Nothing re-awakens the Scot inside you like the aroma of a smoky whisky, finds Peter Feeney.

Otago Festival director Nicholas McBryde reminded me on a recent visit to Dunedin that the most successful bars in his town are small. Better cosy and crowded than cavernous and empty.

The Doon Bar (presumably named after the Robert Burns song?) also doubles as a holding pen for well-heeled patrons to the up-market Scotia bistro downstairs, so it fits the former description nicely, with soft tartan armchairs and snugs adding to the already warm air of refined conviviality.

You can't beat a smoky scotch imbibed beside a crackling fire. It awakes something primeval in you - in my case the one eighth of Scottish blood I can legitimately lay claim to via one of my grandmothers.

Located upstairs in the iconic Terrace buildings on Stuart St, Doon boasts Dunedin's greatest selection of whiskies: a wall of more than 300 bottles, even the more obscure of them showing the sizable dents of appreciative patronage.


Prices are as thrifty as you'd hope from a Scottish themed bar, with single malts starting at $6 for a dram of humble eight-year-old Macleod's Islay. Or you could scale the heights to a 25-year-old Laphroaig, a snip at $58 (all servings are sensible doubles). There's bourbons, blends, liqueurs and 13 varieties of Irish whiskey: a poison for every taste.

I requested a Wilson's whisky from this staggering collection - a drop from the 600 barrels the New Zealand Whisky Company cannily saved when what had been Wilson's and 45 South's Dunedin distillery folded in 2000.

The bottom shelf bootleg of my youth has been miraculously transformed by time. A bottle of their 26-year-old single malt now retails for $249.

Regrettably the barman could not locate my choice - but it did kick off a discussion with another punter who asked me if I'd tried the New Zealand Company's Doublewood - matured in red wine barrels. I had as it happened, at the farmers' market that morning. It was unusual, the noticeable tang of grape in one's grain, but moreish.

A visitor from Christchurch, thinking he'd stumbled on a true aficionado, enthused about the annual Christchurch DramFest Whisky Festival. But truth be told I'd washed up at the high tide mark of my expertise in scotch.

Off I tripped into the night, fortified against Dunedin's sub-Antarctic blasts by a warm melancholic glow. It's just a short tumble to the Octagon and the Robbie Burns' statue.

One alcoholic blink and you could be in Edinburgh.

Best bit: The Haggis balls AKA Scottish Mountain oysters from the bar menu. Too good.

Peter Feeney flew courtesy of Jetstar, which flies daily from Auckland to Dunedin.