I recently found myself in Berlin on a business trip. I only had one night to spend in this lively city, but there was little doubt in my mind what I wanted to do. To explore the local whisky scene I headed over to Union Jack – The Whisky Pub.
Established in 1976 in what was then the British sector of West Berlin, Union Jack does have the look and feel of an authentic British pub. The interior is fairly dimly lit, with a cosy, laid back atmosphere. Whisky bottles and memorabilia line the walls on all sides, while chilled out rock music plays in the background.
Most importantly, the whisky selection is extensive. A sign outside the pub proclaims there’s 401 whiskies on offer, whereas the website ups the ante to 850. Whichever it is, plenty to choose from! While the menu is useful for choosing from the collection of regular expressions, you will have to turn to the extremely knowledgeable staff for recommendations on single cask bottlings.
Union Jack is a Scotch Malt Whisky Society partner bar, so the assortment includes many SMWS bottlings from both recent and past Outturns. I also suspected Union Jack of being an Ardbeg Embassy – all official Ardbeg bottlings were on the menu, including Committee releases – but this turned out not to be the case. Either way, it’s an impressive collection!
The good news is that the whiskies are not too pricey. The bad news is that they come in only 2cl measures. I suppose this does allow you to taste more different whiskies, and if you particularly like one you can always order a double.
I started off the evening with a Yoichi Single Malt (€6.50) which I had last tried at Bar Kage in Tokyo and for which I have a bit of a soft spot. The smooth, smoky notes were an excellent introduction to what would turn out to be a flight of delightfully peaty drams. Next up was Talisker Neist Point (€11), named after the famous lighthouse on Skye that I had visited the year before. Unlike the lighthouse though, I had never had the chance to acquaint myself with its liquid namesake. Neist Point is one of Talisker’s more premium bottlings, and although a NAS whisky, it’s rumoured to use some of the distillery’s older stocks. While I’m not sure I will buy a bottle, I do have to admit Neist Point is a fine dram that does a lot to justify its price tag.
From hereon I relied on the recommendations of the bartender, who acts as a spirit judge at a local bourbon and rye competition. Being in another country is always a good opportunity to sample some bottles that are only available locally, and Union Jack duly delivered.
First up was a Kilchoman bottling (€10) released for the German market. Although it contained no age statement, the bottle was quite forthcoming about its contents. Being a vatting of 70% bourbon, 5% oloroso sherry and 25% port matured whisky, this Kilchoman was ashy and citrusy on the nose, but immensely sweet on the palate, with a nice aftertaste of barbecued meat. Really good stuff!
To finish off the night I was recommended a 6 year old whisky (€9) from a secret Islay distillery that had been fully matured in port pipes, colourfully described by the barkeep as “fellatio from a chain smoking hooker”. Not sure that would ever make the cut as a SMWS bottling name… As for the secret distillery, there was actually very little mystery involved. The label was beautifully made by a local speed drawing artist and depicted what could clearly be recognised as… Laphroaig distillery! Although the 6 years spent in port casks had tamed the whisky somewhat, the medicinal Laphroaig flavours were still very much present, suffused with blackcurrant and forest fruits. The finish was a veritable explosion of sweet sweet peat that lingered on all the way during my tram ride back to the hotel. In other words, the perfect ending to what had been an equally smoky and enjoyable evening at Union Jack whisky pub.
Union Jack Whisky Pub