Whisky (or whiskey, if you prefer the American varietals) isn't just for hardcore drinkers with stomachs of steel. There are so many types of whiskies – from dark smokey drams to smoother malts – that all a drinker needs to do is find one that suits their individual palate. One of the fastest ways to do this is to find a bar with staff who know how to make a great recommendation.
The folks at this slip of a bar on Russell Street know whisky. They've got almost 500 bottles of the stuff glittering on the back bar, along with a miniature wooden cask which delivers extreme eye-watering flavours. Know nothing? They’ll teach you. Want to know what’s going on with locally made hooch? Chances are that the guys from Bakery Hill and Starward Whisky (a distillery in Port Melbourne) are sitting at the bar right now. If you’re after an educated talkin’ to, all matched to smoky beers and snacks like pickled garlic, this is your bar. Plus, Whisky & Alement took out our Bar of the Year award in 2017, so you know they're onto a good thing.
The Elysian is located on Brunswick Street, but this whisky bar by two former Whisky and Alement alums is also straight out of Japan. The small space has that olde-worlde ambience you want when you’re dropping serious cash on drinks, with jazz standards on the stereo, wooden bar, wood-panelled walls, and a back bar holding an eye-watering 300 whisky bottles. Wong and Low are making it their life’s mission to hunt down the world’s rarest and most interesting drams, so that you can taste whiskies unavailable anywhere else in Australia.
This jazzy back-alley speakeasy has a giant, twinkling whisky library out the back and right now, its own whisky. Like to do a little peacocking? Buy a bottle of something off the back bar and you can store it in your own hooch locker. They also do a whisky cocktail matched degustation if you want to indulge your wild side.
If you’d worked a long, hard day, you probably wouldn’t want to quench your thirst with a Sex on the Beach. What you’d want is a Boilermaker: one shot whisky, one glass of beer. This brown-as-a-Brazil-nut bar on Lonsdale Street, which scooped Best New Bar at the 2016 Time Out Bar Awards, is the city’s second temple to whisky, joining sister bar Eau de Vie, which has been getting Melburnians elegantly imbibed on aptly named Malthouse Lane since 2014.
The cigar fug of Baranows Lounge may have dissipated for good, but the keen whisky focus remains. Caramel-coloured booths, bentwood chairs and wine barrels fill the cavernous, high-ceilinged hall of this masculine Hawthorn clubhouse. Behind the bar, nimble staff climb ladders to pluck bottles of single malt from the top shelves, before pouring the amber liquids over ice or mixing them into full-bodied cocktails.
The fun times come thick and fast at late-night favourite the Kodiak Club. Taxidermy, kitsch American murals and a focus on bourbon and beers from the States add a divey vibe to this relaxed, northside haunt. Get started on the library of American whiskey and bourbon stacked behind the bar, or go for the double whammy of a Boilermaker: perhaps a 3 Ravens Dark Ale paired with house-infused bacon bourbon.
If you’re a cocktail rookie on a fact-finding mission, take yourself to 1806 – the prettiest booze school in the land. Sit at the long, ornate bar, behind which is a twinkling rainbow of liquor bottles theatrically framed by velvet curtains, and prepare to get learned. The menu is literally a book starting with drinks from the year 1806, and if you're into whisky, then you can leaf through the Scotch whiskies, through Ireland and into America and Japan. For the full experience, check out the flights menu and take a tour through the diversity of Scotch whisky.
It's all about the whisky at this classic speakeasy joint in Windsor. For boffins, there are 50 types of single malts and blends to consider, or if you’re a noob, get to asking questions – there’s knowledge behind that bar you should be tapping. If the hard stuff is too strong, try a Whisky Mac: a 50/50 mix of Scotch whisky and Stones ginger wine, here with a citrus twist over hand-cut ice. Or perhaps a classic Bobby Burns – Aberfeldy 12, sweet vermouth, Benedictine liqueur and bitters.
Curtin House is frankly ridiculous, brimming over with a host of outstanding bars and club spaces. The Toff in Town is one of the swankiest, with a private booth bar to the left of the stairway and the excellent band space to the right. They do some pretty interesting things with whisky: the Chocolate Ginger Bourbon Old Fashioned is a sweeter take on the classic. You could mix things up and get the awesome bar team to mix you up a Honey Old Fashioned with Aberfeldy 12-year-old.
Your dinner plans sorted
Unless you have the metabolism of a nine-year-old, and the finances of a Kardashian, you never stand a chance against Melbourne's ferocious dining machine. The openings just don't stop and ain't nobody got time to keep on top of what's what. Except us, that is. So behold, our eat-and-destroy list – a guide to Melbourne's 50 best restaurants.