Published by Judah Finnigan
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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”.