11 of The Best Places to Drink Whisky on Burns Night
What should one drink on Burns Night, the annual celebration of Scotland’s poet? Scotch, certainly, but how should one drink it? How about a Thistle, equal parts Scotch whisky and Italian vermouth served straight up with a dash of bitters? Or the almost identical Rob Roy, two parts Scotch to one part Italian vermouth? But seeing as it is named after a novel by Walter Scott, Scotland’s other national writer, then things might get confusing. Perhaps it’s better to stick to having your whisky neat.
However you drink it, make sure it’s the best possible; Robbie Burns appreciated a fine whisky. He referred to the cheaper lowland spirit as ‘rascally liquor.’ If he had money, he would drink the best: Ferintosh from the Black Isle. When it stopped distilling in 1784, Burns wrote a poem: ‘Ferintosh! O sadly lost! Scotland lament frae coast to coast…’ So on 25 January don’t worry too much about bagpipes and haggis, just memorise a few lines from the Bard, have a few whiskies and then impress your friends my quoting apposite couplets during conversation such as ‘wee, sleekit, cow’rin, tim’rous beastie, O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!’ They will love you for it.
Splendid art deco bar which feels like its been here since the 1920s, rather than a relatively new venue beneath the Marriott Hotel on Grosvenor Square. Expect old-fashioned luxury, jazz music and old-school cocktails such as the winter blues-beating Whisky Nog, a mixture of Scotch and cream served hot with a dusting of nutmeg.
Luggage Room, Grosvenor Square, W1K 6JP
Boisdale of Belgravia
Boisdale could not be more Scottish if it tried. Well, maybe if it was in Scotland, then it would be more Scottish. Almost every surface is covered in tartan, there are hunting prints all over the walls and a quite amazing selection of whiskies. There’s a cigar terrace on the roof for when you want to go the full plutocrat.
Boisdale,15 Eccleston Street, SW1W 9LX
Mac + Wild
Competing with Boisdale for the crown of most Scottish place in London, there’s a bar with over 200 whiskies and what they call a ‘virtual gun room’ where you dress up in tweeds and pretend to blast birds from the sky – yes it’s basically a posh version of Duck Hunt on the NES. The only thing missing are the midges.
Mac + Wild, 9A Devonshire Square, EC2M 4YN
3 and 6 Bar at Fortnum & Mason
Another recently-opened bar with a pre-war feel, it’s on the same floor as the barber shop and the gentlemen’s outfitters (did you know they sold clothes at Fortnum’s?). One can imagine Bertie Wooster coming here for a shave, a pair of trousers which Jeeves doesn’t quite approve of and a perfectly mixed scotch and soda.
3 and 6 Bar, Fortnum & Mason, 181 Piccadilly, W1A 1ER
Another chance to get your great writers mixed up, as this place is on Kipling Street near London Bridge. They are famous for their range of whiskies and you can buy them in tasting flights of five. We hear good things about the burgers too.
Britannia, 44 Kipling Street, SE1 3RU
A Soho institution since 1964. At one point this whisky shop was owned by the Jeroboams group, but it is now once again independent and the basement has been turned into a bar. One of those places where you find grown men weeping at the sight of a bottle of 1934 Macallan (yours for just over £5000).
Milroys, 3 Greek Street, W1D 4NX
This is a trendy hairdressers with a bar in the basement, run by a Croatian whisky nut who has some very interesting rare Scotches and Bourbons. We were particularly taken with the Kilkerran 12-year-old from Campbeltown, and the haircut upstairs wasn’t bad either. Worth visiting whether your hair needs seeing to or not.
Blade, 26 Frith Street, W1D 5LD
A new bar in Soho named after Jack Solomons, a Soho character and boxing promoter from the 40s. It specialises in cocktails based on Scotch whisky such as the Black Jack (apparently the name of Solomons’ favourite greyhound), consisting of Laphroaig single malt, maraschino liqueur and lime juice.
Jack Solomons, 41 Great Windmill Street, W1D 7NB
Last Tuesday Society Bar
An eccentric little bar above Viktor Wynd’s frankly bats Museum of Curiosities. It’s dark and cosy, with red velvet banquettes perfect for intimate conversations, though you might have to share your seat with a stuffed lion. They have regular talks, good cocktails and a great selection of whiskies – not just from Scotland.
Last Tuesday Society Bar, 11 Mare Street, E8 4RP
A place that makes us do that that Vic Reeves leg rubbing thing just thinking about it. Not only do they have a huge whisky list chosen by Dave Broom, perhaps Britain’s leading writer on spirits, but they have an amazing sound system with valve amplifiers, horn-driven loudspeakers and a Kuzma turntable.
Spiritland, 9–10 Stable Street, N1C 4AB
The Queen’s Head
Finally, a place that might have been more to Burns’ own tastes, a nicely stripped back boozer near King’s Cross Station. Food is limited to pork pies and the like but the whisky list is extensive. The Glenfarclas 105 cask strength caught our eye at £6 for 25ml. At nearly 60%, you’ll probably want to add a little water. Then it’s time to let rip with some serious Burns – all together now – ‘corn rigs, an’ barley rigs, An’ corn rigs are bonie!’
The Queen’s Head, 66 Acton Street, WC1X 9NB