Whilst casually ambling around Auckland’s CBD district, following street art and the smell of freshly made dumplings, we found ourselves walking passed a narrow doorway with a sign announcing that it led the way to New Zealand’s largest collection of whisky. Naturally, we conducted a speedy about-turn and made our way down the sloping walkway to the slinkingly sexy subterranean hangout that is, The Jefferson.
Dimly lit with Art Deco-esque brass screens and architectural lighting following the pattern of the artwork outside the venue, The Jefferson has a laidback lounge lizard’s swagger without the self-aggrandised posturing. An impressive, backlit bar boasting over 600 whiskies glows like a welcoming beacon that we quickly find ourselves seated at. Venue Manager, Lewis, welcomes us with a glass of water and easy conversation, explaining that, whilst they’re a whisky bar first, they have a full bar (including a collection of over 400 gins in the back for a possible new project) and takes on classic cocktails.
We ogling the back-bar and spy a huge collection of Scotch, including a number of Scotch Malt Whisky Society bottlings, Ardbeg Embassy specials and even a Glenfiddich 30 (that will only set you back $230 a dram – don’t worry, there are a lot of more budget-friendly fantastic drams on offer). Other choices bound to get the salivary glands working such as internationally celebrated Yamazaki and Hibiki expressions, and rare finds from Bourbons Pappy Van Winkle 23 and George T Stagg.
Lewis hands us the cocktail list and we alight on the Rex Harrison – a smoky Old Fashioned style drink mixing Blended Scotch, Ardbeg 10yr, Maple Syrup and Lemon Bitters. “I think that if a bar is going to do a classic, it has to do it really well and with a twist of their own”, Lewis states calmly as we compliment him on the quality of the bevvy. The Liz Taylor is equally as balanced, with the fragrant rose and cucumber botanicals of the Hendrick’s being boosted by crème de rose, rose water and a cucumber garnish and teased by lime juice, savoury celery bitters and a lingering mint.
As we sip, Lewis talks us through the tastings The Jefferson offers, ranging from the super casual “Whisk(ey) Me Away” (paid on tab as you go) where guests sit at the bar and a bartender takes them through a free-flowing tasting experience catered to their palate or interests, to “The Bespoke Experience” ($150 + extra for food if required), suitable for the more discerning whisky drinker wanting to explore The Jeff’s extensive portfolio or rare, aged and unique whiskies and bourbons. The most popular events seem to be ”The Jefferson Social Club Monthly Tastings” ($80) that are held on the last Wednesday of every month. The experience is hosted by a brand ambassador or member of a distillery’s team and includes six whiskies, with at least one whisky debuting exclusively for guests at the tasting before taking up residence on the bar’s back shelf.
The longer we sit in the venue, the more bucket list whiskies we spy and, once we’ve drained our cocktails, we reluctantly pull ourselves away in order to continue our wanderings, with the promise to return for a full-blown tasting session soon. Still quiet in terms of numbers, the staff manage to maintain a welcoming and engaging atmosphere that, coupled with the quantities of great liquor and comfortable surroundings, would no doubt come together to great a memorable night. As we walk out, we understand how The Jeff has garnered such a loyal following within the Auckland community and go back into the daylight with fond memories and plans for long night sessions ahead.
The Jefferson, 7 Fort Lane, Auckland, New Zealand