Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Top Hong Kong Whisky bars

Updated 21st Jan 2020.

Back in 2013, we launched a list of "Top Sydney bars: The (sort of but not entirely) definitive list (of good ones)". We try to keep it up to date, and years later it's still one of the most popular posts on this blog (right next to, interestingly, this Glenfiddich post).

I'd been toying with the idea of a similar list for Hong Kong (especially seeing as we've already reviewed a few), but the bar scene here, whilst fantastic, is so ever-changing that it would be a nightmare to maintain such a list.

...a list of Hong Kong's best whisky bars though, I figured, should be much more manageable...and so, in 2015 I finally decided to turn the haphazard list I'd been keeping into my phone into a list for the blog, using the same format as our Sydney list (name, link, address, brief 1-2 line description, link to our review, and sorted by region).

Please enjoy, and if you think I've left any out (quite likely) please let me know!

Although note: we've seen quite a few HK whisky lists over the years and found a lot of them seem to include a few bars we wouldn't really consider "whisky bars". Having 30 commonplace scotch whiskies on the menu does not make for a "whisky bar", in our opinion, and so the list below tries to include only bars that focus, mostly exclusively, on whisky.


Central
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The ThirtySix (2/F, Amber Lodge, 23 Hollywood Rd). Named after The Macallan's 36 stills, this Jan 2019 launched bar has taken over the old Angel's Share space, with a complete refurbishment and a dimly-lit seductive decor. Highballs and whisky are the focus here, with an impressive selection of whiskies in the "vault" (where customers can also buy and keep their own bottle), and creative takes on the Highball (and other cocktails) co-designed by Proof & Company.*

Club Qing (10/F, Cosmos Building, 8-11 Lan Kwai Fong). Aaron Chan. Kennis Ko and Wu Kin San (Jack) run what is commonly referred to as Hong Kong's best whisky bar...and we're not one to argue. The specialism here is twofold - old and rare bottles (keep an eye on their Instagram for new arrivals), and Japanese whisky, (as if there was any doubt to their credentials with regards to the latter, a full set of Ichiro's Malt Cards greets you on entry). Prices are reasonable, half-drams are happily poured, their own bottlings are fantastic, staff are incredibly friendly/engaging/helpful, and the bar caters equally well to whisky fans and newbies alike. They only run a few tastings per year, but when they do, they're the sort of tasting you won't find anywhere else in Hong Kong. Think 1970s-1990s verticals of Macallan or Laphroaig 10, an exploration of Karuizawa across the decades, etc... The gold standard.

House Welley Bar eUnit A, 2/F Welley Building, 97 Wellington St). A new bar for 2020 (technically late 2019), from a few well-known people in the HK whisky scene. House Welley fuses modern design, with a large, airy space, modern lighting and a stellar collection of drams split by region, not just from Scotland but Japan, Ireland, Australia and other world whiskies. The owners' personal tastes are clearly reflected in the selection of drams, and you'll find everything from paper label SMWS bottles (try the 117.1 if there's any left!), rare Macallan, vintage Bowmores, single cask Yamazakis and everything in between. Sure to become a regular haunt for HK's whisky lovers.

Nocturne (35 Peel Street, Soho) - See our review here. If Angel's Share is mostly about Scotch, Nocturne is all about Japanese whisky (and wine). Intimate and dimly lit, with an interesting industrial-yet-warm interior, you'll find a great range of Japanese drams, all ordered from a Samsung tablet. The prices aren't cheap, especially for those who aren't used to HK whisky prices, but their selection is excellent.

Chinnery (Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong, 5 Connaught Rd) - An intimate and old-school whisky den in the equally intimate and old school (yet unmistakably luxurious) Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong.

001 (97 Wellington St officially, although the most common entrance is via a hidden door in Graham St's wetmarket) - Located under popular whisky shop Liquor and Liqueur, 001 is probably most well-known as a cocktail bar, but don't overlook its whisky credentials. Single cask bottlings and rare, hard to find drams are commonplace here. Pricing is on the higher end for HK whisky bars, but it's worth a visit if you're looking for a unique dram. Get in early as it gets busy / selective on popular nights.

