Water of life: Usquabae Whisky Bar & Larder in Edinburgh


Caledonian Heritable has created Usquabae Whisky Bar & Larder in Edinburgh, offering over 400 whiskies

As Scottish poet Robbie Burns once noted, whisky can fortify you against many of life’s challenges. “Wi’ usquabae, we’ll face the devil!” he declaimed in his classic poem, Tam O’Shanter, using the Gaelic for “water of life” – pronounced “oosh-ka-bah” – that gave us the word “whisky”. This inspired the name of Usquabae Whisky Bar & Larder which has been created by operator Caledonian Heritable in the former cellar restaurant below Ryan’s Bar in Edinburgh’s West End.

Its selection of over 400 whiskies is overseen by general manager and whisky aficionado Dr Chris White. “Ranging from iconic, world-leading brands such as Glenfiddich and The Macallan to unique single-cask bottlings from mothballed distilleries such as Rosebank and Port Ellen, our variety is unparalleled,” he says. “Some of our collections pre-date The Beatles, some was even distilled during World War II, and I encourage all to try our rarest tipples, the 1936 Mortlach and the 1940 Glenlivet.


The bar also has a range of boutique spirits including gins, vodkas, rums and tequilas as well as an extensive wine list and eight keg craft beers and ciders on tap. Cocktails include classics such as an Old Fashioned, Whisky Sour, Negroni, Cosmopolitan and Mojito as well as original recipes such as Yes Miss Daisy made with Four Roses Single Barrel bourbon, Reliant Robin mixing Ketel One vodka and Bloom Sloe Gin, and Elderflower No 4, combining Girvan 4 Apps single-grain whisky with elderflower cordial and ginger ale. There are two “iced teas”, one made with raspberry-flavoured Edinburgh Gin and black tea and the other with elderflower-flavoured Edinburgh Gin and green tea.

Drawing on Scotland’s “larder” of ingredients, the food menu features classics such as Cullen Skink and haggis, neeps and tatties as well as Shetland mussels, a Highland game casserole, cheeses from Edinburgh’s IJ Mellis, and a house burger with a whisky and honey dressing, served with hand-cut “tatties” and salad.

The interior has been designed with leading Edinburgh-based practice KBA+D whose past projects include Whiski Rooms, Tigerlily, Monteiths and The Voodoo Rooms in Edinburgh. It is inspired by the craftsmanship that goes into making whisky, incorporating the essential materials of copper, wood and stone. The layout includes seven private alcoves, one of which is set aside as a bottle keep for its club members who invest in a particular bottle. Whiskies are displayed in glazed, lit cabinets alongside a cask that will soon house the bar’s own single malt.

usquabae chris

A calendar of events features food and whisky pairings and tastings, including deconstructing a blended whisky and a Prohibition-themed tasting. Bespoke tastings can also be organised for groups. “We firmly believe the pursuit of drinking whisky is a saintly and noble quest,” Chris adds. “Burns himself claimed that, should you meet the devil, you’ll only survive if you’re fortified with usquabae. We take this belief very seriously.”

2-4 Hope Street, Edinburgh EH2 4DB
Tel: 0131 290 2284


Behind the scenes
Interior design: KBA+D
Furniture: Satelliet UK
Booth seating: Devine Interiors
Curtains: PK Interiors
Joinery: ECG Joinery
Signage: Signarama
Fibre-optic systems: Unlimited Light

Originally published in the July 2015 print edition of Bar magazine.

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