Best whisky bars in London
Our favourite London dens in which to sup a dram of the finest whisky
Wed Jan 15 2014
Like a Brigadoon rising from the mists of Canary Wharf, this easterly branch of the Boisdale group is a fantastically tartan-strewn celebration of food, jazz, cigars and whisky. There are two bars, a restaurant and a cigar terrace that looks westwards towards central London: sunsets can be moving.
Your fellow dram drinkers: Anyone with a taste for the finer things and a healthy wad in their sporran. It’s not cheap, but neither is quality whisky, and this is perhaps the best place to drink your way round Scotland (apart from the actual Scotland, of course). Hedge-fund Highlanders and Barclays Bravehearts will feel right at home.
What’s the whisky like? The list goes on longer than a Billy Connolly joke, covering just about every bottle from every distillery in every corner of Caledonia.
Bartender’s pick Ernest Reid, whisky sommelier: ‘Try Old Pulteney, which is often referred to as the “maritime malt”. It’s very approachable, with an underlying salinity from the distillery’s proximity to the North Sea.’
- Cabot Place, E14 4QT
A welcoming and traditional pub in the bonnie backstreets of Borough, the Britannia is a relaxed spot to dive into the water of life. A vast blackboard lists the 130-odd varieties. There are no descriptions, but if you don’t feel like a lucky dip just ask for a recommendation.
Your fellow dram drinkers: Post-pitch footballers in full kit from the nearby five-a-side complex, as well as pint-sipping surgeons and off-duty orderlies from Guy’s Hospital up the road.
What’s the whisky like? It’s a democratic selection, with most drams landing in the five-to-ten-pound field. There are a few rarer examples though (Linlithgow, Mosstowie) and a malt of the month.
Bartender’s pick Sarah Bourke, assistant manager: ‘My favourite has to to be our cask-strength Millburn 25-year-old. It has a lovely rich, faintly smoky nose with a hint of black pepper, and the taste is a sublime mix of spices and citrus flavours.’
- 44 Kipling Street, SE1 3RU
Don’t be fooled by the preponderance of whisky in this smart Edgware Road bar (or the fact it’s named after North Britain’s go-to flavouring), it’s about as Scottish as Rod Stewart (ie not very). The food is Indian, and there are shishas to puff on. But the dedication to malt is unquestionable.
Your fellow dram drinkers: Whisky fans of all stripes flock here, as well as those who aren’t affronted by the use of the spirit in cocktails.
What’s the whisky like? A long menu contains helpful and concise information on every bottle. Both the frugal and the flush will find something to suit their purse.
Bartender’s pick Nagesh Balusu, manager: ‘If you don’t mind mixing it up try the cask-aged cocktail Dewars Delight, with blended whisky, Drambuie, Cocchi Americano aperitif and cardamom bitters. It’s been aged for about six weeks.’
- 82 Seymour Street, W2 2JE
Don’t rock up here expecting to get stuck straight into the city’s best collection of unusual cask-strength malts. It’s members only, though joining is worthwhile for serious whisky devotees (and those who want to become one): benefits include tasting events, a quarterly magazine and, of course, a private members’ bar to brag about.
Your fellow dram drinkers: An adventurous set who want to celebrate the marriage of peat, water, malt and magic. And people who just bloody love whisky.
What’s the whisky like? Single-cask, unfiltered malts, all created especially for the society. That means it’s about as far from a bottle of cheap cornershop Invershoogle as you’ll get. Example: ‘Cask No 2.84, “Katharine Hepburn in a Vintage Jaguar”.’ Put that image in your mind and you might be able to imagine how rich and sultry it tastes.
Bartender’s pick Joe McGirr, venue manager: ‘For a real medicinal treat it’s got to be 53.200, a smoky 18-year-old named “Hand-Rolled Cuban Cigars”. Settle into a peaty dream with a relaxing salty sea breeze washing over you. Switch off and let the world go by with this one!’
- 19 Grenville Street, EC1N 8SQ
‘Grand’ is the word: there can’t be many more dramatic dram-houses in London. Sit on one of the terrace tables as the roof of the restored station soars high above, or repose in the art deco brasserie inside and pretend you’re a suave European aesthete. A few too many malts and you just might find yourself on a spontaneous Eurostar to Paris.
Your fellow dram drinkers: Those with a train to catch, those just off a train and those who are just here in the spirit of Burns himself: ‘O thou, my muse! Guid auld Scotch drink!’
What’s the whisky like? A pick and mix from all over Scotland, with something to keep every traditionalist and modernist satisfied.
Bartender’s pick Peter Alderin, general manager: ‘A Balvenie 21-year-old Portwood. A single malt of refinement and remarkable character, it’s creamy and silky with fruit, honey and spice notes, and has a long and gentle nutty finish.’’
- Upper Concourse, Euston Road, (St Pancras International), N1C 4QL
The Merc-lined streets of Mayfair feel like they’re a long way from the wild and windswept moors of Scotland, but it’s in W1 you’ll find a plush and discreet haven stocked to bursting with a bold range of Scotch. As you’d expect in a five-star hotel bar, the atmosphere encourages contemplation and conversation rather than getting mad wae it (which is exactly how you should treat fine whisky anyway, of course…).
Your fellow dram drinkers: Hotel guests, naturally, but also in-the-know Londoners prepared to splash out on something special.
What’s the whisky like? Everything from the £7.50 Teachers blend to Mortlach 50-year-old for £169. Apparently there are 364 in total – one for every day of the year except Christmas, when the hotel manager has a break. Phew.
Bartender’s pick Ivo Silva, whisky sommelier: ‘If I had to choose a whisky to take with me to a desert island and drink for the rest of my days, it would probably be Highland Park 18-year-old, because it encompasses all the flavours of Scotland, from the Lowlands to the Highlands, Islay and Campbeltown.’
- 116 Piccadilly, W1J 7BJ