Scotland is renowned all over the world for its whisky but there are fine drinking and dining establishments across the nation that offer so much more, as Jay Thundercliffe, Ailsa Sheldon and Paul Trainer reveal on their tasting tour.

 

1.The Register Club
Edinburgh

The Register Club on the fourth floor of the Cheval Grand is an airy, sophisticated space, with perfectly mixed cocktails and a cracking new bar menu. The hotel transformed the old RBS headquarters.

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Here the fine wooden panelling is perfectly in keeping with the elegant bar, comfy leather sofas and intimate booths. Head barman Ruben Goncalvez is an incredible mixologist.

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For his utterly delicious twist on an espresso martini try a Second Life with vodka, kummel, cacao liqueur, raspberry and espresso – sure to revive anyone who’s flagging. There’s a great all-day menu, from venison sausage rolls and Parmesan fries to oysters and charcuterie plates to share. The whisky selection is excellent too. AS

Fourth Floor, 42 St Andrew Square, EH2 2AD

www.theregisterclub.com

 

2. Moskito
Glasgow

Expect high ceilings, bare brick walls, made-to-measure pop art, lush soft furnishings and secluded alcove booths set the scene with quirky flashes of neon and a dynamic lighting system that moves the bar from a daytime social to late night club setting.

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Find yourself a table on the garden-style terrace after work. Their revamped cocktail offering expands on signature serves, such as spiced rum champagne colada or strawberry daiquiri while introducing a range of flavour profiles around classic cocktails like bourbon old fashions, vodka martinis and negronis.

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Pair with salmon and lobster ravioli served in a fire roasted tomato and shellfish sauce, hibiscus and basil. PT

196-200 Bath Street, G2 4HG

www.moskitoglasgow.com

 

3. Ballygrant Inn
Islay

A trip across to Islay – the most southerly of the Inner Hebrides – is almost a required pilgrimage for whisky lovers.

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It’s more than just a geographical location, being one of the five recognised regions of Scotch whisky, with nine distilleries producing spirits with peaty, smoky characteristics. Ensuring that any visitors (and locals) are given an appropriately whisky-leaning stay is the family-run Ballygrant Inn.

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Their bar has been draped in awards for its dedication to whisky, whether from Islay, the mainland or of international origin, with a selection of more than 900 varieties and a menu that reads like a whisky encyclopaedia. Bar meals are available, as is a whisky pairing menu in the restaurant. JT

Ballygrant, PA45 7QR

www.ballygrant-inn.com

 

4. Kaleidoscope Bar
Edinburgh

A visit to The Scotch Malt Whisky Society’s Kaleidoscope Bar on Queen Street is a must for whisky enthusiasts and provides a welcoming introduction for the uninitiated.

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The society has popular private members’ bars but Kaleidoscope on the ground floor of their Georgian townhouse is open to everyone.

There are exceptionally rare whiskies to try- 500 exclusive single malts from Scotland alone, creative food pairings, unique cocktails and regular tasting events, so there’s always something new to
discover. Staff are expertly trained, and no previous whisky knowledge is required or expected. Recently named ‘Global Whisky Bar of the Year’ at the prestigious World Whisky Awards, you’re in very safe hands. AS

The Scotch Malt Whisky Society,
28 Queen Street, EH2 1JX

www.smws.com/venues/28-queen-street-edinburgh

 

5. The Ben Nevis
Glasgow

Aptly named after our biggest peak, this Finnieston favourite ranks among the very top bars for enjoying a dram in Glasgow (and, thus, in the world).

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Stepping through the curved corner entrance is to be transported to a cosy Highland whisky den, with the Argyle Street winds blowing in all manner of whisky lovers, folk musicians and locals.

There’s no better place on a dreich night, by the fire, settling down with one of their outstanding range of whiskies, dished out by sage staff from a most impressive whisky gantry. Regular Scottish and Irish traditional live music sessions help keep the uisge beatha flowing. The only downside is that you’ll need to leave to get a good feed – not too onerous in Finnieston. JT

1147 Argyle Street, G3 8TB
www.thebennevisbar.com

 

6. Superico Bar & Lounge
Edinburgh

For the full Superico Bar & Lounge evening, start in the bar for an aperitif – perhaps a Padron Martini with Roku gin and padron pepper vermouth?