Butler Shelter (29/F, Asia Pacific Centre, 8 Wyndham St) - An outpost of the original Butler Bar in TST (see "Kowloon side" below). Small, quiet and very Japanese, the selection is limited but well-curated, the cocktails are expertly made (we once watched one of the bartenders spend 20 minutes just getting air bubbles out of the ice mould he was about to freeze) and the drams include something for everyone. Price-wise I'd say about "middle of the road" for HK whisky bars. Sadly closed as of Dec 2015.

Angel's Share (2/F, Amber Lodge, 23 Hollywood Rd) - See our review here. One of the classics. Cosy but large and open, with a fine selection of drams (with a focus on Scotch), and even their own cask. A popular spot for tastings (it's not hard to see why). Reasonably priced (considering good whisky is expensive everywhere in HK). Sadly closed as of Sept 2018


Sheung Wan
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Ginger (G/F, 12 On Wo Lane, Sheung Wan) - Ginger is only a few doors up from Ronin, but focuses more heavily on Scotch than Japanese whisky, in particular, lots of interesting IBs and distillery-only releases. If a sought-after bottle has been released in HK, you can probably bet Tony will have it within weeks, available by the dram at Ginger. A warm-yet-industrial funky interior, a decent selection of drams, a nice upstairs area (good for groups) and a great selection of Ardbeg (they're an official Ardbeg Embassy) make this a must visit. Prices are quite reasonable for HK, and they often have their own private bottlings on offer, which are well worth a try.

Whisky & Words (No 7, Shin Hing Street, Sheung Wan) - One of two openings in/around August 2018, Whisky & Words is a small, intimate whisky and cocktail bar with a great selection of recent OBs and IBs. Having a few whiskies here, followed by a cleansing Paloma at Coa (literally 10 metres away) makes for a pretty great night. 

Ronin (8 On Wo Lane, Sheung Wan) - A great place to go for Japanese whisky in HK, although it has to be said, bring your wallet. The selection is amazing (as is the food - seriously), but you'll pay for it. Looking for a rare Karuizawa, limited edition Yamazaki, single cask Akashi or the like? Good chance you'll find it here. If you're planning to visit on a Fri/Sat though, book early. It's small and incredibly popular.

SAFE Bubbles and Malt (Shop 2, 1/F Manhattan Avenue, 255 Queens Rd Central, Sheung Wan) - I wasn't sure what to make of SAFE at first. On the one hand, they have the credentials (former official SWMS bar, regular tastings, and one of the most insane collections of rare/expensive whisky you've ever seen in one place outside of perhaps The Macallan Bar Macau, or the Diageo Claive Vidiz collection), but on the other hand, with concrete flooring, coloured lights and lots of polished metal, it doesn't really feel like a traditional whisky bar. Then again, there's nothing wrong with breaking tradition. Prices are on the higher side (especially if you're used to SWMS prices in places like the UK and Australia), but as we've said, whisky isn't cheap in HK (thank the 100% tax we face here). You'll find drams here that you're unlikely to find anywhere else in HK (but make sure you also take time to gaze at / drool over the collection in the cabinets, which includes a 60 year old OB Glenfarclas and a Monochrome Joker).

Malt Whisky Bar (19 New St, Sheung Wan) - See our review here. The newest whisky bar on this list (as of November 2015). Tucked away in New St (though it's not hard to spot the orange facade), this bar has, like an increasing number of HK whisky bars, two collections of whisky - one that appears to be for show (or perhaps those with deep enough pockets), including rarities like Balvenie TUN1401s, Hibiki 30s and some OB Port Ellens, and the collection behind the bar, consisting of a more wallet-friendly selection (spanning a good section of the globe). Friendly staff and decent prices make this a definite option if you're in the area. Sadly closed as of Jun 2017


Wan Chai / Causeway Bay
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Casky (Shop 1 G/F, Golden Star Building, 20-24 Lockhart Road, Wan Chai) - The other August 2018 opening, Casky has already (in its first few weeks) held some fantastic events with some big names from the HK and Asian whisky worlds. We'll be visiting soon and will update this post with our thoughts.

