Peter Cornish checks out a chilled new whiskey joint on Nguyen Hue Street, Below Whiskey Den. Photos by Romain Garrigue.
Just below rooftop bar Broma is an aptly-named lounge bar, or den as it is referred to. This stylishly bar serves up probably the best whiskey cocktails in town.
Like lounges of bygone eras, Below is small and cosy with subdued colourings and a distinctly Art Deco vibe. The long copper-clad bar pays tribute to the hand-crafted copper stills used in whiskey distillation.
The walls are half-lined in wood panelling, representing barrels used in the aging process, and the couch tucked away in a side alcove offers the sophistication of a traditional whiskey tasting room.
Chandeliers add to the yesteryear atmosphere, and a display of liquid filled bottles track the aging process of a fine malt whiskey, moving from a clear transparent liquid to a rich, caramel-brown as it leaches flavours from its cask. Below is managed by experienced mixologist, Kata Simon, who learned her skills in London. “Working with whiskey is a huge challenge, but a great opportunity to be creative. We wanted to create a comfortable atmosphere whiskey bar with great cocktails, combining European and Vietnamese styles,” Kata explained.
The well-stocked bar carries an impressive selection of single malt whiskeys, mainly Scottish, but with Japan, Taiwan and India getting some shelf space. Speyside, the Highlands and Lowlands, and Islay are all well represented, with many of the bottles being hand-carried from Europe and unavailable elsewhere in Vietnam.
A bottle of Bruichladdich Port Charlotte will set you back VND5,190,000. More affordable for many, a Speyside Singleton 12 comes in at VND2,400,000. A pour of Aberlour 12 is priced at a reasonable VND285,000.
Bottles of home-made syrups, tinctures and infusions also line the bar. Kata uses these to create the interesting flavours of her diverse selection of cocktails (VND200,000), all named after
First up was the Deveron, a deliciously fruity sweet and sour mix of Glenfiddich, bay leaf-infused red wine, Frangelico, juniper berry seed, mulberry jam, mandarin, pomegranate syrup and lime juice. Raring to go, next up was the Ochy — Glenfiddich with guava, pomegranate and parsley puree, Vietnamese black pepper tea, pink peppercorn soda, calamansi, celery, lime juice and egg white.
Glenfiddich is also the base for the Tweed, which blends home-made carrot wine with pickled mango, apricot syrup, lemon drops, Campari, Coca Cola and cooked baby carrot.
Our final cocktail was the Clyde, an eclectic mix of Luxardo Fenet, Dolin Sweet, chili mushroom Luxardo Maraschino, black walnut bitters and Hungarian sweet paprika powder. If you’re struggling to believe the ingredients of these cocktails, head down to Below and try them for yourself!