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The bar was originally created by the Edinburgh-based design studio JA!COCO! and is rightly famous for its bold and gorgeous in turquoise and yellow, Art Deco meets “Chilean-inspired sun-drenched party palace”. If you head only a few doors up the street to sister venue Superico Restaurant you will find their new head chef, Calum Ralston, has a brand new South American-inspired menu.

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Return to the bar as the evening warms up and the DJs start to lay down their vibes. It’s the perfect time to perhaps try a smoked peach fizz with whisky, mezcal, creme de peche and Earl Grey tea? AS

99 Hanover St, Edinburgh, EH2 1DJ
www.superico.com

 

7. Bittersweet
Edinburgh

I almost don’t want to tell you about Bittersweet. Only open a month, it’s already proving tricky to find a table mid-week. This Italian owned and run aperitivo bar is certainly off to a very strong start.

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Bittersweet is a new venture for brothers Fabrizio and Simone Cioffi, who also own local artisanal Old Poison Distillery, which launched in 2017. Old Poison make small batch artisanal spirits in the Biscuit Factory in Leith, including Selkie Gin, Hina rum, Edinburgh bitter aperitivo and Edinburgh vermouth rosso.

Bittersweet is a chance to show Edinburgh how to properly experience aperitivo. “Aperitivo is not just a drink,” explains Fabrizio, “it’s a cultural practice. It’s getting together with friends for a chat, a drink, some food . . . that’s aperitivo.”

At Bittersweet there’s a cool and laidback industrial feel, with exposed brick walls, comfy banquette seating and plenty of bar stools and plants. There’s a wide range of ages here, some having an after-work drink with friends or colleagues, couples on dates, others like me with a book and a Spritz, and a few snoozing dogs too. Music is upbeat hip-hop and the conversations and drinks are flowing.

“In only a month we have so many returning customers, so many regulars already, it’s amazing,” says Fabrizio.

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I start with the house spritz with house spirit ‘Edinburgh bitter aperitivo’, prosecco and Italian blood orange soda. It’s delicious, refreshing and not overly sweet. Also on the menu are classic Aperol and Campari spritzes, and an intriguing elderflower spritz with Vesuvius Elder spirit, which I’m bookmarking for a sunny day.

Alongside the house drinks there is an inventive changing cocktail menu, the first iteration is ‘Wanderlust #1’, inspired by all the places we might have daydreamed about over the last few strange years.

Try Midnight in New York (bourbon based with an intriguing sourdough pretzel syrup), Love in Paris (Calvados and Benedictine), or go bold with a Secret of Tulum (tequila, mezcal, strawberry, coffee, agave, triple sec and lime).

The menu is simple but wonderful with Italian classics – lasagne, gnocchi, arancini and plenty of dishes that are perfect for sharing. There’s a real attention to detail and top sourcing, with fish from Davd Lowrie in Fife.

The bruschetta I sample is incredible. 

Everything is made fresh daily in the kitchen, currently manned by Simone, while Fabrizio leads the bar.

I have to try the house Negroni before I go (I take my research seriously).

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“In the past a negroni wasn’t always Campari,” Fabrizio says, “it’s just spirit, bitters and vermouth.” Theirs is unlike any negroni I’ve ever tried. It’s pale pink in the glass, almost like a Provençal rosé. The flavour is, well, bittersweet, it’s balanced but punchy and made with all Old Poison spirits. The Selkie gin gives a woody zesty base, the vermouth rosso adds bitterness and warmth, the bitters add aromatic and floral notes and a ‘liquid garnish’ of orange, grapefruit and lime completes what is a deeply delicious drink. Salute! AS

24 Henderson St, Leith, EH6 6BS

www.bittersweetleith.co.uk

 

8. Killiecrankie House
Pitlochry

Sitting in scenic woodland, ten miles north of Pitlochry, Matilda Ruffle and Tom Tsappis have created a fine dining restaurant with rooms within a charming country house. They opened in October, making the move from London to Perthshire with a vision of celebrating Scottish dishes, serving a single set menu for guests at dinner with drink pairings curated by sommelier Matilda.

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They take their cocktails seriously at Killiecrankie House. “The ethos of the restaurant is rooted in storytelling and finding Scottish produce that is interesting, something that people may not have tried before. That’s translated into what we do in our bar,” Matilda explains.

