Latest posts by Martin Moodie (see all)
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- Discovering the lure of luxury at Hong Kong Airport and with Le Clos at DXB - November 25, 2022
- Nearing the end of my year of the RAT - November 21, 2022
By Benromach and Balmenach and Benriach I will go
For the Whisky River’s calling me away
By Tormore and Tamnavoulin, by Aultmore and Tomintoul
For a spiritual sprauchle by the Spey
– Speyside Whisky Song (Robin Laing)
I am down by the whisky river. What a lovely phrase. And what a lovely place I find myself in, deep in the heart of Speyside, the world’s most famous whisky production line and home to some of the most wondrous spirits known to mankind.
I’m in the tiny village of Craigellachie (meaning ‘rocky hill’), staying at The Craigellachie Hotel, an understated gem just a decent fly cast away from where the Spey and Fiddich rivers converge.
By Macallan and Glendullan and Glenallachie we’ll go
Distilleries unfolding by the score
By Kininvie and Craigellachie, Mortlach and Auchroisk
Pittyvaich and Miltonduff and Mannochmore
This is a place to find peace. And single malt whisky. Tiny Craigellachie itself has two distilleries (Craigellachie and The Macallan) and there are many more within driving, or even walking, distance. Today I walked to the nearby town of Aberlour (home to a renowned single malt of the same name), a sublime meandering hour-long stroll with the Spey my constant companion.
There’s a wee dram waiting at the end of every mile
From Dufftown all the way to Dallas Dhu
And a wee sensation that will surely make you smile
At Knockando, Caperdonich and Cardhu.
There is so much to admire here. Just a few minutes walk from The Craigellachie Hotel is the magnificent Craigellachie Bridge, built by Thomas Telford in 1814. A plaque on one of the castellated towers guarding the entrance to the bridge notes that this remarkable engineering work was restored to its original condition in 1964.
On my walk to Aberlour (full name Charlestown of Aberlour) and back, I chatted to dog walkers, fly fishermen (the Spey has some of Scotland’s best salmon fishing) and myself. The glorious thing about rural Scotland is that it simply makes you slow down (Local Hero is a compulsory movie on the subject). Today the internet crashed at the hotel and you know what? A funny thing happened. The world did not end. Instead I simply decided it was time for another walk.
From Glenrothes to Gentauchers, from Glenfarclas to Glenspey
From Glen Moray to Glen Elgin and Glen Grant
From Glenfiddich to Glenlossie, Glenlivet to Glen Keith
I’m a whisky-sippin’ Speyside sycophant
Back to The Craigellachie Hotel. Where do I start in describing the quiet excellence of this place? Probably where I shall end up tonight after finishing this Blog – The Quaich, the hotel bar that houses over 700 whiskies, including one of the world’s largest and certainly finest selection of single malts. Many are rare, some exclusive to The Craigellachie Hotel. I thought about booking in for a year and working my way through them. Though based on my current stay I might just need six months.
The Quaich (pronounced ‘quake’) refers to the traditional two-handled Scottish cup used for drinking whisky. The word means ‘cup of friendship’ and there’s plenty of evidence here both in the hospitality and in the number of cups on offer. I am a big Speyside whisky fan and last night indulged in two of my favourites, and one (to me) newcomer.
There’s Braeval and there’s Benrinnes, Linkwood and Cragganmore
Then there’s Speyburn and Strathisla and Strathmill
There’s Inchgower, Aberlour, Longmorn and Tamdhu
And the only problem’s picking up the bill
I began with a dram of Longmorn, to me the greatest single malt whisky on the planet (though it is arguably best known for being a cornerstone of the Chivas Regal blend). My main experience has been with the 12 year old. Last night I was recommended its older 16 year old sibling. And for that I will be forever thankful. This is whisky wonderland, hints of cinnamon and spice, a honey sweetness and more depth than Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues under the Sea. I can still it taste it now almost 24 hours later (and will ensure that fact by heading straight down to The Quaich when I finish this Blog).
What to follow it with? Right from the launch of United Distillers’ (now Diageo) Classic Malt Collection way back in the late 90s, I adored Cragganmore 12 year old. To me, Cragganmore is the most under-rated single malt in the whisky universe, far greater than many of its more overblown competitors. I love its balance, its rich, spicy complexity, its long, lightly smokey finish. Last night I was guided towards the 16 year old variation, a Christmas pudding of a malt, with big fruit characters and a ridiculously gorgeous sweetness. Surprise a whisky lover with a gift of this flavour explosion in a bottle and you’ll make a friend for life.
And how about one for the road? There could only be one choice. I was staying in Craigellachie at The Craigellachie, so it simply had to be Craigellachie 13 year old. Now 13 might be unlucky for some but it’s not for this absolute gem, now owned by Bacardi. Pay a visit to the brand’s brilliant website (http://www.craigellachie.com) and you’ll learn how sticking with tradition is paying off in the modern age. It’s a big whisky, with trademark Speyside sweetness and spice, with a finish that goes on to the next morning.
But if you’re going to have one for the road, you need a road, right? And having been told that one of the world’s great whisky bars, called The Highlander, is just a caber toss across from the hotel entrance, I felt it rude not to take up the recommendation. This extraordinary hotel, restaurant and bar has been awarded Gold Bar status by the readers of Whisky Magazine and voted one of the top Whisky Bars year after year. Its 400-strong selection of whiskies is hugely diverse in terms of age, distillery, bottlers, nose and taste. And yet this is nothing like some trendy inner-city bar; it’s a real pub packed with locals and tourists alike, all bonded by a common love for great whisky.
And guess what, this eclectic little place is run by a Japanese man, Tatsuya Minagawa, who worked here from 2005 until 2012 (and before that at The Craigellachie Hotel) and then returned three years late to buy the business. I talked to Tatsuya over a very decent-sized dram of Longmorn 24 year old (ok by now I have entered malt whisky nirvana) last night. He splits his time between Craigellachie and Tokyo, two vastly different worlds which he both loves in their different ways.
Today when I was walking to Aberlour, I noticed a super-fit, whippet-thin runner hurtling towards me through the pine forest. It was Tatsuya (below). Without slowing a jot, he bid me a good morning and headed on at merry old pace back towards The Highlander.
Tonight, as last night, I dined at Copper Dog – The Craigellachie Hotel’s gastro-pub, which prides itself on locally sourced “farm to fork” fare (everything on offer is Speyside-produced and sourced from within a 50-mile radius). I started with half a dozen oysters from Lochinver, almost jumping out of their shells with freshness, and followed with a sumptous roast Fillet of Coley with creamed Savoy cabbage, baby onion, pea and smoked bacon. I had been tempted by Royan’s of Elgin Copper Dog sausage, served with rumble thumps (a traditional Scottish dish made from potato, cabbage and onion) and dressed in silver-skin onion gravy but that will have to wait for another visit.
What’s a Copper Dog? Today I learned that it’s a reference to the days when Scots distilled whisky illegally to avoid paying taxes to the English crown. Distillery workers would sneak a few drams to enjoy at home, notably by collecting old bits of copper tubing from the distillery floor, soldering pennies to the bottom and fitting a cork securely into the top to hold the liquid. The copper dog was born. As for me, I feel reborn. I’ll be back for a spiritual sprauchle to this magical place as soon as I can. I can already hear the call of the whisky river.
And the Spey runs sweetly from the mountains to the sea
Through scenery so stunning and sublime
There are angels everywhere, soaking up their share
Aye and that’s OK as long as I get mine