Are these the 12 best whisky bars in the world?
“The act of enjoying a dram,” says Iain McAlister, “should be something that is a very social affair.”
And McAlister should know. The Master Distiller of Campbeltown’s Glen Scotia — a distillery which, this year, won ‘Best in Show’ at the prestigious San Francisco World Spirits Competition, out of 3,800 entrants, for its 25-Year-Old Single Malt — is well-versed in both the social and the spirited side of the whisky making business.
And, if the native Scotsman tells us that whisky-drinking should be a communal, convivial experience, we should listen to him. That’s why we’ve rounded up a selection of the best whisky bars in the world; venues and nightspots with decadent drinks lists and intoxicating atmospheres. And best of all? They all serve Glen Scotia (the distillery, this month, also won Scottish Whisky Distillery of the year at the Scottish Whisky Awards). Take a look below…
Where in the world is it? A stone’s throw from Islay in west Scotland, and close to the home of this extraordinary whisky. Built in the 1800s (not long after Glen Scotia itself was founded) The Ardshiel Hotel overlooks the bracing waters of Campbeltown Loch, and is within walking distance of the spirited distillery itself.
What makes it special? It’s sheer selection of whiskies (at over 700, the largest in Campbeltown; the Victorian whisky capital of the world). This wide range has won the bar several accolades, including the Scottish Field Whisky Bar of the Year.
Which Glen Scotia should you order? The Ardshiel Hotel Whisky Bar stocks the full range, including limited editions and even precious single cask bottlings not available anywhere else in the world. Naturally, opt for one of the latter.
Where in the world is it? A little further afield — but only just. A second Scottish bar (where better to enjoy the national spirit?), SCOTCH is an oak-panelled bastion of fine whiskies in The Balmoral; Edinburgh’s finest hotel.
What makes it special? The service — and the choice. Tucked away from the hotel lobby, SCOTCH offers the largest collection of single malt Scottish whiskies available to the general public in Edinburgh. The collection boasts over 500 bottles from Speyside, Islay, Campbeltown, the Highlands and the Lowlands.
Which Glen Scotia should you order? The 12-year-old Seasonal Release. Recently, the whisky brand partnered with Gary Robinson, Executive Chef at The Balmoral Hotel, to create three dishes in which the Seasonal Release is a hero ingredient — including whisky-cured salmon, poached pear with whisky caramel and barbecued pork belly with whisky-honey sauce.
Where in the world is it? Our final pick of the best British bars can be found in the capital; London. Milroy’s is a Soho institution — with its iconic blue frontage, almost-Victorian interior and a downstairs bar hidden behind a bookshelf.
What makes it special? Aside from that clandestine bar? Likely the lockers. Such fans of whisky are the Milroy’s regulars that you can stash your favourite Scotch in a personal locker so it’s always on-hand for repeat sessions.
Which Glen Scotia should you order? Given the wood-panelling, shadowy secret corners and history-drenched decor, we’d go for the Victoriana; Glen Scotia’s cask-strength take on classic Victorian Campbeltown malts.
Where in the world is it? Tucked away in the northern German city of Hamburg. Whiskyplaza can be found in the ‘Alt Hamburger Aalspeicher’ restaurant; itself hidden in one of the city’s oldest buildings (dating back to 1697).
What makes it special? Perhaps the sheer size of the collection (bottles number in the four-figure region). Or the recent renovation — completed earlier this year. Or the accolade of ‘Best German Whiskey Bar’ at Interwhisky 2016.
Which Glen Scotia should you order? Of the 11 on offer, we’d try the Glen Scotia Single Cask 13yo; heavily peated and brimming with the influences of fragrant first-fill tawny port hogsheads.
Where in the world is it? In the French capital, in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it corner of the hedonistic Hôtel Ritz. Overlooking the Place Vendôme in the city’s 1st arrondissement, it was one of Ernest Hemingway’s favourite places in the world.
What makes it special? That literary connection. Hemingway stayed at the hotel many times after WWII, and his predilection for fine spirits lives on in the calibre of drinks here. Colin Field, a renowned mixologist, runs the bar.
Which Glen Scotia should you order? While Hemingway himself may have opted for the cask strength ‘Victoriana’, we’d have to nudge you in the direction of the 18-Year-Old. Luxuriously smooth, it’ll fit right in with your opulent surroundings.
Where in the world is it? Halfway around the globe, in the Downtown Core area of Singapore. But, despite the long distance, Quaich Bar South Beach has still managed to amass a handsome collection of Campbeltown spirits.