“We’ve concentrated on Scottish cocktails, so there’s a bramble thicket, with gin, crème de mûre, our own herbal syrup, citrus and flowering currant that we have taken from our garden. When you smell it raw, it’s like Ribena, the most amazing thing, quite delicious. Made From Girders is our fun, tongue in cheek nod to Irn Bru that has orange blossoms, Cocchi Americano and marmalade gin.” The house version of a penicillin cocktail combines Islay whisky with ginger, salted heather honey, citrus and aquafaba.

Foraging for plants and herbs to include in the drink selection brings the smells and flavours of the woods into the bar. “We are enjoying trying out new things and seeing what works. We work with Rapscallion soda in Glasgow. I grew up in Cupar and we’ve managed to find Bad Gal Boocha from Cupar who supply kombuchas to use in our non-alcoholic pairings and cocktails. Currently Wasted Degrees Brewing in Blair Athol are creating a beer to go with one of our dishes.”

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Matilda points to the booming Scottish spirit scene as an inspiration for their pursuit of innovative cocktail combinations. “There’s so many different ingredients you can work with, our gin is from Seven Crofts in Ullapool, the rums we use are Dark Matter and Outlaw. In the non-alcohol space there is Feragaia with Scottish botanics. We are expanding our whisky collection and offering tastings. There’s so much to choose from and it provides us with a focus that complements the food menu.”

The bar has Art Deco design and a playful approach to the rural aesthetic. “Throughout the house we have the same sort of colours, a lot of dark navy. It feels modern Scottish, quite cosy” Matilda says. “The bar itself is decadent and fun. The sort of place you want to linger for a few drinks. Alongside guests staying with us we get a lot of walkers in the area, and they stop by for something refreshing like a spritz or a cobbler.”

For June, the team don’t have far to look for new ideas. “Perthshire is famous for berries so that will be something that will be on the menu. In the garden we have the most over-the-top rhubarb plant right now so that will be the basis of some fantastic drinks”. PT

Pitlochry PH16 5LG
www.killiecrankiehouse.com

 

9. The Glenturret Lalique Bar
Crieff

As if the picturesque Perthshire setting and famed Glenturret Distillery (the oldest still working in the country) wasn’t enough, the recent addition of high-end dining and drinking operation Lalique has made this a must-visit for any whisky-loving gourmet.

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The Michelin inspectors certainly agree, giving the fledgling restaurant and head chef Mark Donald a highly prized star this year. The stylish bar is the spot for dram fans to sample the whisky flights, showcasing the finest that Glenturret has to offer – there are more than 200 rare whiskies available, drawing on the archives at the historic distillery. Bar snacks are taken to the next level with a dedicated and distinct menu to be enjoyed with a drink, or two. JT

The Glenturret Distillery, The Hosh, PH74HA
www.theglenturretrestaurant.com

 

10. Loch Leven Hotel
Lochaber

Dramatically situated on the edge of a loch between Glencoe and Onich on the way to Fort William, this historic inn and its award-winning operation is a haven for spirit lovers.

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Both the Old Ferry Bar and more formal restaurant offer impressive views of the surrounding waters and hills to enjoy while sampling their impressive range of whiskies and gins. The serious dedication to spirits here is most evident with a craft distillery in the hotel’s grounds, where Pixel Spirits produces gin, rum, and vodka – all available, along with experimental concoctions, at the hotel bar. There are also tasting events available, as well as classes on distilling and creating gin and rum. JT

Onich, by Fort William, PH33 6SA

www.lochlevenhotel.co.uk

 

11. The Gate
Glasgow

Andy Gemmell, a well-kent drinks authority around town, opened up the Gate a few years ago – joining a growing effort to drag the Carlton district up to the level of drinking and dining enjoyed in other neighbourhoods in the city.

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The discreet, utilitarian exterior hides a cool yet cosy bar inside, with plenty of rugged wood, stonework, and cool touches (it’s the sort of bar David Beckham comes to for a whisky photoshoot). Whichever way you look at it – a great whisky bar with excellent cocktails or a cool cocktail den with exceptional whiskies – this place dishes out drams and concoctions with equal skill, style, and plenty of panache. JT

251 Gallowgate, G4 0TP
www.thegateglasgow.com

 

12. Scotch & Rye
Inverness

The drinks scene in Inverness has been given a good shake-up by this bar (as well as its assorted sister venues around town). While it may hark back to the underground 1920s’ speakeasy vibe (with some added steampunk) courtesy of prohibition Chicago, the attitude to mixology here is distinctly modern.

