Drinking whisky in Black Rock is a bit like eating a croissant in a Parisian cafe or sipping a cappuccino in an Italian piazza: it just feels right. More than that: it feels as though your surroundings have been specially constructed to compliment your ingestion experience; which, in the case of Black Rock, they actually have been.
The 200-odd bottles of whisky are kept in cabinets, and are arranged by flavour, as opposed to region, to help the novice drinker who might know they want something smoky but little more than that. The cabinets are further organised by price point to ensure the bill doesn’t come as a nasty surprise.
Of course, the centrepiece of this otherwise intimate space is the hollowed out 18ft, 185-year-old oak tree trunk that runs across the room. Within this tree trunk runs two rivers of whisky, an American blend and one of the house’s creation. You can sit along it, but please, for the love of God, don’t try and drink it from the source.
What’s the story?
Despite its deliberately timeless vibe, Black Rock opened in March 2016 and quickly established itself as one of the go-to destinations for whisky lovers in the capital. (Having a giant, whisky-channelling tree trunk will do that for you.) Its success has led to Black Rock Tavern, a sort of pub that’s situated above the basement bar.
But this isn’t all! Above the Tavern you will find Black Rock Blending Rooms, for those who want to get a little more connoisseur. Above the Blending Rooms, there will soon be Black Rock Lodges, modelled after the capsule hotels of Tokyo. You can check out anytime you want but you can never leave.
What to drink?
Take a wild guess. (In fairness, there are a few beers available, but come on.)
If you fancy a warm up before delving into the library, highballs and cocktails are available. Both are arranged by the same flavours as the bottles - balance, fragrance, smoke, sweet, spice and fruit - although unlike the bottles you get one example of each.
I went for the Fragrance Cocktail (Haig Club, Italicus, Kamm & Sons Islay Cask) and Spice Highball (JW Black Label, Norfolk PX, Chilli Bitters) and would heartily recommend both, but it really is a matter of taste.
As for the whisky, either follow your nose (and your intuition) or let the expert bar stuff guide you around the blends. These guys are passionate and want to share their passion: they’ll bring out a selection of bottles, talk you through each one, answer even the most mundane of questions. “Whisky is fun, whisky is hip hop!” enthused our painfully hip Italian server. Arrive eager and inquisitive, and you’ll soon understand what he means.
What to eat?
Don't turn up with a raging appetite although definitely leave room to graze. There're a handful of small plates to line the stomach: order the veggie haggis balls and the oven baked chorizo, as an absolute minimum. You'll want some soda bread to have with the latter - it's baked fresh in the bar.
Add peated pate and a couple of raw oysters and that's the food menu, very much quality over quantity.
Will it bankrupt me?
Depends what section of the library you browse in!
Check the dots on the labels: one dot is £7 per 35ml, two drops is £9 per 35ml, and three drops is £11 per 35ml.
For the serious ballers / connoisseurs, a gold dot is anywhere above £12 for 25ml (e.g. a dram of Glenfiddich 30yo will set you back £40.)
Cocktails are the standard £10-ish, and the three small plates are £8 each, plus £3.50 for bread and £2.50 per oyster.
Anything else to note?
If you’re passing through Bristol, pop into the second Black Rock whisky bar that followed its London forbearer. Told you they were doing well.
For more info, see Black Rock