Rock of ages: Black Rock whisky bar in London

black rock table

Black Rock in London offers new ways to look at whisky. Pictures by Addie Chinn

Thomas Aske and Tristan Stephenson of consultancy Fluid Movement have been shaking up the bar scene since they opened their first place, Purl, in London’s Marylebone six years ago. Although that is now in others’ hands, they have continued to innovate and excite with their Shoreditch bar The Worship Street Whistling Shop and their latest venture, Black Rock in nearby Christopher Street.

Setting out to “break boundaries and quash stereotypes in the world of whisky”, they have created an intimate bar with a minimalist, contemporary design. The focal point is an 18ft, 185-year-old oak tree trunk which acts as both a 16-seater table and a system for ageing drinks, developed by Tristan and Thomas with a small company called Myhartwood. Two channels have been carved into the length of the trunk with one lined with American charred oak and the other with toasted European oak. Visible beneath a glass top, the channels – each holding 17 litres – age two cocktails that are dispensed from one end of the trunk.

At present, the European oak holds a blend of Talisker, Black Bottle and Macallan whiskies – the so-called Table Whisky – although this is constantly evolving in the style of a solera system, with small amounts remaining as more is added. Ageing in the American oak is Cherry River, a mix of Bulleit Rye whiskey, morello cherry and spices including cinnamon and star anise.

Alongside the whisky table, there is room for just 16 more people on stools at high tables and no permanent bar. Instead, guests are served by “roaming” bartenders – including Thom Solberg, previously with Soho House & Co – who make drinks at a trolley. Highballs and cocktails include the popular Campfire (pictured), combining Bulleit Bourbon and Lagavulin scotch with marshmallow, and the Insta-Age Rob Roy made with re-distilled Dalwhinnie single malt plus Gancia vermouth and an “age drop” – a frozen pellet that dissolves to bring the aged character of the whisky. The tiny bar even manages bar food, such as oysters, haggis balls and gravadlax salmon with soda bread, as well as a handful of bottled beers including Innis & Gunn and Founders All Day IPA.

Campfire Black Rock

The bar, which takes its name from the Gaelic word Cardhu, has one wall lined with large cabinets filled with about 250 whiskies. Rather than grouping them by region, they are arranged from “light” to “heavy” and by character such as “smoke”, “fruit”, “spice” and “sweet”. With a simple three-tier price point for a dram, guests can discover whiskies from Scotland, Ireland, the US, Japan and emerging producers.

“The whisky category is becoming increasingly diverse, and whisky is now produced in more countries than ever,” Tristan says. “Also, the old reliable way of distinguishing style by region is becoming increasingly difficult. All types of whisky are made everywhere – it’s a little bit like the global culture that we live in today. As such, we need new ways to categorise whisky and the only way to do it is through flavour. We believe that whiskies will be sold this way exclusively in the future – we’re just the first to do it. The cocktail list offers an additional gateway for initiates to explore the spectrum of whisky flavour.”

This Whisky Library is part of the bar’s mission to inspire and educate guests, with plans to introduce a concierge service offering tutored tastings, advice on whisky investments and trips to whisky regions around the world. Black Rock may be small but it is making a big impact on how we think about drinking whisky.

Black Rock, 9 Christopher Street, London EC2A 2BS
Tel: 020 7247 4580

A shorter version of this feature appeared in the May 2016 print edition of Bar magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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