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Classics are given a contemporary twist, such as Salted Caramel White Russian or Coconut and Ginger Mojito. Whisky – and whiskey – fans are given plenty of love here, too, with an enticing, globe-trotting menu of spirits for sipping, featuring plenty of options from across the pond. The US-style comfort food menu full of burgers, dogs, ribs and Tex-Mex faves chimes nicely with the transatlantic ethos. JT

21 Queensgate, IV1 1DF
www.scotchandrye.co.uk

 

13. Sligachan Hotel
Skye

You couldn’t ask for a more dramatic setting to enjoy a dram than at this hotel close to the spectacular ranges of the Red and Black Cuillins on the Isle of Skye.

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All manner of climbers, walkers and wildlife lovers have stayed at the hotel since it opened in 1830 – there’s even a small mountaineering museum here. It’s been in the same family ownership since 1913 and there’s a love of whisky running through the place, whether in the hotel’s Mackenzies Bar or the award-winning Seumas’ Bar with its well-curated selection of more than 400 malts.

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Beers from the local Cuillin Brewery and local produce on the menu add to the hotel’s enticement. JT

Sligachan, IV47 8SW
www.sligachan.co.uk

 

14. The Torridon
Wester Ross

There are few better examples of the high-end hotel experience in Scotland than the Torridon – resplendent in its magnificent setting close to its namesake mountain range in an impressive corner of the Highlands.

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Class and elegance ooze from every corner of this place, not least in its extensive and enticing bar, where gin is given nearly as much attention as whisky – 365 malts, 120 gins and counting. They take gin so seriously that they’ve even made their own: Arcturus. The beautifully bedecked bar, awash with amber of every hue, is a sight to behold, and a perfect spot to luxuriate after a day in the wilds, served by staff that blend expertise with appreciation. JT

By Achnasheen, IV22 2EY
www.thetorridon.com

 

15. The Wee Pub at the Chip
Glasgow

What this wee whisky bar on a corner of the West End’s cobbled Ashton Lane lacks in square footage, it is more than makes up for in stature.

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This is, after all, a little offshoot of Ubiquitous Chip – Glasgow’s famous grandaddy of a restaurant, est. 1971 – which is housed in former stables here and is run by the founder’s son Colin Clydesdale. So expect plenty of knowledge and enthusiasm for our national tipple, with deep stocks of some special bottles from which to sample.

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It’s a great spot to settle into, inside or out, for a dram or two, especially after enjoying the exceptional food and wine in the adjoining restaurant. JT

12 Ashton Lane, G12 8SJ
www.ubiquitouschip.co.uk

 

16. The Spiritualist
Glasgow

The Merchant City is a fitting setting for this classy cocktail bar and restaurant, which has cemented its place in town as a go-to spot for getting serious with spirits.

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Their claim to have the greatest gantry in Scotland may be hard to prove, but the brain-addling array of global tipples that looms over drinkers makes for a very impressive sight. Likewise, the cocktails – this is the place to indulge in a bit of theatre from skilled shakers, with dry-ice cocktails poured from crystal skulls or oak smoke-filled decanters creating a fancy Old Fashioned.

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There’s an enticing food offering, too, to help get you to the end of that filled watermelon sharing number. JT

62 Miller Street, G1 1DT

www.thespiritualistglasgow.com

 

17. House of Gods and Casablanca Cocktail Club
Edinburgh

House of Gods has been a word-of-mouth and social media hit. Tagline – ‘beige is blasphemy.’

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Co-owners Mike Baxter and brother Ross had already opened a hotel in London and a youth hostel in Edinburgh, “We then had to decide whether to open another utility hotel or go with our passion project. We chose the passion project!” he says. Initially a fan of industrial uncluttered design, visiting Annabel’s nightclub in London inspired Baxter to contemplate the theatrical potential of hospitality venues.

“I started to think, if I could travel in time, where would I want to visit? For me it was that 1920s era, these great glamorous opulent hotels and luxury cruise liners. And how would you travel? On the Orient Express of course.”

