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The Six Best Whisky Bars in Wellington

Bars that make an impression, without going over the top.
By Judah Finnigan
July 28, 2015
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By Judah Finnigan
July 28, 2015
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For more features like this, including articles, news and reviews suited for the modern man, head to the LYNX Black Gentleman's Guide to Wellington.

Nothing says "gentleman" quite like a drop of whisky. Whether your taste-buds groove on smooth malts or you're more inclined to choose the smokiest, peatiest thing on the menu, Wellington boasts a myriad of spots that'll no doubt cater to your persuasion. But virtually any self-respecting bar should be able to offer a glass of whisky to its patrons, so the following spots are reserved for those with something particularly integral to the experience; superlative service, evocative vibes or just a really impressive selection of the drink. The best can deliver all three without breaking a sweat.

Either way, it's cold outside and cradling a dram of the good stuff has never been more appealing. Whatever your style or spelling preference, this is a guide to some of the best whisky, whiskey and bourbon whiskey bars in Wellington thanks to LYNX Black.

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6. Poquito

Located on the waterfront end of Tory St, Poquito is probably recognizable to most as a low-key eatery, but it's only growing in stature as a late-night destination for boozy banter. If swanky posturing is an immediate deal-breaker for you, then perch up a seat here; the vibes are wholly personable and unpretentious. As far as whisky goes, Poquito are self-confessed to be in a stage of growth, but every drop on the shelf is known intimately – as was showcased by the casual but comprehensive tasting I was treated to. It's the ideal spot to quietly kick off an evening, but after sampling their warm hospitality, I'm not sure why you'd want to leave.

Bartender's pick: Isle of Jura paired with a Panhead Pilsner.

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5. Portlander

A bar and grill adjoined to a Rydges Hotel lobby doesn't exactly scream atmosphere, but one look at the selection here immediately justifies the inclusion. One word to adequately sum up the Portlander's approach to whisky is "depth"; the range on offer is staggeringly vast, including rarities to tickle even the most seasoned of aficionados. Boasting approximately 120 different whiskies, including an assortment of limited Kiwi batches, the Portlander is equipped to service the adventurous as thoroughly as the stubborn brand loyalists – and for the former, the rabbit hole is endless.

Bartender's pick: either the Glenmorangie Signet or New Zealand's own "The 25 Year Old".

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4. Crumpet

An adorably antiquated café by day and a classy watering-hole after dark, Crumpet remains one of the capital's most singular, authentically atmospheric cocktail bars. The Boon Brothers' philosophy on whisky mimics their approach to cocktails: there are no lists to glaze over, encouraging interaction with your bartender (which will hopefully direct your palate towards more untested waters.) Like Poquito, the actual number of bottles on the shelf is limited, but everything here is hand-selected by what the Boons themselves love to drink. They'll be the first to admit that there's an element of selfishness to that, but patrons can rest assured that all endorsements are backed by a wealth of refined knowledge and taste.

Bartender's pick: Kilchoman 5 Y/O Original Cask Strength.

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3. Matterhorn

The idea that Matterhorn is a shining fixture of Wellington's drinking and dining scene doesn't really need mention; its reputation as a preeminent purveyor of fine food and liquor remains internationally recognized, as well as common knowledge to locals. The bar – a long, narrow corridor intimately sealed off from the rest of the restaurant – is still as sharp, sophisticated and stocked as ever. Boasting an array of whiskies ranging from obscure limited releases to recognizable staples, Matterhorn has upward of forty options for the whisky connoisseur (though the bartender was quick to assert that if you can put an exact number on the bottles on your shelf, you're probably doing it wrong.)

Bartender's pick: BenRiach 17 Y/O Solstice.

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2. Hawthorn Lounge

If convincing décor and dapper staff are on the checklist, you probably already know about the Hawthorne Lounge, a classy little establishment that bleeds old-school charm, channeled from the kind of gentleman's club you'd find in the twenties. Like most bars whose primary focus is on cocktails, the whisky list here is small but under constant rotation. Always firmly on the pulse of what's trending, Hawthorn currently offer an assortment of Scottish, Irish and Japanese, with a healthy portion of their list populated by quality American Ryes – which makes sense given the number of Sazeracs, Manhattans and Old Fashioneds they'd churn out in an evening.

Bartender's pick: the Redbreast 12 Y/O or the Rittenhouse Straight Rye.

 

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1. Ancestral

For the complete package – ambience, expertise and an impeccably curated selection of whisky – you can't really top Ancestral. Manager Hiro Tereoka believes unequivocally in providing a whisky-drinking experience not so easily replicated by the common man. Anyone can dim the lights and sip on a scotch from the comfort of their living room; it's the responsibility of joints like Ancestral to offer a selection and atmosphere that warrants the venture outdoors. Intent on pushing comfort zones and expanding horizons, Ancestral host a wide range of whiskies with emphasis on limited and independent bottles; if sampling something you've never tried before – and will likely never find again – is your ideal of pleasure, this is the ticket.

Bartender's pick: the Springbank 12 Y/O – "a ballsy way to finish the night".

Published on July 28, 2015 by Judah Finnigan
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