St. Moritz is the birthplace of winter sports, of course, but also home to the world’s largest selection of whisky available in one bar. Called The Devil’s Place and, with 2,500+ bottles of whisky and bourbon on sale, whisky and bourbon expert Neil Hennessy-Vass ditches his skis and sets up residence, finding that they even have a whisky specially made for the Playboy Mansion. This is a lot more fun than winter sports, argues Neil, although after this Mecca, most other bars will surely be downhill all the way (boom tish!)
Sandro Bernasconi runs The Devil’s Place with the same obsession that his father has – seeking out rare and unusual whiskies and bourbons from across the globe
So, I’m checked into the very comfortable Hotel Hauser, a 51 roomed family run hotel in the centre of St. Moritz – famed for its integral confectionery shop and cool rooftop bar. But I’m not here for chocolate. I take a taxi for the 10-minute ride to the end of Lake St Moritz.
When I first read about Waldhaus am See and its whisky bar, The Devil’s Place I knew I had to visit. I was perplexed though, as I have been a frequent visitor to the region and nobody has mentioned it to me before, maybe that was a good thing. Time to investigate.
The Waldhaus am See hotel is one of those perfectly run family Swiss houses, nothing too flash just good old honest service with a smile. And then there’s the restaurant serving all that is good about Switzerland.
The Bernasconi family, initially the father and now son, have furnished the large room with killer views and a few old retainers running the place perfectly. There’s lots of room between tables, a stellar wine list (over 1000 bottles) and great food.
Then there’s the bar….The Devil’s Place, a room designed to bring whisky lovers to their knees and that’s not the half of it.
Sandro Bernasconi is a quiet man, he says little but knows a lot… you know the kind. His father started collecting whisky and bourbons years ago and it turned into an obsession. So much so that he spends all his time seeking out the unusual and the rare across the globe. Sandro runs the hotel, but has been schooled well by his father.
On my first visit to the 3* hotel (yes only three* but it is THE best three * hotel in Switzerland) I had what was a very pleasant meal (the meat had a whisky sauce, it seemed the least I could do) and met Sandro for a chat with the hope he’d open a few of the famed 2500 bottles they have on the premises. Yes you read that right, 2500 bottles of whisky and bourbon (although the latter is a collection of a mere 100 or so). The Guinness Book of Records has officially recorded them for the last 20 years as having the most whiskies in the world in a bar for sale. There is a tasting room with a menu so thick it would make the sommelier of the Savoy weep and then there’s the shop downstairs and the storeroom all packed to the ceiling with bottles of the good stuff.
I sat dizzy with expectation. I’ve never been to a bar that literally has everything on offer that I’ve ever heard of let alone tasted. They even have their own brand, Signatory as well as one-offs (think Playboy Whisky) and some pretty expensive options too (the most expensive sits around CHF 70,000).
Edradour, a 10-year-old sherry cask 46% alcohol kicked off the proceedings. Good, rounded but I knew there was better to come. A few more passed my lips and then things got really interesting.
A Signatory Ledaig again a 10-year-old but this time from a port cask and quite a bit punchier at 59.3%. This was fabulously peaty with deep undertones of beach party smoke. Virtually no burn and my what a long finish. This little beauty will cost you a sizeable CHF 130.
Sandro was taken onto his father’s knee, so to speak, at the tender age of 19 and has been buying for The Devil’s Place ever since, his knowledge is impressive and broad. His first serious purchase was a case of Macallan priced at the not unserious CHF120 a bottle. That little investment some 20 years ago has proved he has the chops for the job, it’s now worth CHF 2500 a pop, the boy done well.
Price does not necessarily determine superiority as I found with a Balvenie, 14-years-old hand crafted peat rich. At 48.3% it wasn’t the strongest either but my goodness it blew my mind. Butterscotch and honey with sweet peat and vanilla smoke to finish. This I could literally drink all evening, so smooth with no burn to speak of it was such a pleasure (and privilege) to taste it in such knowledgeable company.
As the evening wore on it became apparent that I’d missed a trick earlier. Hidden in the depths of the dinner menu was a Whisky flight to accompany a set menu. I immediately booked my table for the next evening.
I wasn’t disappointed, a beef broth came with a stout Macallan from a sherry cask with umami notes that sat very well with the clear broth. The surf-and-turf course was skillfully met with Bowmore 10-year-old sherry and bourbon casks, smokey with mid range peat, that made it taste a little like bonfire food. And so it went on. I can’t recommend this combination enough; head barman Giani who talked me through his selections curated all the choices after careful tasting.
Great fun and an education to boot. Who needs winter sports when there’s the Devil’s Place on the lakeside? Actually, if you visit in winter you can combine the two, they hold annual cricket and polo matches on the frozen ice, settle in and order a bottle of something that takes your fancy – they are bound to have it.
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This isn’t the same place that had to refund a customer after charging them 10,000 Swiss Francs for a shot of fake whisky was it?