What makes it special? Voted into the ‘Top 10 Best Unique Bars’ by Epicure, Quaich Bar South Beach has become a jet-setting stopover for globe-trotting master distillers as they travel the world for tastings and talks. And, if it’s good enough for them…
Which Glen Scotia should you order? If they’ve still got any left, the Glen Scotia 20 Year Old Distilled 1999 Quaich Bar Exclusive. You might have to do some cajoling before they conjure up the bottle, but it’ll be worth it.
Where in the world is it? In Shanghai’s cosmopolitan Jing’an District; brimming with buzzing wine bars and trendy cafés. Specifically, on Changle Road, sitting between the Jin Jiang Tower five-star hotel and the Cantina Agave Mexican restaurant.
What makes it special? The atmosphere. With its high-end interior decorations, low-lighting and walls lined with bottles from every corner of the globe, this is as conducive and stylish a whisky-drinking environment as you’re ever likely to discover.
Which Glen Scotia should you order? Glen Scotia 25-Year-Old. This is a bar created for whisky lovers by whisky lovers — so what better whisky to enjoy here than the best in the world? Enjoy it at the bar, from which you can admire Yu Whisky Bar’s incredible collection.
Where in the world is it? It might sound like a mouthful (coincidentally, the ‘Kumamoto Akaushi’ dry-age steak is ideal if you’re looking for an actual bite inside), but this syllable-heavy Tokyo restaurant has one of the best whisky selections in Japan.
What makes it special? The number of menus on offer: 45, each packed with delicious options. But one, ‘The Whisky List’ makes for particularly mouth-watering reading — and features all five expressions in the core Glen Scotia range.
Which Glen Scotia should you order? We’d opt for two here. Start with an affordable Double Cask, before trying out the top core expression from the Campbeltown distillery, the 25-Year-Old.
Where in the world is it? On Lonsdale Street, one of the main streets and busiest thoroughfares in the city centre of Melbourne. And, as one of the most renowned whisky bars in Australia, Boilermaker House is a must-visit bar.
What makes it special? The selection may be huge (almost one thousand bottles, at last count), but it’s the knowledgeable tastings, masterclasses and events including single cask tastings that swing this one onto the list.
Which Glen Scotia should you order? A boilermaker, of course (which, for the uninitiated, is a shot of whisky, followed by a beer chaser). For the whisky? Glen Scotia 15-Year-Old. For the beer? Dainton Red Eye Rye IPA.
Where in the world is it? In Morningside — but not the bonny district of Edinburgh. This is the Morningside of Johannesburg, a suburb to the north of the city centre teaming with start-ups and entrepreneurial enterprises.
What makes it special? All of the awards. WhiskyBrother was voted ‘Best Single Outlet Whisky Retailer in the World 2020’ at Icons of Whisky, and picked up the same accolade this year, in 2021. High praise indeed.
Which Glen Scotia should you order? There may be over 1,400 bottles available, but one stands out. The 2008 Glen Scotia Single Cask, with a rich ruby port finish, has notes of sweet peat, sea salt and dark sugared butter. Head there; try it.
Where in the world is it? In the popular Los Angeles dining district of Beverly Grove. Dripping in vintage chic decoration and offering an extensive — often inexpensive — global food and spirits menu, The Phoenix is the haunt to hit.
What makes it special? The flights of whisky are particularly fun. With options including ‘Flight of the Highlands’, ‘Flight of Islay’ and ‘Flight of Speyside’ on offer, one region is conspicuously missing. But that’s because…
Which Glen Scotia should you order? The Campbeltown offerings are few. Among them, however, you’ll find both the 25-Year-Old and the Victoriana from Glen Scotia.
Where in the world is it? On White Oak Drive, in Downtown Houston. Permission Whiskey has been open for a little over a year and — while proprietor Peter Nolan says bourbon is his first passion — there’s also love leftover for scotch.
What makes it special? Like Milroy’s of London, you can stump up for a private locker at Permission, and the green velvet studded private booths make for the perfectly sumptuous place to try a dram of a brand new whisky.
Which Glen Scotia should you order? A suitably lavish measure of the Glen Scotia 25-Year-Old. The most expensive Campbeltown Whisky available in Houston — and perhaps all of Texas — there’s no better time to switch allegiance from bourbon.
Glen Scotia Single Malt Whisky
Want to know what we thought of the Glen Scotia 25-Year-Old? We sat down with the Master Distiller for a tasting…
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