A midnight conversation and a drunken gentlemen’s agreement at Highlander Inn in the remote Craigellachie, Scotland were all it took for whisky aficionado Andrew Soetiono to open up a branch of the esteemed whisky bar in Jakarta.
“At one point, Tatsuya [Minagawa, the current owner of Highlander Inn] asked me if I was planning to open another bar. Although I hadn’t initially considered it, I cheekily replied, ‘If I do, can I do it under the Highlander Inn banner?’ He casually responded with, ‘Why not?'” recalled Andrew, founder of Bar Mirai and The Oak Room who is widely known in the community by his curious moniker ‘Whiskyhobo.’
Opening in late 2022, the Highlander Inn Jakarta looks up to its Scottish counterpart in both character and facade. Encased in walnut wooden furnishings reminiscent of its predecessor, its walls and shelves hold framed photographs of Andrew with friends, guests and even big names in the whisky industry such as Richard Paterson, also known as ‘The Nose’ from Dalmore, whose acute sense of smell is insured for a million pounds.
Amassing a collection of nearly 400 bottles, some of which boast Andrew’s very own label designs, at Highlander Inn, the bartender is your best friend—and also your menu. As such, securing a coveted seat at the bar (reservations come highly recommended) is paramount in leveraging their encyclopaedic knowledge of every spirit’s nuanced character and the history that birthed them.
When in doubt, the star bartender, Agung Ananta, may suggest a surefire crowd-hit: the peaty 32-year-old Port Ellen 1983 bottled by The Auld Alliance, Singapore. A rare gem with only 120 of its kind, this ghost whisky’s popularity skyrocketed following the closing of its Islay distillery that same year. For beginners, a gentle initiation may land them a First-Edition Kanosuke 2021, a Japanese single malt with a dark chocolatey aftertaste mellowed out by imprints of shochu (rice wine) from the casks.
Even amidst these fine collectables, one still can’t go wrong with a classic highball: the perfect solution to dilute a whisky without foregoing its essence. Able to whip one up using any spirit in their cabinet, opt for a yuzu highball from Adelphi Private Blend Sherry for a refreshing palette cleanser, or run in the opposite direction with a smokey Bowmore highball.
With such a premium array of whiskies on offer, the Highlander Inn disarms guests with its no-rules, laid-back attitude. Here, don’t expect a curated food menu to match the intricate flavours of the whisky. On the contrary, the establishment encourages patrons to experiment with their flavour pairings and come with their own food, resulting in an intriguing combination of aromas, where the scent of guilty pleasures such as chicken wings and martabak often intertwines with the rich tang of whisky.
At the bar, finance bros to bar-hopping socialites alike mutually unravel dispositions between layers of delicate taste notes. If “whisky is more than a drink, but a medium to get to know people,” as Agung sincerely remarks, then at Highlander Inn, the spirit is kept well and alive.