Living in England and seeing all the events, tastings and launches happening across the island of Ireland is something I’ve learned to deal with over the past few years. As fantastic as it is for Irish whiskey, on a selfish note it’s unbearable! Fortunately, England has one or two little gems that helps numb the pain; Milroy’s of Soho is emphatically one of them.
It’s been a while since we last covered a ‘destination’, let alone a whisky bar. But this one seems perfect to write about; after all, it’s not just a whisky bar. Nearly 60 years ago, Milroy’s was founded by Jack Milroy at 3 Greek Street, funnily enough where they remain to this day. Jack’s brother, Wallace, helped fund Jack’s endeavour, which subsequently allowed the pricing controls to loosen. Milroy’s mirrored the growing popularity of single malt whisky in Scotland, with Glenfarclas and Glenfiddich becoming widely available within. With increasing fame, their status as an institution was cemented following orders from No 10, Downing Street.
By the time Jack and Wallace had sold Milroy’s, they were truly whisky icons, and what better stewardship to hand over to than Mark Reynier of Waterford and Bruichladdich fame. Since 2014, Milroy’s has done nothing but grow. The addition of a cellar bar, whisky bar and ‘Milroy’s of Spitalfields’ branch has hastened their popularity. The latter has also created room for a whisky club, cocktail bar, cigar terrace and private tasting room. Milroy’s aren’t just about expanding their empire bar by bar and shop by shop: being the original whisky specialists wouldn’t be so fitting if they didn’t have their own successful bottlings of which they are too many to name. Milroy’s have-launched the Vintage Reserve series, heralding exceptional and mature single cask malts from Scotland’s most renowned distilleries and continuing the brothers’ highly collectable independent bottlings from last century which includes a 28-year-old Springbank.
Admittedly, I have only been to Milroy’s twice, with each visit more emphatic than the last. However, their selection does not even half compare to the aptitude and kindness shown by their staff. Each time I have been in, they’ve given me some great recommendations which unexpectantly led to some sneaky small samples. It’s these acts that ensure this whisky bar is held in such high esteem. Each time I’ve visited, I’ve had a fairly expensive bottle shown to me and a sample poured from it, with the likes of a 28-year-old Aberfeldy and a 20-year-old Laphroaig given out. I’m not afraid to say that my own whisky knowledge only goes so far, so when I had two of my friends visit, the ability of the staff to recommend some quality drams beyond my own was effective and liberating!
The rest of the bar at Milroy’s is a spectacle too. When my other friends joined most recently and doubled the size of our party, we were accommodated at the side where we were had our own ‘snug’ littered with whisky memorabilia and bottles that caught our eyes. Even going to the toilet is an experience. Once one feels the urge to dehydrate, you must push your way through a sizeable bookcase (speak-easy style) which works via a pulley in which the weight on the other side is a whisky barrel….obviously. Then it’s down to the snazzier cocktail bar, which unfortunately we didn’t have the time to sample.
One thing I am slightly bemused by is the lack of Irish behind the bar, which may illicit a few groans from the readers. However, as is now understood, Irish whiskey is the fastest growing whiskey, by a country mile. I’m not sure that some Waterford, JJ Corry or Bushmills is enough to truly showcase the diversity in whisky. Given the number of Stauning, Japanese and Bourbon selections available, there’s no issue elsewhere.
Anyway, from what I can remember, here are two of the drams I sampled during the night, as we are in the business of whiskey reviewing after all.
Aberfeldy 28-Year-Old Milroy’s & Jazzed Edition
Price: £200 (available from Milroy’s online)
Nose: The evidence of bourbon is really noticeable here, lots of spiced vanilla custard with some burnt bits too. There’s a lovely sweetness too, Toffee Crisp and Rolos appease my sweetshop contemplations.
Palate: Again, there is more sweetness that comes through, but its more nuanced than the nose. There’s still vanilla, but its gentle and less spiced, more creamier. The honey notes run through it constantly and brings more of a bite to the sweetness. Some slight fruity notes come through too, almost poached pear and some unripe plums are perceptible.
Finish: A really beautiful and luscious finish, medium to long in length which brings a subtle but gratifying heat throughout.
Stauning El Clásico
Price: £64.24 (available from Master of Malt)
Nose: Given it’s inspired by a Manhattan, I get the nose in parts here. There’s a typical spiciness from the rye base, and the pepper, notable from the Stauning Rye whisky I reviewed here comes noticeable. The sweetness of the vermouth is really and almost balances the spice from the rye. Spiced apples with cinnamon with clementine oranges.
Palate: A clear similarity to the core rye whisky with more pepper notes. However, there’s more sweetness from fruits, again, clementine oranges and a little citrus zest.
Finish: The real star of the show and the vermouth takes over and gives that sweetness of plums and maraschino cherries. The bittersweet notes and botanical essence come through too and linger on to a medium length finish.
This is well-worth a visit on a trip to London. It’s quintessentially British and has all the charm and allure that brings with it. The staff are kind, generous and knowledgeable, ensuring that even the unwitting tourist that pops in gets a thorough recommendation that enables them to tick it off their London bucket list. For me, I will certainly keep going back. However, to whet my Irish palate, the Toucan Bar do a fantastic range of Irish whiskey downstairs.
I’d also recommend that if you want to go and thoroughly sample some drams and make some detailed notes, don’t go with your friends on a Tuesday night. Trying to write extensive notes whilst having the ‘craic’ is not a conducive act!