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Baxter cites Anouska Hempel, who designed Blakes Hotel in London, as a key influence. “She says start with a place with good bones and just keep layering. I guess like you might have done on the Orient Express, pick up a beautiful carpet in Turkey, then some fine silks and go from there”. It’s clear Baxter is quite the collector and curator of beautiful things: “I buy them, then think about where they’ll go.” The cocktail menu is inspired by tales of hotel debauchery including ‘Champagne Supernova’ for Oasis who allegedly threw furniture out of hotel windows; Bohemian Gold for Freddie Mercury (think snake charmers and a $200,000 champagne bill); and Exploding Drum for Keith Moon, banned for life from the Holiday Inn after driving a Rolls Royce into the swimming pool. The drinks are complex, potent, and delicious and never style over substance.

Casablanca has a speakeasy feel, up a dark staircase with thick velvet curtains and luxury furniture. On Sundays it’s ‘Donatella’s Drag Night’ with Edinburgh’s best drag queens. “It’s become a bit of a show bar,” says Baxter, “it’s a lot of fun”. While the cocktail bar is open to all, for the full House of Gods experience you have to stay in the hotel. The intention is to provide a level of service usually only available in extremely expensive hotels. 

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“It’s giving people the chance to be treated like a celebrity, to be really spoiled,” says Baxter. “The hotel is dimly lit with flickering candles, upholstery is plush House of Hackney fabrics, walls a rich port red – it’s a highly sensory experience. A team of butlers bring glasses of fizz, mix cocktails at your door, and order pizza. Rooms are small but eating in bed is all part of the fun. There’s even a button to press for late night milk and cookies.

“Nobody books here for a quiet night,” says Baxter.

House of Gods is also about to open Lilith’s Lounge. “I’m so excited, it’s my favourite bar so far!” says Baxter. Guests will be offered the chance to drink with Lilith, choosing tarot cards to select drinks, or risk ‘drinking with the devil’. You have been warned (we can’t wait). AS

233 Cowgate, Edinburgh, EH1 1JQ
www.houseofgodshotel.com

 

18. The American Bar, Gleneagles Hotel
Auchterarder

While The Century Bar is the elegant heart of Gleneagles’ prestige cocktail offering, The American Bar is the five-star hotel resort’s most exclusive and glamorous room, dressed in 1920s grandeur.

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Their head of mixology, Michele Marriotti has devised the comprehensive Book of Berries menu of balanced, surprising cocktails flavoured with ingredients sourced from across the Gleneagles estate. Each of the eighteen concoctions are mixed with a sole botanical berry. The illustrated guide charts a course through distinct flavours and spirits. Order a blueberry vodka-based cocktail infused with Gleneagles’ Garned Café blueberry muffins served in bespoke glassware or a pomegranate cocktail with Macallan 12 sherry cask whisky and champagne. PT

Gleneagles Hotel PH3 1NF
www.gleneagles.com

 

19. Window Bar, Harvey Nichols
Edinburgh

On the Forth Floor at Harvey Nichols on Edinburgh’s St Andrew Square, the Window Bar is a discrete and chic cocktail hub with spectacular views over the Firth of Forth.

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Try a Speyside Spritz with Singleton 12-year-old single malt whisky, Belsazar rose mixed with grape and apricot soda. This summer they will serve a Platinum Jubilee Cocktail, Lilibet, which has been created in partnership with Ramsbury Single Estate. Inspired by the Queen’s favourite drink, a gin and Dubonnet, the limited-edition cocktail is a deconstructed version with gin, Vermouth and champagne combined with a strawberry liqueur. PT

30-34 St Andrew Square, EH2 2AD

www.harveynichols.com/store/edinburgh

 

20. Café Royal
Edinburgh

One of the grand salons of the capital is Scotland’s oldest oyster bar, founded in 1826.

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The Victorian Baroque setting, with stained glass and an ornate circular bar, has been reinvigorated with a modern Scottish, produce led menu. The spectacular fruits de mer platter features Loch Fyne oysters, lobster, prawns, smoked salmon, potted brown shrimp and queen scallops. This is certainly worth a visit for a vast selection of Scotch malt whisky, expansive range of gins and local craft beer. Their champagne serves include the Grand Royal, which is a fabulous, luxurious blend of Grand Marnier, Palmer & Co champagne with an orange twist garnish. Whoopi Goldberg recently visited for dinner. PT

19 West Register Street, EH2 2AA
www.caferoyaledinburgh.com