Time Out São Paulo

Highland fling: whisky bars

Whisky drinking is on the up across Brazil, so we set out to search the city for the best bars for a wee dram or two.

‘Whisky is liquid sunshine’ said George Bernard Shaw. The Brazilians certainly think so – their taste for it has pushed Brazil to become the ninth largest market for Scotch whisky in the world, with consumption growing by nearly 50 per cent in the last year. ‘Whisky was the first great global spirit,’ says Dave Broom, whisky expert and the author of the World Atlas of Whisky. ‘Just as emerging markets have begun to be lured towards it, so companies have been quick in taking the drink around the world.’ 

One such company is Diageo, which now sells more Johnnie Walker Red Label in Brazil than in any other country. Walk into any number of upmarket botecos and bars across São Paulo, and you’ll see that familiar red label staring back at you from behind the bar, on rows of bottles that are also branded with customers’ names, scribbled across them in permanent marker, and kept behind the bar as part of the city’s cherished ‘whisky club’ tradition.

And yet despite SP’s growing predilection for whisky, it can be a pricey option on a night out when you look beyond the big brands to the more specialised blends and single malts. Perhaps because of this, single malts are mostly drunk at home or after a meal, and as such, it’s often restaurants rather than bars that have the most impressive selections of these whiskies.

‘Single malts are all about occasion,’ says Broom; and Eduardo Tess Filho, a member of the Brazilian Whisky Society, agrees that a good single malt has a time and a place – it’s something to be savoured. ‘I can’t imagine going to a bar and drinking single malts all night,’ he says. ‘You want to drink something more refreshing, like a lighter blend with ice, in this heat.’ But that’s not to say you can’t find any interesting whisky in bars across the city; so if you’re in the mood to try something beyond the ubiquitous Red Label, read on.  

A smoky blend

The clichéd image of sipping whisky while chuffing on a cigar is alive and well at Esch Café in Jardins. It has a good range of whiskies, including a decent selection of single malts, although even those who appreciate a smoky malt may find their palates overpowered by the wafting clouds of cigar smoke.

If it’s not only your whisky that you like slightly aged, Charles Edward bar in Itaim is a good spot. With about 40 different whiskies on offer, and over a thousand bottles stacked around the walls, Charles Edward has carved out a niche for itself as a whisky specialist, with furnishings that feel somewhere between a London pub and an old-fashioned gentlemen’s club.

Be warned, there’s a cover charge. And going early is a good call: as the night rolls on, your appreciation of the ‘water of life’ may be disturbed by veteran drinkers who hit the dancefloor with mixed results as the music reaches unbearable volumes. 

Pub choice

To enjoy your whisky in more low-key territory, head to one of the cities ‘pubs’ where, amidst the usual selection of beers, you can often find a good range of whiskies. All Blacks and the bar-club Kia Ora are both good choices, but the convivial Blue Pub has a particularly impressive selection, with the rarity of stocking almost as many single malts as it does blends. Go for one of the trio of fantastic Isle of Islay smoky malts: Laphroaig, Ardbeg and Caol Ila.

The single malts aren’t cheap – the Caol Ila, for example, costs an impressive R$49 for a dram. However, the dedicated drinker can save some cash by buying a bottle – the pub sells any 15-measure bottle for the price of 10 individual measures. The staff will label your bottle and leave it behind the bar until your next visit.

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Baretto bar at the Fasano

For something more upmarket, head to the bar of the Fasano restaurant, where you can sit back at the bar and pontificate in low-lit splendour about the (potentially very expensive) whisky in your hand. With one of the better ranges of single malt whiskies in São Paulo here, you’ll spot bottles behind the bar that don’t even feature on the well stocked menu. Ask one of the knowledgeable barmen to guide you through the selection. 

While clever marketing has undoubtedly made Brazilian drinkers more sophisticated in their whisky tastes, and more adept at appreciating collections like that of the Fasano, Tess believes that ‘for most paulistanos, whisky is ultimately a refreshing drink poured over ice, and not a splash of liquid in the bottom of a small glass’.

While this may make purists wince, he and Broom both believe that this is absolutely forgivable in the sub-tropical heat. ‘I find it exciting,’ says Broom, ‘that each new market begins to develop the way they want to drink the whisky.’ So whether you like it shaken up in a whisky sour, mixed in a Manhattan, served with Coca Cola or coconut water, over ice or straight up, it’s each to his or her own with this fantastically versatile spirit. We’ll drink to that.

All Blacks is on Rua Oscar Freire 163, Jardim Paulista, 3088 7990, allblack.com.br
The Blue Pub is on Alameda Ribeirão Preto 384, Bela Vista, 3283 8338, thebluepub.com.br. Read more on The Blue Pub
Charles Edward is on Avenida Presidente Juscelino Kubitschek 1426, Itaim Bibi, 3078 5022, barcharles.com.br
Esch Café is on Alameda Lorena 1899, Jardim Paulista, 3062 2285, esch.com.br
The Fasano is on Rua Vittorio Fasano 88, Jardim Paulista, 3062 4000, fasano.com.br. Read more on the Fasano
Kia Ora is on Rua Doutor Eduardo Souza Aranha 377, Itaim Bibi, 3846 8300, kiaora.com.br

By Harry Balston


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