England has a shortage of good whisky bars. You really have to seek out the places that have a properly interesting selection of single malts or blends. Some pubs surprise you, but mostly there’s no point in getting your hopes up. But what about our fair capital, London?
It turns out there aren’t too many here either. When you hit google for whisky bars in London, the Albannach comes up top – hardly surprising, as it’s perhaps the most well-known and established whisky bar in the city. And the location is great, too – it’s situated on the corner of Trafalgar Square, not too far from Charing Cross tube station. So, when I was recently visiting the area, I made a point of heading right there.
Inside, the Albannach possesses a wonderful, elegant ambience; the decor riffs on both traditional and contemporary design features. Behind the bar itself was a wonderful set of thick, grid-like oak shelves that towered up the high ceiling. A bottle of whisky stood in each wooden square. Visually – and I think this is important – that has quite an impact on a whisky geek. However, the greater part of the floor space is taken up by a restaurant with a good reputation, which means that I can imagine the smaller bar area getting pretty crowded of an evening. Don’t go expecting a Tokyo-style shrine to whisky, this is food and whisky in equal measures. I sat outside, anyway, given that it was a rare sunny day, and it was a superb spot to sip a dram, chat with friends and watch red double-decker buses rumble by.
The Scottish whisky selection at the Albannach is incredible. It has the major distilleries all covered, and didn’t just opt to stock the core bottles. There were some unusual whiskies there that couldn’t be found on the menu (which you can read here). I wanted to go for something a interesting, so I started with the Hazelburn 8 Year Old, finished in Sauternes Wood. It was an absolutely gorgeous, velvety sweet dram, with a delightful texture and rich finish. When you place your order you also get a glass of water, as well as a jug (and straw) to add a few drops to your whisky, both of which were nice touches.
I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t a better selection of international whiskies, particularly from Japan. There were the usual suspects – Hibiki, Nikka, and Hakushu, though I did later drink the dependable Yoichi 10 Year Old. I spotted a Sullivan’s Cove from Tasmania, though, so perhaps the international whiskies are something you really have to search for along the bar. You can expect to pay anything from £7 to £12 for core range to more unique drams. But you’d end up paying an eye-watering few hundred quid for the handful of very rare drams on the menu, which were presumably reserved for bankers in bonus season. The servings were all 50ml, so between £10 to £15 a glass is not an unreasonable price, particularly when you consider that this is a prime spot in Central London.
The Albannach is a great place, with a wonderful range of single malts and great atmosphere. Even if London was filled with whisky bars, this would still draw me back. The staff are knowledgeable and friendly, happy to keep the conversation rolling. They understood whisky, which is important, and I can imagine they’d go out of their way to really help people who had no idea whatsoever about where to start (that shelving unit alone could be quite intimidating for someone new to whisky). I’d certainly recommended a visit if you’re in London. I can’t vouch for how busy it gets at night, but it was certainly a sanctuary in the late afternoon sun.