You’d be a very strange person indeed if your night in San Sebastian wasn’t spent eating. This luscious city built around the Bahia de la Concha (Bay of the Shell) has been the gastronomic capital of Spain probably since the Spanish royal family decided to make it their summer retreat in the 19th Century and attracted the titled and the loaded of Europe in their wake.
Walk in through the elaborately frosted glass and dark wooden doors and you’ll find yourself in an elegant bar on two levels – ground and basement – whose every spare centimetre of wall space is lined with bottles of – whisky.
There are 2700 whiskies in all from, 2100 of them Scotch but there’s also a French whisky would you believe, a German whisky by the name of Racke, and an American by the name of Rock & Rye with real rocks in the bottle. It is, according, to the card handed out by owner Paul Bordonaba ‘el mayor colección de whiskies en el mundo’, the best collection of whiskies in the world. And I am not going to dispute this. If any reader wishes to, take it up with Señor Bordonaba.
I order a ten year old Laphroaig, no ice, with a pitcher of water. “A fine choice Señor” murmurs Paul, a large, pale man with sparse dark hair, a white crumpled shirt and a black tie. He is a native of San Sebastian, and an obsessive collector. In addition to the whiskies, there is, in one of the glass wall cabinets, the World’s Smallest Cocktail Shaker (with certification from the Guinness Book of Records); and an extensive collection of porcelain owls – come to think of it, Paul is somewhat owl-like himself, as well as wise in the ways of whisky.
It’s an obsession he inherited from his father who began the collection in 1964. After working as a cook in London, Paul’s father opened a bar at Irun, another Basque town, where his customers, learning of the owner’s passion for whisky, began bringing bottles in. That was the start of the collection, and the beginning of Paul’s own whisky obsession.
We take our whiskies (one of my companions asks “is there anything else to drink?” I am startled by the question, having never thought to drink anything else here) and walk downstairs, where an accomplished pianist plays and sings Begin the Beguine.
We are surrounded by the sleek, well shod and dressed citizens of this elegant and comfortable city. As we enter, a deeply tanned blonde woman wearing more gold chains than a store full of Dior handbags descends behind us. A double for the king of Spain, Juan Carlos, rises from the bar, kisses her on both cheeks and leads her to the bar stool he has been saving her. It is midnight, the hour of assignation in the Museo del Whisky.
And I must tell you that the smoky, peat boggy taste of the Laphroaig, a single malt whisky from the island of Islay in the Western isles of Scotland, is, by some curious trick of the palate, the perfect drink at the end of a night savouring the culinary delights of this culinarily delightful town.
Museo del Whisky
Alameda de Boulevard, 5
San Sebastian, Spain
(34) 943 426 478