“I’m a firm believer that everyone likes whisky, it’s just about finding the whisky that unlocks the category for them.” – Hannah Lanfear
Hannah Lanfear is the bars manager at Boisdale of Canary Wharf, where she has been responsible for choosing many of the bottles which are a part of the 800 whiskies on offer at the restaurant. She previously worked at trendy Milk & Honey bar where she got her firm foundation in whisky knowledge and became a lover of the spirit.
How did you get interested in whisky?
While working at Milk & Honey as a trainee classic cocktail bartender I was encouraged to really study the building blocks of cocktail bartending, namely a thorough understanding and knowledge of all base spirits. I worked very hard tasting in the aim to try to turn my palette around to the joy of whisky (which at that point I’d not got the taste for) and eventually it clicked. I really loved learning about Scotch actually because of its colourful past. Like many spirits, the history of Scottish whisky is completely entwined with that of the world…it’s fascinating.
What whisky first turned your head?
I struggled to get to grips with acquiring the taste at first. I went the usual route of trying lighter whiskies like Auchentoschan and Glenlivet but I still wasn’t taking to them. It was the Islays that changed everything for me; I loved their pungency and enjoyed exploring the differences in their (then) seven distilleries. From that point another level of whiskies were unlocked, and the flavours I was discovering would reveal another wave of whiskies I enjoyed, and another, until I was a fan of all things malty. When I’m out at a pub Laphroaig 10 would still be my go-to malt for a late night whisky.
You helped choose most of the incredible collection of whiskies at Boisdale’s Canary Wharf location. What was your favourite part of that process?
When you’re putting together such a huge selection you start by representing the open distilleries and your preference of their available age statements, then you look to older bottlings and vintages, and once you’ve done that, things get really interesting.
What I wanted to do was have a detailed selection of mothballed and dismantled distilleries, and also I was keen to add some real points of interest in the form of vintage labels, so we have an old black labelled, pre-distillery fire bottling of Talisker from 1957; we’ve got a 1930s bottle of Bells Royal Vat; and, numerous bottlings from every decade since the 30s.
In some cases what you’re getting is a basic age statement, but it’s a snapshot in history of the way the distillery made their whisky at that time. And what’s really amazing to me is even having any whisky made before or around WW2. I mean, the combined effect of prohibition and WW2 means that whisky is just so scarce from around that time. The frenzy for Scotch when Prohibition was lifted meant supply couldn’t fill demand, so the fact that we have Scotch that survived all that is staggering, and then of course during the war whisky making took a back seat.
Our Macallan 1946 is a prize bottle here and our most expensive dram, and was the first whisky made after the war. They used peat as coal was so scarce, so it’s a peated Macallan and incredibly unusual.
What kind of experience do you want to provide to customers at the restaurant?
Folk tend to give a whisky a go here whether they already love it or not. As the bar is such a prominent feature of the restaurant, it feels like a necessary part of the Boisdale experience to have a dram, which is brilliant; we get to introduce people to malt and hopefully find one that resonates with them.
I’d like to do more food matching with whisky as our reputation as a fine whisky bar grows. I saw a really inspiring masterclass with Martine Nouet which made me realise the opportunity we have here, having such a superb restaurant with a wealth of shellfish and fine fare, so exploring food pairing further is something I’m eager to do.
What is your favourite part of what you do?
Aside from the guest based interactions, introducing people to malt or furthering their adventures with whisky, I would say building a knowledgeable bar team. I’m proud that our staff turnover is very low and that the bar team here has become as solid as any. They’ve studied hard and the pay-off is evident. We’re a family unit!
Do you feel more women should or could be involved in the whisky industry?
Well yes, perhaps there could be more but already there are several notable women in whisky, and in prominent positions. It’s a known fact that women are naturally more likely to have a fine palette. Whisky will always be a drink that appears masculine – we’re not likely to change that image in our lifetimes – but then again, there’s something very cool about a girl drinking Scotch…I’m sure men would agree!
Do you aim to get more women drinking whisky at Boisdale?
Definitely. And I’m a firm believer that everyone likes whisky, it’s just finding the whisky that unlocks the category for them. Here we’d make up flights of whisky chosen with that aim in mind and a little information to capture the imagination; so far that method has worked a treat.
What is your favourite dram of the moment?
The Talisker 1981 20 year old. Although it has now become very rare and shot right up in price so it will have to be just a lovely memory from now on, although we still have a bottle or so at the bar. It’s just incredible, a kaleidoscope of flavour and a finish that just goes on and on. It puts a smile on your insides.
What is your most cherished memory of whisky drinking?
Lewes bonfire on the 5th of November. I’ll take a different whisky every year. My brother and I take our friends to see the procession and one of the firework displays. It’s a very rowdy event with 80,000 people, a procession and several firework displays; the whole town must smell of gunpowder and smoke for a week afterward. It’s more than just Guy Fawkes night: the town commemorates seventeen of their townsfolk that were burnt in barrels as part of the Marian persecution in the 16th century and it’s an event that is taken very seriously in Lewes. I think I took Laphroaig Quarter Cask last year which seems apt, a big smoky dram to warm the cockles by the bonfire. It’s my favourite night of the year.