From Scotland to Japan via Ireland and Wales, there's a whole world of whisky to discover — and London has just the bars for the job. Here are our favourites places to have a dram.
Dram Bar, Denmark Street
Denmark Street has undergone a weighty transformation in the last handful of years, and it's not been all good; then again, if Dram Bar is anything to go by, it's not been all bad either. Chesterfields, stags' heads and tartan wallpaper are strictly off the menu at this rambling whisky bar/bottle shop/cocktail joint — it's all angular strip lights and small plates of labneh. You could tuck into the interesting range of ready-made cocktails (concocted on site), but malt fiends will find themselves salivating over the hundreds of whisky/whiskey bottles on the shelves. Among the classics are some rare gems; we sampled an Adelphi Selection Ben Nevis sherry cask which made us want to jump up and do a little big jig.
Dram Bar, 7 Denmark Street WC2H 8LZ
Black Rock, Shoreditch
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The centrepiece of this insane Shoreditch bar is two 'whisky rivers' flowing through a huge 18ft English oak tree trunk table — a talking point if ever there was one, not to mention the fact it lends the place one almightily heady aroma. Let's not forget the whisky cabinets, which hold around 250 bottles and are organised by flavour. If you don't fancy it straight, there’s a short whisky-focused cocktail menu to keep you busy.
Black Rock, 9 Christopher Street, EC2A 2BS
The Connaught, Mayfair
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Voted as 'The World's Best Bar' on more than one occasion, the Connaught has for years been renowned for its plush 1920s decadence and incredible cocktails — especially its martinis. But it's also become known for its whiskies — and that's no surprise, given the gamut on offer, from £18 Aberfeldys to an entirely ludicrous Yamazaki 55yo that costs £13k for a nip! (There is also, in true Connaught style, a whisky trolley). There are tasting experiences as well, where a whisky sommelier leads the way, serving accompanying cheeses as you go.
The Connaught, Carlos Place, W1K 2AL
The Blues Kitchen, Camden/Shoreditch/Brixton
A proper Camden institution and staple of any night out in the area, this American fun-time bar, restaurant and live music venue excels when it comes to bourbon and Tennessee whiskey. There are over 80 bourbons alone to choose from, before you even get started on the other stuff. And, of course, you could also have them slung in a cocktail or drizzled into a milkshake, should you feel so inclined. The list is a serious one, but there’s nothing else about this bar that takes itself too seriously at all.
The Blues Kitchen has venues in Camden, Shoreditch and Brixton
Bull In A China Shop, Shoreditch
To fit with its Asian-inspired menu, Bull in a China Shop has one of London's biggest Japanese whisky collections, featuring a few rare ones like Nikka Coffee Malt Single Cask, and all served in a highball glass with carefully hand-carved ice. Otherwise, there's plenty of Scotch too, plus whisky-infused potions like the matcha sour, or chamomile and charcoal old fashioned. Team it up with some crispy pork belly bao buns, and you're golden.
Bull in a China Shop, 196 Shoreditch High Street, E1 6LG
Boisdale, Canary Wharf
Home to all things Scottish in London, the Boisdale brand has a site in Belgravia, and another Canary Wharf. It's the latter which boasts a 12-metre-long 'glowing amber wall of liquid gold', aka the greatest whisky selection in London. The list stretches to an incredible 1,000+ bottles, of which the vast majority are Scottish (although Irish and Japanese options can also be found).
Prices range from just over £12 to a heck of a lot more for 50ml measures of some rarities. Boisdale knows its audience, so if you're drinking the more common stuff you’re likely to be able to find it cheaper elsewhere. But if it's something unusual you're after, or you want maximum choice, then there’s no doubting this is the place to go.
Boisdale Canary Wharf, 1 Cabot Square, E14 4QT
Milroy's of Soho
London's oldest whisky shop is also home to a bar with 300 whiskies from all over the world (but a heavy focus on Scotland). We've always found the barpeople here chipper and eager to help out, although if you're really stuck for choice, order a tasting flight. Also know that if you purchase a bottle, you can stash it in the liquor lockers and come back for more another day. Oh, and if you're wondering why people keep disappearing at the back of Milroy's, there's a speakeasy cellar bar, The Vault, which is accessible through a bookcase (booking is recommended). Down there you can tuck into a heady whisky cocktail list.
Milroy's of Soho, 3 Greek Street, W1D 4NX
The Britannia, Bermondsey
Go to the average Scottish pub, and you'll be greeted with dozens, if not hundreds, of different whiskies. English boozers? Not so much. But the Britannia is an exception to the rule. An unglossy old boozer on a quiet back street near Borough, it might not be where you'd expect to find a stellar whisky lineup, but there are well over a hundred offerings on the cramped back-bar.
If you go regularly, you’ll also appreciate the 'malt of the month', providing a constantly changing dram of something a little special. Reasonably priced whiskies, a pleasant terrace, and a laid-back atmosphere combine to create a true London gem; albeit not that hidden a gem, judging by how busy it can get around end of work time. Toss in smokehouse food and live bands, and this place is chef's kiss-worthy.
The Britannia, 44 Kipling Street, Kipling Estate, SE1 3RU
Salt, Marble Arch
Set just off eclectic Edgware Road, there's no getting away from the fact that Salt is weird. From its clubby, neon-signed exterior and anything-but-salt-of-the-earth shiny bar, through to its inexplicable combination of Indian dishes, shisha and whisky.
But it's the whisky we're here for, and Salt has no fewer than (cue darts voice) 180 of them from around the world, including England, Ireland, Wales, India, Canada and Japan — as well as American bourbon and Scotch. We also appreciate the menu's descriptive tasting notes. Prices are modest for some of the straight-up spirits, and there's a fairly decent selection of whisky-based cocktails to lure you in, too.
Salt, 82 Seymour Street, W2 2JB
Scotch Malt Whisky Society Bar, Farringdon
They do things a little differently at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society; behind the bar of this Farringdon clubhouse, you're met with row upon row of near-identical-looking bottles; the idea is that you don't limit your choice of dram by distillery or region, but instead, choose by flavour profile. This gives carte blanche for some seriously/ridiculously poetic flavour notes (think 'tarry ropes', 'harbour walls' and 'fireman's gloves'), but if you either revel in this sort of thing, or can otherwise look beyond it, you're left with a sublime library of malts — "the largest selection of single cask, single malt whisky in the world", apparently — in a swanky setting. Yes, it's a members club BUT they offer day memberships, meaning anyone can spend an evening here.
Scotch Malt Whisky Society Bar, 19 Greville Street, EC1N 8SQ
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Slim Jim's Liquor Store, Islington
This Upper Street dive bar-styled venue with bras hanging from the ceiling has a surprisingly good selection of bourbons and American whiskies considering its laid-back good time vibes.
Soho Whisky Club
"Whisky. Whisk(e)y. And more Whiskies." This members' club has more than 400 different whiskies from around the world. As the name suggests, it's members only.
Silverleaf, Liverpool Street
A fancy-schmancy cocktail bar at Houndsditch's Pan Pacific hotel, Silverleaf will happily mix you a whisky sour, or pour out a simple dram, but it's also home to Alba, a 'secret' whisky bar, where they offer regular tastings. One to have up your sleeve for a special occasion.
Written by Ben O'Norum, Helen Glaberson and Will Noble.