s an exciting new venture for alcohol enthusiasts like myself or for those who just enjoy the odd drink and like it to be something a little bit off the beaten track.

The late George Best, who I reckon would have given Wright’s Off Sales the thumbs up, famously said, “I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars. The rest I just squandered.”

I’m pretty much like Best in that respect apart from the birds and fast cars.