Mizunara The Library (4/F, Kiu Yin Commercial Building, 361-363 Lockhart Rd, Wan Chai) - About as “Japanese” a bar as you can get in HK. Impeccable drinks and service, but quite expensive. Their range of Japanese whiskies is ever-expanding (and includes some photo-worthy gems), and the whiskies in the "library" of malts around the room are incredible, but you'll pay for them. Endo-san who looks after the bar here made me one of the best cocktails I've ever had in HK, but it was also by far the most expensive I've ever had in HK, at over $220HKD. But hey, quality costs. Update: On a recent visit we learned that the bar is happy to offer half and even one-third drams of some malts (like most whisky bars in Japan). We love bars that do that, as it brings a number of rare/expensive whiskies into the realms of possibility for a number of whisky fans.

b.a.r Executive Bar (27/F, Bartlock Centre, 3 Yiu Wa St, Causeway Bay) - Part of the old brigade - touted as being a "private bar", but as long as you call and make a reservation, in our experience, generally open to anyone. A great selection of Japanese, Scottish and even a few Aussie drams, but not cheap. A good spot to find a few rare drams you might be seeking (for us, it was the 2009 Ardbeg Supernova).

The Canny Man (Wharney Guang Dong Hotel Hong Kong, 57-73 Lockhart Rd, Wan Chai) - Think Scottish pub and you're pretty much on the money. Over 100 drams available.


Kowloon side
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Tiffany's New York Bar (Lobby Level, InterContinental Grand Stanford, 70 Mody Rd, TST East) - A large (and ever-expanding) list, great staff, comfortable settings, low ceiling, regular jazz, frequent tastings and their own cask-aged whiskies all come together to make this one of HK's greats. If there's any doubt, just look at who visits when they're in town - David Stewart and George Grant, to name just two whisky legends who we've met at Tiffany's in previous years. Prices are fair and they also have good deals on bottles - including 2-for-1 on certain nights. Add a cigar terrace, and their annual whisky festival (Hong Kong Whisky Festival), and you've got a solid option for any whisky lover.

Butler Bar (5/F, Mody House, 30 Mody Rd, TST) - One of HK’s original whisky bars. Very Japanese. Quiet, unassuming, with typical Japanese perfection in bartending. Cocktails and drams alike are all excellent here. Prices are about middle of the road for HK.

Bar Buonasera (7/F, Mody House, 30 Mody Rd, TST) - No, that isn't a typo this place really is just two levels above Butler Bar, and like Butler, it's also an old-school Japanese bar with a strong focus on classic cocktails and fantastic (often Japanese) whiskies. An offshoot of the famous Osaka bar by the same name, Bar Buonasera HK will often open rare / hard to find Japanese whiskies by the dram, and they also host the occasional guest bartender, focusing on whisky cocktails.

Chin Chin (3/F, Hyatt Regency Hong Kong, 18 Hanoi Road, TST) - Could initially be dismissed as your average hotel bar (live band, large, often full of business travellers) but before you write it off it, have a look at the Chinese decor/bar, and the drams within. Some rarities (with a focus on Scotch) and some good 2-for-1 specials at times. A nice place to drop into for one or two if in the area, or looking for a break from shopping at the (often sensory-overloading) K11 Art Mall!

Whisky Stables (Hullett House, 1881 Heritage, 2A Canton Rd, TST) - HK's first "Whisky Ambassador" accredited bar sees a decent selection (including a few Mackmyras rarely seen elsewhere in HK), comfortable seating and great staff come together to make a comfortable and inviting whisky bar. Great for drinks before/after dinner at one of Hullett House's restaurants, or just for a dram on its own. The heritage building adds to the charm, and the terrace, albeit small, is a nice addition not often seen in HK's whisky bars Sadly closed as of 2019.


Other
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Parkview Whisky Bar (Lobby Level, Hong Kong Parkview, 88 Tai Tam Reservoir Rd, Hong Kong). Technically a members' and residents' only bar, Parkview Whisky Bar might seem small (it is), but the whisky collection is out of this world. In addition to a constantly-stocked back bar of rare and incredible drams (1946 Macallan Fine & Rare? Check. Blue Label Macallan 30s? Of course. Well-aged single cask Karuizawas? Yup. 1966 Sprinbank Local Barley, Moon Import Springbank, ceramics Bowmores? Check check check), the bar sees regular new bottlings come in two, from well-known IBs like Three Rivers, Acorn and Elements of Islay. A bit of a hike for those in Central, but worth it for some of the incredible drams on offer.

Cheers,
Martin.

* In the interests of full disclosure, I own a small stake in The ThirtySix.

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