“Whiskey is Liquid Sunshine…”
Those Square Mile whisky lovers amongst you should beat a path to The Merchant House of Fleet Street as Nate Brown and Lewis Hayes share their passion and gusto for the amber nectar
Review by Martin Stickley
“Whiskey is liquid sunshine,” said the Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, so now that we’re well into the great British summertime I decided to pay a visit to one of the City’s newest bars The Merchant House of Fleet Street, as I’ve been told that they have a bit of passion for the stuff.
Situated down a secluded alley, The Merchant House is the latest offering from Nate Brown and Lewis Hayes, co-founders of The London Bar Consultants and owners of the other Merchant house which can be found just off Bow Lane, East London. Unlike its older sibling, Merchant House of Fleet Street doesn’t focus on gin; this time whisky is the order of the day. The focus will become instantly apparent as soon as you walk through the door of this somewhat tucked-away little establishment; your eyes are instantly drawn to the racks of bottles which festoon the back wall of the bar, practically from floor to ceiling. Whilst the lounge itself is rather cosy in dimension, the ceiling is high and airy, and the walls are punctuated by hanging greenery giving the whole place the rather quaint feel of a combination of an old-time speakeasy and a Japanese Dojo. Despite being a whisky bar the atmosphere is surprisingly light and breezy; music plays just loud enough for you to feel the tempo whilst the whole place buzzes with excited post-work chatter from the other punters.
The proprietors themselves have a definite passion for the finest whiskies, particularly those from the Irish and Scottish coastline. I was lucky enough to meet co-owner Lewis Hayes whose enthusiasm for the spirit is evident not only in the way that him and his partner have shaped the menu, but also in the manner with which he orates about whisky with such gusto and fervour. I am by no means a huge consumer of the drink but he had me sampling some exquisite whiskies from all over the globe all the while hooked on their back story. If you are looking for something interesting, Lewis introduced me to a marvellous American single malt produced by Westland. Distilled in Seattle, this malt has notes of vanilla, dried apples, honey and chocolate.
Above all the guys behind Merchant House of Fleet Street are trying to change the way most people approach drinking whisky. As incredible as well-aged single malt is, why should you feel obliged, as custom dictates, to solely take it neat or with water? What about pairing it up with other ingredients in a deftly mixed cocktail? What’s that you cry? Heresy?! Well, whilst a lot can be said for taking a puritanical approach and enjoying some of the better whiskies in their natural state, why should whisky cocktails be made with, and please excuse my bluntness, bog-standard blends like Bells or Famous Grouse? In light of this I tried a few of the house creations to see if their ideas held weight.
The owners’ zeal for good whisky and their truly experimental flair complement each other perfectly, coming together to create a picture book menu which is as beautiful to look at as the cocktails are delicious. The “Tartan Pimpernel” takes inspiration from an elusive figure hailing from Bowmore on the island of Islay said to have helped rescue British servicemen from wartime Paris. The drink itself features peated Islay whisky, Aloe Vera water and bee-pollen raspberry wine. When it arrives, the cocktail is visually stunning looking like barman has tried to recreate a still life in a pewter tankard. The drink itself is a delicately smoky and floral affair with a light sweetness in the after taste. The “Dal Riata” is named after the Gaelic kingdom which once encompassed Ulster and much of the western Scottish Isles. The ingredients are Campbeltown whisky, strawberry yoghurt, honey, cardamom and pine. The fire and warmth of the whisky is paired beautifully with the rich sweetness of the honey and the delicate perfume of the cardamom and pine.
In conjunction to their own creations, and in celebration of their opening, the owners are launching The Cocktail Book Club, a monthly event where The House will bolster their own well-crafted menu with a selection of drinks from a classic piece of cocktail literature. This month’s event featured drinks from Harry Craddock’s Savoy Cocktail Book. With more guest menus to follow over the rest of the summer, why not head down to Fleet Street and either lose yourself in the joys of a decent malt, or sit back and enjoy some signature drinks from a cult cocktail classic.
Enquiries: The Merchant House of Fleet Street, 8 Bride Court, London EC4Y 8DU / www.merchanthouselondon.com/fleet-street