I’ve never understood whisky. I leave that to fusty old men and everyone of drinking age in Scotland. It’s not that I don’t like it – my reluctance to order the so-called amber nectar has more to do with the fact I see it as a connoisseurs drink; something blended over time to be appreciated at leisure. Hardly a spirit I associate with Friday night cocktails with the girls.
Still, there’s nothing I like more than a challenge. Not too complicated or taxing mind; mainly simple things, like trying new tastes at a bar. You see, although Albannach has occupied its prominent spot in Trafalgar Square for the past six or so years I’ve never felt inclined to visit. Why would I? This place makes a big thing about whisky and, like I said, I’ve never been a big fan.
So it was with the teensiest bit of trepidation that I agreed to meet for cocktails here. Call me naïve but due to its location and specialism I had visions of it being filled with whisky-addled tourists. I needn’t have worried. Although it’s a huge space, Albannach is cleverly designed to embrace classical features and contemporary styling in equal parts. There’s a showstopping staircase leading up to a restaurant on the mezzanine, while the ground floor is dotted with cosy cubes, tables and funky papier mache stags heads. At the centre of things is an authoritative looking bar showing off 150+ whiskies and all manner of spirits.
Like any good bar, this one serves up lots of classic cocktails and plenty of staples like wine, Champagne and beer. In fact, it would have been pretty easy to steer clear of the whisky issue entirely but as I was here, it seemed rude not to give at least one a try. Cue Guy the whisky sommelier, on hand to make the process of elimination just that little bit easier. Talk about an enthusiast – his eyes positively mist over when he gets the green light to discuss his favourite subject: whisky (or whiskey if you’re Irish.) You can’t help but get caught up in his passion and before I know it, I’m caught up in a fragrant whirl of single malts, cask strengths and the characteristics of blends from the Highlands and the Lowlands.
All the talk piques my interest and whets my appetite enough to put the spirit to the test. Time to order… Apart from a great name, (what’s not to like about a drink called a Peaty Kiss?), my cocktail is long, full of character and big on flavour and personality. Its wonderful smoky aroma announces its arrival as soon as my glass hits the table – I can only describe it as bonfire night in a distillery. The clever combo of Bowmore 10 year-old, mixed with Picon, redcurrants and pineapple juice is complex to say the least, there’s a delicious sweetness upfront, followed by a strong, smoky finish. The next time I look down at my glass, the contents have mysteriously vanished. Needless to say, it’s a hit.
My partner goes for something equally adventurous: a delicious Yamazaki martini, made with a 12 year-old Japanese whisky. Now that’s another thing: who knew they made whisky in Japan? Or England for that matter? The whiskies on offer here run from the usual suspects all over Scotland, through to varieties from Wales, Sweden and even India.
Thankfully, there’s a helpful whisky map on hand to guide you through the characteristics of all the drinks on offer. Alternatively, you could try one of the Whisky Flights, ranging from the Albannach Flight at £10, to the Luxury Flight at £199. Or if you really want to find out more, you can always book for one of the regular masterclasses. I will be. Now that Guy has introduced me to the beauty of this drink, I definitely want to find out more.
Albannach – 66 Trafalgar Square, WC2N 5DS – 020 7930 0066