Melbourne’s whisky bar scene has been booming over the last few years, buoyed by what can only be described as a popular fascination with whisky. Whisky, and whisky bars, are now in vogue. Unlike ten or even five years ago, there is no shortage of specialist whisky bars to choose from. Whether you are looking for a smoky malt to warm the cockles of your heart, or a flight of Speysiders to satisfy your sherry cravings, any number of Melbourne’s whisky bars will have you covered. But, that’s where the oversupply of whisky goodness ends. Whilst Melbourne has a fine selection of whisky bars to choose from, only a few of these bars offer theatre and a culinary experience that transports you to a whisky-based utopia.
Among the plethora of whisky bars now on Melbourne streets, the jewel in Melbourne’s crown is Boilermaker House. Boilermaker House is located at 209-211 Lonsdale Street in Melbourne, across the road from QV.
At Boilermaker House, you are sure to find the right whisky for you. A towering army of whisky bottles fill the walls, and the bottles in the ranks are meticulously recorded in a thick document called ‘The Anvil’. There are literally hundreds of whiskies to choose from, and the prices are reasonable – you can find plenty of whiskies by the glass for under $20.
The bartenders are world class. Not quite happy with making me perfect cocktail after perfect cocktail, one even took the time to help me with my Scottish pronunciation. Now I know how to pronounce Royal Lochnagar – you need to get that throaty Scottish “CH” right in the middle and not pronounce the “gar” as though you are an angry pirate. GAR! (If you are interested, listen to Brian Cox pronounce it).
Dressed to impress in attire you would expect to see Nucky and his crew sporting in Boardwalk Empire, the bartenders put on an excellent performance that adds to the escapism of Boilermaker House.
The bar’s only downside is, ironically, its popularity. On Friday and Saturday evenings, just as the sun starts to set, the bar begins to fill. Before you can pull your gaze away from the alluring pages of The Anvil, the bar is suddenly full. During the busy times, the chatter is almost deafening as the acoustics of the large space amplify the sound of punters trying to speak over one another. Twice we have gone to Boilermaker House during the busy times, only to leave each time. The crowd is always impeccably behaved, as you would expect from the hipster types that tend to attend the bar. During the more quiet times, Boilermaker House will make all your whisky-based fantasies come alive.
The service has been consistently excellent, save for a few blips – mainly staff forgetting our order, or part of our order. But, I hasten to add, this has only happened a few times.
What to try
With such a large drinks menu, choosing what to order may be overwhelming. Jack Sotti, General Manager at Boilermaker House, has some informed suggestions.
Jack suggests ordering The Boilermaker Sour Cocktail, which he describes as the bar’s ‘house version on the classic whisky sour’. It combines Pure Scot Scotch whisky with fresh lemon and passion fruit juice, sugar and India Pale Ale (IPA). Often IPA has notes of tropical fruit (mango and passion fruit are common), so it would logically compliment the tropical flavours which are added to the cocktail.
Jack recommends ordering the Crispy Pork Belly, which is slow cooked overnight and served with mash and onions. Need something to wash it down with? Jack says the pork belly ‘pairs excellently with the fresh double IPA showcasing big bold hops’. Jack also suggests trying it with ‘a green, fragrant, smoky whisky such as Connemara 12yo from Ireland’.
You cannot go to Boilermaker House without trying one of its many boilermakers. A boilermaker is essentially a match of whisky, beer and food. Whilst all of the bar’s boilermakers offer something unique, when prompted to select only three, Jack suggests the following.
Wax on Wax Off – Hibiki 12yo + Konig Ludwig Weissbier
Why it works: ‘The perfect beginners Boilermaker. This Boilermaker works using complimentary flavours. You’ve got the ripe peach and plum-wine notes of the whisky that intertwine with all the banana, wheat and spice of the beer. Boilermakers need to work also on a textural level, with this one you have the supple oils of the Hibiki coat your tongue with its weight and buttery texture then the heavy effervescence of the beer cleanses your palate’, says Jack.
The Big O.M. – Aberlour Abunad’h + The Edge Cereal Killer Red Lager
Why it works: According to Jack, The Big O.M ‘steps it up a little as a big cask strength sherry bomb steps into the ring. Abunad’h needs taming but not without losing sight of what makes it so delicious in the first place. The red lager comes in and cools down that 59%+ abv, it allows the beautiful sherry sweetness to shine through in all its spicy warmth. The red malty beer brings caramel and rye. By the end of it you don’t know where the whisky begins and the beer ends.’
The Devil’s Smokehouse – Experimental Spirits Co Bacon Bourbon + 8 Wired Flat White Coffee Milk Stout
Why it works: This boilermaker is probably my flavourite offering at Boilermaker House, but let’s defer to the mixologists to understand why it works so well.
According to Jack The Devil’s Smokehouse is by ‘far the most decadent match up and the first with a slightly altered whisky. Stout and bourbon are a match made in heaven; you combine bitter dark chocolate with creamy vanilla and caramel and you’re onto a winner. We just brought bacon, maple, coffee & cream to the party. Enough said.‘