Despite whisky being a firm favourite in drinks cabinets across the country, Bristol has dragged its heels when it comes to bars dedicated to the amber nectar. Hailing from London, but being cool about it (other London imports take note) Black Rock has opened on a quiet back street in the centre of Bristol with a simple take on imbibing the good stuff.
Deciding against the traditional wooden panels and mounted taxidermy that serves as the uniform backdrop for most whisky-led bars, Black Rock has opted instead for dark walls, orange lights, modern art and communal bench seating. All service is table service here, with your own wait staff there to hold your hand if you’re new to whisky, or expand your knowledge if you’re already something of an expert.
The menu is easy to follow - cocktails and highballs for those who like their drinks mixed, and a pricing indicator for the bottles that line the walls. Each whisky in the bar is split into one of six taste profiles: balance, fruit, spice, smoke, fragrance and sweet, and there’s plenty to choose from each style. Patrons are welcome to have a nose at what's on offer or take recommendations from the incredibly knowledgeable staff - they live and breathe the stuff, and can tell you exactly where each bottle comes from, how it’s made and what makes it special enough to be included on the Black Rock roster.
You can’t help but notice the 10ft tree on the left of the bar. It is real, for the record, and it is filled with booze, an Old Fashioned (£6) to be exact. Each hollow tree trunk has been made especially for Black Rock and filled with their signature Old Fashioned recipe to be poured direct from the source. We were lucky enough to be allowed to try the difference between one that had been infusing with the wood for three weeks, and one only a week. They are suggested as the perfect aperitif before you tuck into something a little stronger, a wonderful balance of sweet and bitter.
With our whistles well and truly wetted, it was time to jump into those cocktails. These are split into the same categories as the whiskys and we worked with our server to choose a drink that matched our favourite flavours. I opted for Fragrance (Dickel No.1, Cointreau,Supsawa, £10) and my drinking partner went for Smoke (Lagavulin 8, cucumber Lillet and Maraschino, £11). Each cocktail arrived within minutes and was presented beautifully. We both ended up loving the other as much as our own, a true testament to the mixing skills of the staff.
We finished up on a dram of our choosing. My friend, being a peat fiend,ended her evening with an Ardbeg single malt that, despite a tasting attempt, was far too Olympic level for me. As a newbie, I took a lot more time to decide, but settled on a beautifully Christmassy drink from Glendronach that had been aged in PX sherry barrels.
Regardless of whether you’re a whisky wimp or whizz, Black Rock can cater for you. With the experts on hand being so friendly, patient and interested in the subject matter, not only do you leave this bar with a spring (or a wobble) in your step, you’ll have genuinely learned something new, and will most likely have tried something new too.