Whisky Islands Idyll

Where to taste the very best whisky in Stockholm
By Hans Offringa
Stockholm on Sweden's southeast coast, its capital and most populous of the Nordic cities, is spread across 14 islands connected by 57 bridges at the mouth of Lake Mälaren, which leads to the Stockholm archipelago and the Baltic Sea. From Arlanda Airport north of the city, it is a simple taxi or train trip to the city centre. Travel among the islands or through the archipelago is easily accomplished using the extensive public transportation network. Take your pick from metro, bus or boat line, using your SL Access card, easily purchased at metro stations or news agents. There is plenty for the visitor: the historic Old Town, Gamla Stan, home to the Royal Palace and the Nobel Museum; the Vasa Museum, displaying the most fully intact recovered 17th-century ship; or the Abba Museum, an interactive tribute to Sweden's sweetheart pop heroes. Need a break? Take a ferry through the archipelago - in two hours you won't see all 24,000 islands, but you'll get a good impression. Stockholm's food culture is booming, with over 1,000 restaurants from burger joints to Michelin star locations. Due to the state monopoly control of alcohol sales, drinks will set you back a bit and more than you might expect. This hasn't stopped a lively bar scene from coming to life on many of the islands, including places specialising in whisky. Pay attention to the barmen as whiskies come in 1cl, 2cl and 3cl pours. Here is a selection of bars to visit during your stay, spread across four of Stockholm's popular islands: Gamla Stan, Djurgården, Norrmalm and Södermalm.

1. Akkurat

Hornsgatan 18, Södermalm

Akkurat is the kind of place you want to go back to every time you are in Stockholm. Good food, congenial customers, fine and knowledgeable staff, wonderful cask conditioned ales, a huge assortment of other types of beers, among which are some vintage lambics. And, of course, an astonishing whisky and Bourbon collection. As if that is not enough, they have live music too, usually on Sundays. Akkurat is also home to the eponymous whisky club that meets every so often in the cellars of the building. It is a stone's throw from the Hilton Slussen Hotel which is an excellent place to stay for a night or two.

2. Ardbeg Embassy

Västerlånggatan 68, Gamla Stan

This bar was formerly known as the Glenfiddich Warehouse and located in Gamla Stan, the oldest part of Stockholm. They serve modern Swedish dishes in an old and remarkable building. In the bar, the focal point is an amazing collection of Ardbegs, but there is much more to taste. This includes local beers, but also more traditional food, and a large selection of red and white wines. It's a place where you can go with friends that are not necessarily interested in whisky. While you have a dram at the bar, your companion may enjoy another type of beverage at the same time. One of the bartenders is somewhat of a celebrity among Ardbeg aficionados. You'll understand the moment you see him.

3. The Bishops Arms

Bellmansgatan 12, Södermalm

The Bishops Arms is part of a chain that has gastro pubs throughout Sweden and in just Stockholm alone you can find six of their bars. This particular one is known for its whisky collection. The food is diverse and good and the atmosphere is like a comfortable old English pub. Throughout Sweden the opening hours are the same at each location. Beers and whiskies are centrally sourced and distributed over the various venues. Two other good ones in Stockholm are located at Hornsgatan 154 and Folkungagatan 105, also in Södermalm.

4. Man in the Moon

Tegnérgatan 2C, Norrmalm

Primarily a gastro pub with a penchant for craft beers (they share the title for best beer restaurant in Sweden with Akkurat), whisky fans will be pleasantly surprised with their selection. Look no further when hoping to try one of the many varieties of Mackmyra before investing in a whole bottle. There was even a Mackmyra bottled especially for the pub! There are 30 beers on tap, including most of their own brews, and a solid beer cellar with stored beers from the 1980s onwards. In addition, they offer a wide range of whiskies with over 110 single malt varieties.

5. Oaxen Krog & Slip

Beckholmsvägen 26, Djurgården

Have you visited the Vasa or Abba Museum on Djurgården? Then step away from the crowds near the amusement park and head to Oaxen. This excellent two Michelin star restaurant and bistro has an extensive, impressive wine list and a good choice of local and craft beers. They prefer to use organic, local products, which somewhat limits the whisky selection. However, their creative chef, Magnus Ek, is keen to experiment with whisky and food pairing. He may even tell you the secret to his smoked prawns if you offer him your favourite whisky pairing in return.

6. Operakällaren

Operahuset, Karl XII's Torg, Gamla Stan

Operakällaren (Café Opera) is home to three restaurants in an 1895 building behind the Opera House with views of the Royal park and waterfront. The one Michelin star Café Opera offers a select but interesting list of whiskies, their own house whisky and a large wine cellar with 30,000 bottles. The Opera Bar is a lovely art nouveau setting, popular for lunch, dinner or drinks. The Bakfickan or 'Hip Pocket' counter restaurant may be the most easily accessible, as they do not accept reservations.

7. Saddle & Sabre

Tegnérgatan 9, Norrmalm

The owner, Rob Cederlid, fell in love with America and his 'saloon' and food illustrate that, as there is a huge collection of Bourbons and other American whiskeys. Beef is directly imported from the USA and here more buffalo is sold than in any other steakhouse in Sweden. Boar, venison and elk are hunted on his own estate and then served in the restaurant. Jack Daniel's is bottled exclusively for this saloon, from barrels hand-picked by Jeff Arnett. Being a real lover of (American) music, Rob founded his own Saddle & Sabre music label and has released three CDs to date. They're for sale at this bar. Oh, I almost forgot, Rob is also the author of a book about Bourbon, in Swedish!

8. Tweed Bar

Lilla Nygatan 5, Gamla Stan

This gastro pub doesn't pretend to focus on whisky. Rather they have a broad selection of distilled spirits, craft beer and a large wine cellar. However you can book your own Chesterfield in advance or smoke a cigar on the upstairs terrace in warmer months as they have an extensive humidor cabinet. With little effort, you'll find Tweed in Gamla Stan, tucked inside restaurant Djuret.