gavin smith

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The Whisky Lounge

by Gavin D Smith, 04/11

Edinburgh's ancient port of Leith has lost most of its 'docker and hooker' reputation during recent years, and has become progressively 'gentrified,' now being home to several Michelin-starred restaurants. Once the heartland of Edinburgh's blended whisky trade, a number of former whisky warehouses have been converted into living accommodation, while Giles Street is home to one of Leith's most historic buildings, and a veritable Mecca for whisky lovers.

silvio The Vaults was constructed to store wine imported from the continent into Leith in 1682, and its entire life has been devoted to the wine and whisky business. The Scotch Malt Whisky Society moved in during 1985, and before that the building had a long association with whisky blenders JG Thomson & Co, who claimed a family connection with the structure dating back to 1753.

While the Scotch Malt Whisky Society occupies the upper floors of The Vaults, downstairs has been occupied for some years by the excellent Vintners Rooms restaurant, fronted by Italian-born Silvio Praino, left. Since 2009, the Vintners Rooms has been owned in partnership by Silvio Praino and his fellow countryman Giuseppe Begnoni.

Their friendship goes back 20 years, and Begnoni began collecting whisky in 1969. He now operates the Whisky Paradise business, based in Bologna, an internationally-known resource for collectors. Begnoni's own whisky catalogue was augmented by the addition of the vast collection of Edoardo Giaccone, who died in 1996.

According to Giuseppe Begnoni, "I have around 50,000 bottles in total, and for a long time it was my dream to have a whisky lounge in Scotland. What we have here is mainly from the 1960s to the 1980s. They are all bottlings which are no longer on the market. We want whisky lovers to come here and have the chance to sample such old bottles. Nobody else has such a quantity of old whiskies open and for sale."

Just to underline that this is no ordinary whisky-heavy bar, the oldest - and most expensive - dram available is a 1902 Highland Park, which sells for 190 per nip, and Silvio Praino claims that the Lounge boasted 1,316 whiskies at the last count, including a selection of old blends, such as Dewar's and Haig Dimple, bottled during the 1950s.

The Whisky Lounge is an evolving project, and Giuseppe Begnoni says that "We will add 250 to 300 Scotch whisky blends to what is here now, and beyond Scotch whisky we will go into very old Cognac, Armagnac and French liqueurs. They will all be pre-war."

1957 talisker Silvio Praino notes, however, that "We don't just want to attract people who will spend 100 on a dram. There is a wide choice of malts below the 20 mark. We have whisky from 5 to 190 a measure. For 7 you can drink something distilled in the 1970s."

Praino also points out that he has now opened a bottle of 'Black Bowmore' for sale by the dram, while other recent delights include a 1957 bottling of Talisker, over which Praino waxes lyrical.

Edinburgh offers many fine places to eat and drink, and any number of bars with excellent whisky lists, but only one can boast a 108 year-old Orcadian malt for sale by the measure. Take a trip to the Vintners Rooms and the Whisky Lounge next time you are in the capital, and absorb some liquid history...

The Whisky Lounge @ The Vintners Rooms
The Vaults,
87 Giles Street,
Edinburgh EH6 6BZ.
Tel. +44 (0) 131 554 6767.

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