The wonderful world of Melbourne whisky bars - it's a delicious jungle out there, but where do you start? Bourbon, Rye, Scotch. Smoke, peat, malt - pick your poison at one of these top Melbourne whisk(e)y bars. You're welcome.
Whisky & Alement
Old school aficionados; your dreams have become reality - it's here you'll find The Never Ending Cask. Whisky & Alement's co-founder Brooke Hayman explains it's "a 20 litre cask of vatted smoky Islay malts from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. This whisky is constantly evolving as age compounds and it is regularly topped up!" They also do a pretzel-infused Old Fashioned with a side of chocolate pretzels. Need we say more?
Some might say that whisky's best friend is time. We say it's beer! The entire concept of Boilermaker House is based around the so-called boilermaker: a measure of whisky accompanied by a beer chaser. Terry Minikem of the Limeburners team (they scored the Champion Whisky trophy at this year's Australian Distilled Spirits Awards) gives this place his thumbs up. Pairing food with cocktails is tricky enough, but at Boilermaker House they take it to the next level. Their new Drink Matched Dinners series offers up three courses matched with half-size boilermakers.
Discover the newest whisky joint in town at the New World Whiskey Distillery. The just-opened Starward Bar is itself constructed from a 30,000 litre Brandy vat and the 10 metres of French Oak. Their whisky has also very recently gained the backing of Distill Ventures (basically the enterprise development side of booze giant Diageo), and is the first Australia spirit to do so. You might want to get in before they're too famous. We also hear rumours they do a bottled Old Fashioned, as if you needed further incentive.
In a past life it was a cigar lounge, yet the latest incarnation of The Kilburn is still fond of all things smoky. It has a ridiculous range - if you tried one new whisky every day here it would take you nearly two years to get through them all. The venue is also one of only three Melbourne bars to get the official thumbs up from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (along with the aforementioned Whisky & Alement and Eau De Vie). Our rule is, if The Kilburn has their life-changing Smoked Chocolate Old Fashioned available, drink it.
For our fix of tipples from the land of the rising sun, we head directly to the serene interiors of Hihou. Their service and respect for Japanese whisky is exceptional - it's little wonder the famous Japanese whisky makers at Suntory take the place over when they visit our shores. Having Hihou's award-winning bar snacks alongside our dram is a bonus. And a special shout out also to Heirloom, who lay claim to the largest Japanese whisky range locally, for the times you want to go large.
There's always room for whiskey with an 'e'. The Kodiak Club is a shrine to all things North American, and a visit here is like a tasty road trip through Tennessee, Kentucky, New Jersey and even Canada. It's obviously all about the Bourbon at Kodiak, and their crispy fried pickles and spicy buffalo wings do their starred and striped whiskey offering proud.
Hitting closer to home are - the local champions and champions of locals - Bad Frankie, who surely possess the largest selection of Australian whiskies. Their 40+ bottles are sourced locally all the way from Hobart to Perth. Try Frankie's version of a Whisky Sour which makes a star of the cocktail Starward instead of the traditional bourbon. Do check out Glamorama for their extensive local whisky love and a boogie too.
Cure Bar & Eatery
Cure's Tom Daniel is all about delayed gratification. His bar's name even alludes to things that are aged; wine, cheese, meat and, of course, whisky. Tom personally appreciates the seemingly magical time that whisky spends in its barrel: "You just have to wait so long, the fact that it's got so much age just makes it distinguished. If you're going to drink something, why not drink something that's taken so much preparation?" The key to his (relatively intimate) establishment being touted as one of the best according to whisky nerds? Tom thinks it's down to hands-on service.
Nant 1821 Distiller's Bar & Restaurant
Tassie interlopers Nant actually have two venues mere steps apart on Driver Lane. Lucky us! One is a cellar door while the other is more of a whisky-fied restaurant. You know you're onto a good thing when a purveyor of whisky is confident enough to stock other labels alongside their very own. Tasting flights and oysters will ease you into the experience - then, once you're a confirmed Nant-head, private lockers will keep your own personal bottle secure until the next visit.
The Noble Experiment
It always pays to get the inside word on whisky - and Ren Butler is the founder of Melbourne's Startup Whisky Club (it's a social club for doers.) Even though it's not exclusively a whiskey bar, her nod goes to The Noble Experiment. "The owner has a deep passion for whisky and even ages special casks on site! He always has all the traditional mainstays but really stands out with the cool new whisky he finds. On top of all this there's always at least one solid whisky nerd behind the bar to help guide you to your perfect dram even when venturing into uncharted territory," explains Ren. Do order the Doctor's Orders which fuses The Noble Bootleggers Tokay-finished whisky with Lillet Blanc, yellow chartreuse, grapefruit bitters, dried fig and cured venison (!)
Want more boozy bars, but looking for something a little more social? Here are Melbourne's best shared cocktails!
Photo credit: A Better, Happier St Sebastian