Tried & Tested

Bar check: Milroy’s of Soho

20 Oct 2015 by Jenny Southan
BACKGROUND Said to be London’s oldest whisky shop (it was established in 1964), Milroy’s of Soho underwent an expansion and relaunch in February, reopening with a 12-seat counter for tastings, as well as the Barrel Room (also for 12 people), and a secret underground speakeasy called the Vault. The quaint, ground-floor shop sells both own-brand whisky and bottles from independent distillers from around the world – there are also casks allowing customers to blend their own. About 350 whiskies are available to taste, and are served in larger 35ml measures. If you buy a bottle valued at more than £200 you will be offered your own locker to keep it in, just like in a gentleman’s club. First set up by brothers John and Wallace Milroy, they were credited with being the first people to bring single malt whisky from Scotland to the Big Smoke. Milroy’s 21st-century reinvention was spearheaded by executive director Simo Simpson, who wanted to restore the site to its former glory. THE BAR When I arrived, I found the left-hand side of the shop had a sit-up bar staffed by a couple of friendly looking chaps who immediately told me to pull up a stool. At that same moment, a woman knocked back a shot of whisky and rushed out the door without paying. “That’s the first time that has happened,” said Alyster. But he didn’t go after her. Along the right-hand wall and at the back of the shop were shelves of interesting-looking bottles behind glass or distressed metal grills – it was mostly whisky but also some gin, vodka, absinthe, rum and tequila. You could also get your hands on wine and craft beer. In the corner was a bookcase – when pushed, it reveals a secret entrance to the basement speakeasy, which is a cosy, candlelit cellar accommodating up to 55 drinkers. Here you can order seasonal cocktails for £9.50. One that caught my eye was the Memoirs of a Geisha, made with Gunpowder tea-infused Scotch, Fino sherry and Scotch Gunpowder bitters. THE BOOZE New additions to the shop include a 22-year-old Glen Keith (£129.95), which is a rare Speyside single malt Scotch at 49.4 per cent, and a nine-year-old Ledaig (£69.95), which is a peated single malt from the Isle of Mull (48.1 per cent). Aviation enthusiasts will be drawn to the 1997 Jura island single malt Scotch  (£91.75, 43 per cent), which has an old bi-plane on the label. Until recently, the most expensive bottle in stock was a 30-year-old Laphroaig for £1,500. A £485 bottle of Old Pulteney was winning when I was there. There are a variety of tastings to book at Milroy’s, from “Bootleggers and Bourbon” for £35 to a “Fine and Rare Masterclass” for £95. Of course, you can also just pop in and sample a few in a more informal fashion. Alyster looked after me well, beginning with a dram of a 46 per cent Irish single malt called Spirit of Dublin by Teeling Whisky Co. “Irish whiskies tend to be lighter in style due to a triple distillation,” he said. “This extra distillation means it takes on more flavour from the casks.” Next up was a splash of 43 per cent 15-year-old Mortlach Speyside single malt Scotch. It is produced by independent bottler Gordon and Macphail, a company that works with about 70 distilleries to release single malts such as Talisker but also barrels that are used for blends – some are sold to Johnny Walker, for example. My third was the 53.2 per cent Dramboree, an eight-year-old single malt. Half way between wet wood and coal, peat bricks are burnt and combined with green malt to give this whisky its unique character, with notes of iodine, brine, smoke, seaweed and salt. I finished with a 46 per cent High West “Double Rye” from Utah – bourbon, you see, said Alyster, doesn’t have to be from anywhere near Kentucky. It can come from anywhere in the US, but has to be made from at least 51 per cent corn, plus either rye and barley or wheat and barley. (In this case, the name is based on the fact that it’s made from a blend of two different rye whiskies.) Four-grain bourbons don’t work. The High West has a nice balance of anise, honey and cinnamon, very different to the Scotch. VERDICT Whisky lovers will appreciate the chance to try and buy a great variety of labels, while the basement speakeasy is a great place to escape from the world. The tastings are engaging and interesting, and I was impressed by how knowledgeable the staff were. Foreigners will love the historic aspect of the venue. OPENING HOURS Milroy’s Of Soho/Milroy’s Bar: Mon-Thurs 12pm-11.30pm, Fri-Sat 12pm-12am. The Vault: Tues-Thurs 6pm-11.30pm, Fri-Sat 5pm-12am. CONTACT Milroy’s of Soho, 3 Greek Street; tel +44 (0)20 7734 2277; Jenny Southan
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