In a country known for its wine, Bascule Bar in Cape Town’s historic Cape Grace Hotel is certainly making the case for whisky. And scotch. And bourbon.

Whisky was a passion of the hotel’s previous owner, Charles Brand. But there were few spots in the city where one could find a range of quality single malts.  “Charles’s dream was to fix this, and so the Bascule Bar was born,” said Michael Liffmann, Cape Grace’s food and beverage manager.  “And some of the world’s more rare, well-loved whiskies were brought to South Africa for everyone to enjoy.”

The downstairs space looks out on a private marina on the city’s Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, full of gleaming yachts from all over the world. Inside, the cosy, couch-filled bar and lounge houses more than 400 different blends and malts from South Africa, Ireland, Scotland, United States, Wales, Australia and Japan, making Bascule Bar home to the most whisky in one spot in all of South Africa, a country that is the fifth largest consumer of whisky in the world. 

The menu is divided into several categories, including rare and single malt, Lowlands, Highlands, Speyside, Isle of Islay, Cambelton, Island, Irish, American and Canadian. For the repeat visitor, Bascule also has a whisky club (annual fee 3,500 rand) where members receive an engraved crystal glass and their own whisky locker, plus invites to exclusive events and lectures. Members are the only customers allowed to take their bottle to the table and pour their own drinks.

Newcomers to the “water of life” (whisky’s literal Gaelic translation) can develop their palates and learn about the history and tradition behind the process of distilling, maturing and blending with a tasting flight. Even folks who have done whisky tastings in the past can learn a thing or two. When I told Bradley Jacobs, Bascule’s senior floor manager, that I generally drink whisky or scotch on the rocks, he had me sample the entire flight three ways: neat, with a few drops of water and on ice. As he promised, adding a touch of water allowed the flavours to develop — I noticed a lot more secondary notes — and softened the burn of the alcohol. Since then I’ve ordered my scotch or whisky neat, and added water to my liking.

Bascule offers whisky tastings, starting at 175 rand and priced according to the age of the whisky. You’ll get a selection of six, including single malts, blended varieties and bourbons from around the world, plus a light food pairing that goes beyond the usual mixed nuts and crackers. I was surprised at how one whisky’s briny undertones came out when paired with smoked salmon; a heavily smoked, peaty whisky was matched with pungent blue cheese. Others at the tasting I attended claimed not to like brown liquor at the outset, but left with a newfound appreciation for it — and we all left with a list of unusual whiskies to buy back home.

Correction: A previous version of this post incorrectly stated the size of Bascule Bar's collection and the price of the tasting. This has been corrected.