Thursday, January 20, 2011

Helvetica Bar, Howard Lane. Perth City (Ardberg Supernova, Bruchladdich Octomore and more Sazerac!!)

After a tough day in the office, I decided that a nip of whisky was necessary before going home (and to the gym).

Conveniently, Helvetica was just down the road. Or the lane way, I should say. Howard Lane is a tiny little lane that runs parallel to Howard Street, and is just behind Andaluz, another funky little bar. What did I choose Helvetica? Well, my mate Elliott was going on about how it is a fantastic whisky bar, with a massive range of rare and interesting whiskies. By Perth standards anyway.

Guess what I discover when I get there? A bottle of Thomas Handy Sazerac sitting on one of the shelves behind the bar, and at $21 a serve, it's way cheaper than Malt Supper Club's $35 price point. 'Nuff said. This time, without the influence of other drinks under my belt, I was hoping to better savour the flavour. And savour I did. It was just as good as I remembered it. That elusive, ethereal overlay in the bouquet and taste was still there, and I still couldn't pick it. It's almost a toasty, yet fruity, thing. Oh well. More drinking research is in order, I expect.

The bar staff were very friendly and trendy, chatty young types, in their gingham shirts and jeans. Jav is barely 20, but knows more about whiskies than most people twice her age. Spencer is the mixologist (thanks for testing out the basil tequila cocktail on me mate - I still think that a big basil nose with subtle flavour is a more complex and interesting drink than a uniformly big basil nose and flavour). And Tina just looks good.

Since I was having a good chat with all of them, I decided that it would be remiss of me to stop at just one. I resist the Coopers Ale king browns lurking in the bottom of the bar fridge (impressive nonetheless) and instead go to my old favourite - the single malt. There's no point going to a place like Helveticas to try good whisky and merely ordering something you can easily find in a bottle shop. Since Jav was raving about the 2010 expression of the Ardbeg Supernova, I had to try it. Besides, i had just finished my bottle of Bruchladdich Octomore (which lays dubious claim to the title of peatiest whisky in the world) with my mate Con a couple of weekends ago, and was suddenly craving a big peat hit. Now this is a big whisky, and not just because it's cask strength at 60% alcohol by volume. The standard Islay big peat whisky is around 50 parts per million of peat. The Ardbeg Supernova has twice that. It's not as extreme as the Octomore which has 170ppm, but still, the Supernova is not for the whisky novice.

The nose, while predictably nose-hair singeing, was actually quite nice. The ubiquitous medicinal notes don't overpower, but instead complement the earthy undertones. This is a tasty whisky, and tastes even better when cut with a bit of water. That brings me to the other impressive thing about Helvetica. They know what good whisky often needs to be cut with water, and give you a little beaker to accompany your drink.

Jav & Spencer didn't like the Octomore, instead preferring the Supernova.  I say that it's apples and oranges.  The Bruchladdich Octomore is a different kind of whisky and quite obviously frequently misunderstood.  It's brash, in your face and over the top when it first hits your mouth, and most people fail to exercise the patience and effort to delve deep below the massive peaty overtone, to discover the elusive but fine, complex, exquisite flavour that lies hidden beneath, rose water, nougat and honey - you'd better believe it!!  It helps to be smoking a big-flavoured Cuban cigar (like a Bolivar or Hoyo Epicure), because the big flavours cancel out and makes it easier for you to discover the silken pleasures that lie beneath.  Kind of like eating a mouthful of sugar, then drinking Coca Cola - you won't be able to taste the sugar in the Coke, even though you know it's still there in all its tooth-eroding glory.

My only criticism (albeit minor) of the place is that it is quite echo-y. It was busy (all tables were filled), but wasn't packed, and I could hear the echoed voices of my fellow patrons from my perch at the bar.  The noise will probably be a bit too much (especially for a half-deaf codger like me) on cranking night with there are lots of people imbibing whisky and trying to be heard above the cacophony. Then again, looking on the bright side, at least the music wasn't loud - in fact, I didn't even notice any music. Which is what I like in a place where you can go to have a conversation over a drink.

Will I go back? Hell yeah. I might just decide to try to work my way through their entire whisky collection ....

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