Jun 022014

In part one, I recapped my my visit to Berlin in terms of the best places for tasting whisky in the city. In this part, I’ll share my impressions from some of the stores specializing whiskey in Berlin.

During my extended weekend in Berlin I visited four whisky shops which can be classified as the cheapest, the most specialized, the classiest and the jaw dropper. Each store has a link to their site in the first mention.

The Cheapest

One side of a shelf at Big MarketBig Market lies in southeastern Berlin, in the neighborhood is different from the Ku’damm district in which I was staying as can be. If the Ku’Damm is Fifth Avenue this store is in Harlem – but the neighborhood is in no way threatening. The bus stops right in front of the store, which is good because it was raining at the time. The store is in its own standalone structure is not hard to find.

As I mentioned in part one, there is a very well stacked tasting station in the store where you can either have a small dash to taste or purchase a whole dram to save. The store not only has a beautiful selection of mostly official bottlings, but also selection of miniatures – some of which are extremely rare – to choose from. Prices they were the best I saw in Berlin and while service isn’t the friendliest, this is definitely the place to stock up on official distillery bottlings in Berlin and the selection of those is outstanding.

This is also the place I discovered that not only bars but also many stores will not accept out-of-town credit cards so sadly I left the two bottles I wanted to buy behind.

The Most Specialized

Cadenhead's During a TastingDirectly from Big Market, I proceeded to get on the wrong train and found myself way out in the suburbs and late for my next destination a tasting at Cadenhead’s Whisky Market. After the tasting, my impressions of which can be found in part one, I went shopping in the store, enjoying a 5% discount which was offered to all participants in the tasting.

As one would expect, the store specializes in Cadenhead’s expressions, while carrying a nice selection of official bottlings. Additionally, the store carries a wide selection of Cadenhead’s miniatures as well as Diageo 200 ml official bottlings. While this is not the cheapest place to buy your whiskey in Berlin, it’s much closer to the city center and they gladly accept out-of-town credit cards. I came out of that store with a nice selection of the newest Cadenhead’s miniatures to taste and review.

The Classiest

Whisky & Cigars is a beautiful shop set in the center of the tourist district close to Museum Island and the television tower. The store has a very high-end touch with a tasteful, though by no means extensive, selection of Scotch whisky and a very significant selection of world whiskys. They also hold regular tastings, though I wasn’t present for any.

The back part of the store is a tasting bar not reviewed in my tasting post because I didn’t taste anything there.
This is  the most expensive place to shop for whiskey in Berlin, yet has its own high-end classy charm and is definitely worth a visit, especially for the The beautiful selection of special independent bottlings they carry. Also, this is the only shop I visited that issues Tax Free forms for a VAT refund if you’re taking the whisky out of the EU. In that case, this would be the cheapest place to shop, bar none!

The Jaw Dropper

I already wrote about the semi-tasting I had at Finest Whisky but as far as shopping goes, this is the place to come for stuff off the beaten path. If you’re looking for a Port Ellen, Linkwood, Caperdonich, Dallas Dhu or Brora this is the place to come.

The Bottle that was no more...Just to give you an idea, to celebrate their fourth birthday they battled a beautiful 45-year-old Tomintoul in their own limited edition. Just to give you another idea, they poured me the last of one of those bottles just to make my perusal of the store more enjoyable.
This is the place you’ll find a 40-year-old Bunnahabhain sitting next any rare expression you could think of. Those bottles are, obviously, priced accordingly but their prices on official bottlings and the more common independent expressions are very reasonable. Like everything else in Berlin the store is very accessible and is in a Soho like neighborhood with a very young and artsy feel to it. Despite the fact that I caught the guys in the store getting ready for a large tasting, they went out of their way to be helpful and offered me several tastings from their selection.
They also accept credit cards, and I walked out of there with a prized cask strength Sherry matured independent bottlings of a 14-year-old Laphroaig. My notes on that one, will obviously be posted in a One Quick Dram posting later this week.

Just a SupermarketNot Even Whisky Stores

Just plain supermarkets will sometimes carry a nice selection of single malts, like this supermarket tucked away in a train station I saw on my way to the airport. This attests, to me, that Berlin is, indeed, a great whisky town.


Final thoughts

Berlin is a fabulous whisky destination, both for tasting and shopping. Some stores have some quirks, be it not opening on Monday or not accepting credit cards or not issuing tax free receipts. But all and all, you can find everything you’re looking for (and some you never thought of…), and at prices that are cheaper than both London and Tel Aviv. For your next whisky vacation, Berlin should definitely be on your list of contenders!

