Hong Kong is a city that is never short on places to explore a dram of whisky, but there has never been a bar that solely serves the spirit in its pure form. At House Welley Whisky Bar, there are no bartenders in sight stirring up an Old Fashioned or highballs, only three convivial whisky enthusiasts and a few servers going to and from the shelves serving up drams upon drams of liquid gold.
Created by three whisky enthusiasts Vincent Leung, Eric Ho, Jason Ngai, the trio aims to give whisky the attention it deserves. They have been long time whisky collectors and decided to open a bar to make their whisky hobby sustainable. Since they like to taste, and discover various expressions, and move on to the next bottle, by having a bar, they can buy bottles that they like and share it with the guests.
The place is located on the second floor of the Welley Building, and if you are not 'in the know', it's likely that you will not have even seen the place on your usual bar crawl. Veering away from the typical gentleman's leather den, House Welley Bar exudes a modern vibe that appeals to a young crowd, including both whisky noobs and enthusiasts. The atmosphere is easy going and chilled, with plenty of areas to sit down and relax. Behind the bar is a backdrop of over 200 whiskies served here, divided by style and region offering selections from Islay, Speyside, Japan, America, among others. Expect to find single cask, limited edition, hard to find independent bottlings (IB), and distillery exclusive original bottlings (OB) from the likes of Yamazaki, Macallan, and vintage expressions from Bunnahabhain, Clynelish, Bowmore, including a 47-year-old Gordon & Macphail Glen Grant 1966 ($680/dram).
There's no menu. The bottle turn around is so quick, so there was no point in keeping a menu because your next visit doesn't guarantee the same bottle availability – so if you are new to the place, you'll be confused about how to start. Well, that's what we felt until we began to chat with Jason and Eric who enthusiastically guided us to our whisky experience. You can order your preferred palate, or start with lighter drams and work your way up to smokier notes. Price differs depending on the bottle, but you can opt for one dram or half serve if you're set to taste various labels during your visit. We went straight for a peaty entry, The Octave 12 YO Highland Park 2005 ($200/dram) bottled by Duncan Taylor, one of only 75 bottles in the market. It's creamy on the palate, nutty, with savoury notes and a heathery smoke finish. We then followed it with a sexier dram from 'The Moon' 16 YO Bowmore 1997 ($380/dram) bottled by Shinanoya at 56.2 ABV. It's waxy, peat-forward, with notes of honeyed fruit, smoked nuts, and a long lingering finish – easily one of our favourite drams for the night.
Thereafter, we got a bit adventurous, so we tried one of their latest bottles on hand, Bimber Re-Charred Oak ($180/dram), the second single malt whisky released by London's Bimber Distillery. Londoners are masters when it comes to gin, so it was exciting to try a whisky from the wave of new craft whisky distilleries. It tasted tropical, mango on the nose, with hints of banana, toasty oak and light notes of leather. We finished off with a 21 YO Springbank 1997 bottled for Malt House Islay. Springbank's batch bottlings of 21-year-old single malt are highly sought after and celebrated in the whisky world, but if you're not used to the assaulting notes of Springbank, then you might regret the $490 dram. It's steely and leathery, with notes of sultana and marmalade, hints of wood polish, and a dose of gunpowder.
If you're new to whisky, the owners will make it fun for you to choose an expression. They always like a challenge, whether you're looking for bottling the same as your age, or a whisky that will remind you of a movie or a song, they'll try to churn out a bottle that will tickle your palate. We just wish they could prepare a whisky flight option so you can program your spending for the night; otherwise, your whisky adventure will end up with a hefty price tag.
The bar closed in the early start of the outbreak but has since come back to welcome whisky appreciators and novices alike. It's still early to say if this type of bar will have staying power, especially since it is tapping such a niche market of purist whisky drinkers. With an explosion of dive bars in Central, their competition is the audience hankering for long and affordable drinks. But hey, if it's just whisky you're after, we'd recommend this place anytime.