Whisky is a bit like Marmite: you either love it or you hate it. But those who love it, really love it, and will often go to great lengths to sample the finest liquid gold from across the continents. Smoked, blended, bourbon and rye – there’s a type for every drinker, whether served neat for the purists, on the rocks or shaken and stirred into a classic Old Fashioned. And where better to sample such unique expressions than at some of the best drinking holes in the capital? From Mayfair to Canary Wharf, here are the best whisky bars in London.
Black Rock, Shoreditch
Boasting an impressive 350 whiskies in its refined east London basement, Black Rock takes the biscuit when it comes to whisky bars and tastings in the capital. The bar first opened its doors seven years ago and claims to have ‘changed the game’ for such drinking dens, becoming renowned for its expertise and extensive collection. Inside, you’ll discover supreme Scotch as well as interesting iterations from distilleries in America, Ireland, Japan and Canada.
On the last Saturday of every month, enthusiasts can book Black Rock’s Blending and Tasting Experience to learn about the history of whisky, explore how different styles are made and, under the tutelage of the bar’s whisky educator, make their own unique bottle to take home. Novices and connoisseurs are also invited to the weekly Tuesday Tastings, where Black Rock invites a different distillery to share its ethos and showcase its expressions while gathered around the bar’s iconic 18ft Trunk Table.
9 Christopher Street, EC2A 2BS, visit blackrock.bar
Boisdale, Canary Wharf
Celebrating the birthplace of the fiery tipple, Boisdale – with outposts in Canary Wharf and Belgravia – promises each guest an authentic Scottish experience, from its tartan-clad interiors and traditional live music performances to its cigar lounge and impressive selection of whisky. The Canary Wharf establishment boasts the largest collection of whisky in the UK, housed in a golden-hued bar on the second floor of its Cabot Square venue. The selection spans a 12-metre wall of liquid gold, which holds more than 1,000 bottles of malt whisky. Can’t decide? Simply ask the helpful bartender which dram would suit you best.
1 Cabot Square, E14 4QT, visit boisdale.co.uk
The Sun Tavern, Bethnal Green
This posh pub in east London has an enviable selection of Irish whiskeys as well as the world’s largest collection of poitín on offer – and is one of the only bars in the capital to serve these specific tipples. For the budding hibernophile, The Sun Tavern also hosts intimate poitín masterclasses exploring the fascinating past of Ireland’s original moonshine.
There’s more than a drop of whiskey on offer here too, thanks to an award-winning 200-bottle-strong drinks list, all of which can be served neat, over ice or combined to create long, stirred and shaken cocktails too. Feeling fancy? Sample a unique dram from the tavern’s Private Collection shelf, featuring rare and unique spirits from the Emerald Isle.
441 Bethnal Green Road, E2 0AN, visit thesuntavern.co.uk
The Vault at Milroy’s, Soho
It’s perhaps unsurprising that one of the oldest whisky shops in London is also home to an equally-impressive taproom and bar. Tucked behind blue doors on Soho’s Greek Street since 1964, Milroy’s was one of the first bars to stock single malts in the capital when it became popular in the 1960s. Today, the family-run shop provides customers with expert knowledge, whisky tastings and a wide range of tipples (think whisky, brandy, rum and agave). Prospective buyers can try before they buy by sampling single malts, blended malts, bourbons and ryes from Scotland, America, Japan and across the globe.
Downstairs, you’ll find The Vault: a basement bar accessed via a secret bookcase door where you can sample countless whiskies. Also keep an eye on Milroy's website for information on its tasting events which are a great introduction to the world of distilled spirits. Predominantly featuring legendary Scotch whisky distilleries and independent bottlers, journey through the Highlands of Scotland to Islay or be transported all over the world, courtesy of Japanese distillers, such as Suntory and Nikka, and Buffalo Trace and Jim Beam from America.
3 Greek Street, W1D 4NX, visit milroys.co.uk
Coburg Bar at The Connaught, Mayfair
Overlooking Carlos Place, the Coburg Bar at the five-star Connaught hotel is one of Mayfair’s best-kept secrets. Quiet and intimate, while away the hours in the comforts of surroundings by Paris-based designer India Mahdavi, featuring velvet wingback chairs, monochrome cameos by Julian Opie and a cosy open fireplace. The bar can serve practically any tipple you desire, from dry martinis to ruby red wines, but it’s the whisky experience that is of note here.
From the wild Scottish Highlands to the legendary Connaught Cellars, embark on a journey of discovery with the exquisite Guided Whisky Tasting crafted by the bar’s dedicated sommelier and served tableside on a whisky trolley. Settled among the rare vintages of the Coburg Bar, guests are also invited to feast on seasonal canapés and artisan cheeses before sampling a trio of single malts. Sounds like the perfect afternoon to us…
16 Carlos Place, W1K 2AL, visit the-connaught.co.uk
Bull in a China Shop, Shoreditch
Behind the doors of a Dickensian pub in Shoreditch sits one of the most popular Japanese whisky bars in the capital. Bull in a China Shop – located on the former site of the popular Mizuwari Bar which was renowned for its authentic cuisine and Japanese single malts – has paid homage to its previous occupant by keeping up the Asian whisky tradition. Sit at the low-lit bar to discover more than 100 select Japanese and Scotch best enjoyed in an imaginative cocktail or neat in a highball filled with hand-carved ice.
Elsewhere, the 50-seat restaurant – furnished with plush banquettes against whitewashed brick walls and oriental ornaments – serves whisky-infused dishes. No trip to this bar would be complete with a bowl of its crispy belly pork with Nikka whisky and soy glaze – simply delicious.
196 Shoreditch High Street, E1 6LG, visit bullinachinashop.london