May 302014

You’ve heard a lot about Berlin as Europe’s culture capital, the city revived by the wall coming down. Berlin also happens to be one of the most popular vacation destinations for Israelis, and I figured I’d jump on the bandwagon and come to Berlin for an extended weekend. Not being the clubbing type, my days will be dedicated to sightseeing and visiting museums. But my nights and my shopping time (when my dear wife looks for clothes, bags and shoes) will  be dedicated to the exploration of Berlin as a whisky lover’s destination. I’ve divided my investigation into two parts: Tasting and shopping.

Part I will discuss Berlin as a whisky tasting destination, and part two as a whisky shopping destination.

Part I – Berlin as a Whisky Tasting Destination

A quick word on my methodology: There is none! I was in Berlin for an extended weekend, I did some research on the internet ahead of time and found tastings and bars, but I’m sure I didn’t get all there is to see (in fact, I know there’s more because I obviously can’t review places who’s events were on other weekends, and there are such places). So after this caveat, I’ll get to sharing my experience:

The Big Bar

After arriving in Berlin at 10 am on Thursday and taking an obligatory swing around the city to get its feel, we headed to the very residential Steglitz area to visit Loch Ness bar, an absolute temple of whisky, with 731 (!!) open bottles of whisky. The bar is on a quiet residential corner, away from the center of the city and a few blocks of the main street. Yet, like anywhere in Berlin, it’s really easy to get to with public transportation, and the bus lets you off just three blocks away from the bar.

The Loch Ness is an affiliate whisky bar of the Single Malt Whisky Society, and besides a lovely selection of the Society’s offerings, members get a 15% discount on SMWS bottlings.

The Loch Ness

I prepared my visit in advance, so I knew exactly what I wanted to taste, as the bar has a PDF list of its offerings. I wanted to taste five expressions, and ended up tasting four there and buying one dram to take home with me in a small bottle I brought along. At one point, the owner, Christian, had a few minutes to chat and I had the opportunity to get to know him a bit. He also has a little sherry finishing project on the side, in which he takes a simple single malt and finishes it in the sherry cask he has at home. Christian was good enough to share a dram that whiskey with me and it actually added a nice character to the Glen Grant he used. The bar is not his day job, and that’s doubly impressive, especially when you see the extensive collection of whisky he has, some of which comes from buying retail, and some had to have come off an auction. This also explains the fact that the bar is closed both on Sunday and on Monday. On the side of the bar there’s a lovely outside area, and sitting there was really pleasant, until one of the patrons began puffing on his cigar, preventing my nose from working properly.

There is also a smallish food menu, I had a hamburger and potato wedges, which were decent – but one really doesn’t go to a whisky bar for the food. Obviously, the main show there is the whisky and not the food which is one show that the Loch Ness puts on very well.

I tasted the following drams, all of which will see reviews as One Quick Dram postings over the next few weeks:

St. Magdalene 28 years old , Old Malt Cask (50%)

SMWS 73.45 – Aultmore19 year (56.1%)

Port Ellen 26 year, Old Malt Cask (50%)

SMWS 29.109 – Laphroaig 20 years (59.2%)

And they took home a bottling of a Ben Nevis single cask which was bottled by local whisky shop in Berlin, named “Big Market” to celebrate their 35th anniversary. This selection too, will be reviewed as a One Quick Dram posting.

All in all my experience at the Loch Ness was extremely positive. The whisky selection is fabulous, the proprietor very knowledgeable in the atmosphere very pleasant and relaxed. Were I a Berliner, this would’ve definitely been my regular watering hole.

One thing you need to know about Berlin is that many places do not accept credit cards. At all. Additionally, the places that do, will require your PIN code.

A store, a train and an Island

Klaus of Cadenhead’s during the tasting

On the second day went to visit the Big Market store. More about the shopping experience there in the shopping blog post to follow this one, however the store does have about 400 open bottles from which you can either taste a wee bit or purchase a dram to enjoy on the premises. After getting on the wrong train and visiting Berlin’s outer suburbs (right platform, wrong train…) I made it to the Cadenhead’s Whisky Market shop for a tasting. The tasting was for beginners, but I did want to see a tasting and maybe take some tips for the tastings I conduct in Israel, so I figured the language shouldn’t really be a barrier.
It was nice to see that the crowd was mainly youngish (late 20s and 30s), with the sadly regular over 90% male participation.  Being the opening day for the Feis Ila 2014 festival, naturally the tasting concentrated around Islay whiskys. The first election was the Islay Mist blend. Scratch that, followed by the very forgettable Duthies regional selection from Islay and the first part of the tasting ended with Smokehead. After a short break three heavier hitters were brought out: the Port Askaig 12, the Finlaggen cask strength

And lastly, Celp which is an Islay single malt (rumored to be either a Laphroaig or a Lagavulin) with a branch of sea kelp inside rendering it, legally at least, not a Scotch whisky.

