Bilbao, Spain, isn’t exactly known for its cocktail scene, though Americans have been stopping off there increasingly since the opening of the Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim Museum. There, as throughout the rest of Spain, gin and Scotch are the favored tipples along with Spanish wines, but malt folk should be on the alert for one fine collection in an unexpected location when on a tapas crawl.
Casa Victor Montes, located on Plaza Nueva in the old part of town, is packed most nights (and middays) at the tapas bar and sit down tables where dishes like dried cod cooked in a sweet pepper sauce or poached in olive oil delight. It takes a few minutes, but slowly, visitors realize the cases and shelves surrounding them and filling the walls to the ceiling hold one of Spain’s largest whisky collections — 600 bottles, 80 of which are still being served.
The collection boasts lots of interesting one-offs, but also oddities (not many places can offer Old Huckleberry Bourbon or Macallan 1964), yet few customers order the stuff, according to bartender Pedro. Too bad, as the place has a well-worn patina bars only get after, oh, say, 140-plus years of operation, and is best contemplated with a dram or two. Great food and fine wine are of course important to find, but it’s especially good to know about a clean, well-lighted place for a late afternoon whisky in any city, ancient or modern.