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Confessions of a retailer: JAK’s Beer Wine Spirits

Lynn Coulthard, the head wine and spirits buyer for JAK’s in Canada, talks about raiding her parents’ liquor cabinet and making spirits sales fun again.

Lynn Coulthard, the head wine and spirits buyer for JAK’s

*This feature was originally published in the April 2019 issue of The Spirits Business

Where did your interest in spirits come from?

Well, I’m part Scottish and part Irish, so I believe it’s in my DNA. I guess raiding my parents’ whisky cabinet would be the honest answer, but as I continued to learn my passion only grew.

I furthered my interests through taking the Certified Spirits Specialist Course and the Whisky Ambassador Course. I also hiked along the Speyside trail a few years back, and spent a fabulous week making whisky at the Springbank Whisky School a year ago.

What was your first role in the trade?

One of my first jobs was a bartender, so I became fascinated with spirits from the start – what a crazy fun job that was. I have been in the wine and spirits trade for the past 35 years, from retail management to sommelier to WSET instructor. I also instruct the Whisky Ambassador Course for western Canada.

How would you describe JAK’s to someone who has never visited?

Fun. We embrace the fact that we are part of a fun industry with fun products. We celebrate everything from World Whisky Day, to National Margarita Day and National Rosé Day in our 15 stores.

How would you describe the product selection at JAK’s?

Guests can expect the basics and staples, but we strive to offer unique products in every category, and also try and find products that are new and are sure to impress. JAK’s is also very connected to the communities we operate in, and we proudly support local breweries, wineries and distilleries.

How do you select the products you stock?

I always take quality into consideration. It is important the guest feels they are receiving good value for the price they pay. If it is a CA$100 spirit, it should taste like a CA$100 spirit. We are always open to tasting new products to see if they will be a good fit in our stores and adhere to our brand promise of providing a unique selection.

What is your most popular spirit?

Vodka sales are always high but for those wanting to sip and savour, whisky sales are huge. Canadian whisky is our number-­one selling category.

Do you have a favourite spirit in stock at the moment?

If I had to pick, it would be our exclusive private bottling of a 23-­year­-old Macallan aged in a Pedro Ximénez octave cask from an independent bottler. This process was a while in the making, from purchasing to labelling and to shipping, so I’m excited to finally see it in our stores.

Are there any products you wish you were able to stock?

Yes, some single malt whiskies and Bourbons that are available in other provinces but are not represented here. I would also love to see the Harris and Edinburgh gins in our stores, as currently they are only available in eastern Canada.

What trends are you noticing in spirit sales?

Premium aged spirits such as whiskies and rums are still on the rise, but I am also noticing a strong trend for premium Tequila and mezcal, along with gin. Many of our local craft distilleries specialise in gin, which has helped fuel this growth in our province. Vodka drinkers are slowly but surely moving over to gin.

What is the most rewarding aspect of working at JAK’s?

I really enjoy coming to work each day in such a positive environment. JAK’s is a fast­-growing company that is exciting to be a part of. One of the most rewarding aspects I find is the constant strive to change and improve with the company’s growth.

It really is a family environment where everyone cares and is treated with respect.

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