Boxcar Social is more than a café. It’s a shrine to scotch whisky

Boxcar Social is more than a café. It’s a shrine to scotch whisky

Owners of the coffee-and-booze bar are cracking the fusty world of single malts wide open

Hot Dram

There is no spirit more rule-bound than scotch, what with its rigid production methods and strict labelling laws. But new players have entered the single malt game in the last few years, and they’re shaking things up. In March, the prestigious World Whiskies Awards named Kavalan, a Taiwanese single malt, the best in the world. You can get it, for $15 an ounce, at Boxcar Social, a high-ceilinged, wood-accented drinking den in Riverside (there are also locations in Summerhill and Yorkville). Fancy pour-over coffee from micro-roasters is available by day, and local craft beer, new-world wines (including an on-tap sparkling rosé from Niagara’s Contraband), bourbon and scotch at night.

Boxcar Social
(Images: Dave Gillespie)

There are no cocktails on the menu. The owners, four handsome coffee and wine geeks, wanted their bar to be a shrine to booze in its purest form—especially whisky. “We decided to take a really focused, curated approach with our list,” says co-owner John Baker. Every week, one or two scotches or bourbons are added to the menu, so even regulars can be treated to something new. And the staff, whom Baker trains to speak knowledgably but without pretension, love to create customized flights—you might be instructed to close your eyes and imagine the flavour of the “candy coating on a Smartie,” which turns out to be a stunningly accurate tasting note.

At Home: John Baker loves these three traditional scotch whiskies

Scotch Whiskies
Aberlour 12-Year
LCBO 352104

The best bang-for-your-buck scotch available. It’s aged in bourbon and sherry barrels, so it’s sweet—perfect for people who think they don’t like scotch.

Scotch Whiskies
The Arran Malt Sauternes
Vintages 291302

This scotch, from one of Scotland’s last independent distilleries, is aged in sweet Bordeaux wine casks, which gives the whisky a lush honeyed note.

Scotch Whiskies
Bunnahabhain Islay 12-Year-Old
Vintages 250076

This is a rich, sweet, complex and seriously peaty whisky. The distillery’s 18-year-old is rare; it’s Baker’s favourite (and costs about $180).