We’re spoiled for choice here in the megalopolis on the beverages and cocktails front. You name it, and there’s a bar that caters to it. Single malt scotch whisky is no exception. The fact is, Tokyo—and Japan in general—is one of the cheapest places in the world to buy whisky if you’re partial to a drop.
One thing you can’t find just anywhere, however, are select bottles of single cask, single malt whisky bottled by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society in Edinburgh—renowned for its unparalleled choice of whiskies from 126 distillers in Scotland, Ireland, the US, and Japan.
Bar High Society, overlooking Shimbashi from the 25th floor of The Park Hotel Tokyo, is the first official SMWS venue in Japan and features over 100 of the society’s bottlings, with half the bar a tasting area.
The trademark of an SMWS bottling is the denotation by a number, rather than a distillery name, and a rather pithy (and usually spot on) description. Thus, discriminating by distillery—say Macallan or Laphroaig or Bowmore—is not how you choose, since the characteristics of one cask can be completely different from another from the same distillery, and even the same batch.
Sitting in a window seat looking out over the lights of Salaryman Central, the well-dressed barman presented us with the menu. Noticeable was the large stamped “Sold Out” over many of the offerings. Our eyes scanned the list:
- 24.146 Salt water spray on a yacht deck
- 33.100 Elastoplast and lavender
- 76.78 Foamy bananas dipped in cayenne pepper
I went with a 21.102. It was described simply as “Hot ‘n’ cold.” The price for a single shot of the SMWS whiskies starts around ¥1,200 for non-members (denoted by “NM”). Members of the society can receive them for about ¥700. Venturing up the price range, some NM whiskies can be over ¥5,000 a glass.
“Hot n’ cold” was just what I was after. Served in a small, stemmed tasting glass, it was a pale yellow, and swirled lightly around the glass. It was syrupy without being sweet, and coated the palate with an essence of warm vanilla and hints of leather—like an old worn belt that’s been cured in molasses, aftershave and coconut. The cost? ¥1,365, though the members’ price was only ¥840.
The atmosphere at Bar High Society is more hotel lounge than whisky cave. While the servers are happy to offer their recommendations, anything more difficult than “Is there an Arran malt in this one?” will usually get deferred to the head barman. It’s best to just see what speaks to you.
- Manuka honey on a razor strop
- Smoky bandages and chicken korma
- Lean back smiling
Bar High Society is not for cheap cocktails or happy hour buzzes. It is, however, a good spot to meet a friend, educate your palate, and luxuriate in some of the best single malts from the finest casks this side of the Scottish coast. Each one is meant to be rolled around the mouth and savored. Indeed, half the fun is to peruse the descriptions and compare them to the taste—or to come up with your own.
“Bruised pears on a groundsheet,” anyone?