A semi tasting and a disappointment turned glorious

On Saturday, Finest Whisky, a store with a nice selection of rare and hard to find whiskys was holding a tasting. This tasting was of rarer whiskys than the tasting the night before but my wife did not want to come nor did she want to fend for herself that evening, so we just went to check out the store without staying for the tasting. This was a shame because the tasting offered some very interesting whiskys most of them well off the beaten path. The selection list I got by email included:
Tamdhu 10, Original bottlin (43%)
Ben Nevis 17 – World of Orchids – JWWW (50,5%)
Clynelish 16 – Douglas of Drumlanrig (56,2%)
Bowmore 17 – White Sands (43%)
Duncan Taylor “Auld Blended” 35yo – (46%)
Glen Scotia 1977 – 2011 Van Wees Rare Reserve (46%)
Bunnahabhain 40 – Sansibar Whisky (46,7%)
Laphroaig Highgrove 12 – 1999/2013 (46%)

Hannes, the proprietor, was kind enough to offer me a tasting of the 40 year old Bunnahabhain and of the Highgrove Laphroaig. The Bunnahabhain was good, but I don’t have detailed tasting notes for it or for the Laphroaig. I also bought a bottle of a van Wees Laphroaig I was looking for, a single cask expression.

The Union Jack

That evening I visited the small but well stacked Union Jack which was an easy walking distance from my hotel. This is a small place about half the size of the Loch Ness with about 400 bottles to select from. In the lists I found on the Internet this place had the 20 year Rare Malts Brora I’ve been after for a while.

I ordered the SMWS 38.20 Caperdonich 16 year old (57.4%), the Dallas Dhu 18 year (58.5%) and the Imperial-Glenlivet 16 year old in the Cadenhead’s authentic collection series. I now came time for the Brora. Alas, the Brora was finished and the bottle was totally empty. The proprietor, Schlange, offered me the Linkwood 26 (56.1%) which was absolutely glorious. The Union Jack has a nice cozy feeling and Schlange has a really nice touch as together with your dram, she brings the bottle to your table and leaves it there for a few minutes to enable you to read the label and take down whatever information you’d like to note. I’d like to see this happening in more places.

One small note on the Union Jack though: go there for drinks before or after you’ve had dinner. Do not count on the Union Jack for your culinary needs – it’s a whisky bar and it does that very well. It isn’t a restaurant.

My last night in Berlin was a Sunday in which everything (and I mean everything) is closed, so this ends the first part of our post-series on Berlin as a whisky destination.

Relevant addresses include:
1) Loch Ness Bar
2) Union Jack
3) Cadenhead’s Whisky Market
4) Finest Whisky

May 262014

I set out in search of a Brora in Berlin, and according to the internet lists, I actually found one at the Union Jack. I got my Caperdonich, Dallas Dhu and Imperial tastings (each to get their own OQD note), and saving the Brora for last, came to the special moment.

I asked Schlange, the proprietor, for the 20 Year Old, Cask Strength Brora from the Rare Malts Collection. After going through her selection, she came up empty. The Brora is no more. Smiling knowingly, she told me to hold on, and came out with a Rare Malts bottle.

It wasn’t a Brora….It was the Linkwood 26, and she said it was very special. Not one to turn down a rare whisky, I went for it. Great choice! At 56.1% ABV, the alcohol is overpowering for this incredibly gentle beauty and I spent a leisurly hour unraveling this perfume giant.

Linkwood 26 Year Old Rare Malt Selection (56.1%ABV, bottle 4932)

Color: Deep amber, slow and very thin legs.

Nose; Nutty at first, alcohol and concentrated perfume. With the progressive addition of water 4-5 drops at a time, we get sweet flowers, yellow cherries, freshly cracked whole walnuts. Further watering takes you to a florist shop with roses and carnations, light sherry notes and coconut shavings. My nose must have looked like it grew a glass on its end 🙂

Palate: Sugared pears, sweet spices, ginger and gentle sweet chili sauce. Mouth feel is soft and velvety.

Linger: Medium in length, mild spice with notes of curry and saffron.

This is a complex and layered whisky, not for a quick drink. The Linkwood takes a long time to unravel and savor. Thank you, Schlange!