My partner and I squealed into the parking lot of The Craigellachie Hotel in the Speyside whisky-producing region of Scotland, gravel flying, late for an appointment with the General Manager. We flew up to our room, threw our suitcases on the floor and ransacked them for clean shirts. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a little decanter of whisky on a silver tray with two little glasses—our flurry came to an abrupt halt. Well, maybe just the one…
We fell in love with The Craigellachie right there and then and continue to sing its praises to anyone we know who is making plans to drink their way around the Speyside region of northeastern Scotland.
Opened in 1893 where the Fiddich and Spey rivers meet, this upscale, 26-room haven was built to cater to business people visiting the region’s whisky producers. Not much has changed, as visitors traveling on the Malt Whisky Trail stop at The Craigellachie for a break or to stay the night to rest up for more tasting the next day. Many guests come specifically for the salmon fishing nearby, to hike to the beach at Lossiemouth or to visit nearby Ballindalloch Castle.
The dining room is a must-do: Speyside has some of the best food in Scotland, including organic Aberdeen Angus beef, fish from the Moray Firth, Walkers Shortbread and wild venison. After supper, we congregated in The Quaich bar, all red leather and green velvet, where more than 900 bottles of whisky line the walls. Uh-oh.
Doing the Trail
Speyside is on the banks of the River Spey between Inverness and Aberdeen, home to more than half of Scotland’s distilleries. Difficult to categorize because there are so many, these whiskies have a strong character, with smoky toffee and floral flavors. The concentration of distilleries here dates back to a time when making it was illegal, and the distillers needed seclusion among the rolling hills and winding roads. The amazing water here was also a big draw. Be sure to hit Benromach and Cardhu, plus all the Glens: Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, Glen Grant and Glen Moray. If your time is limited, the Macallan and Aberlour distilleries are two of the hotel’s nearest neighbors.
Whiskies are either blended or single malts. To qualify as a single malt, whisky must be made in Scotland, bottled in Scotland and aged at least three years. The age on the label always refers to the youngest whisky in the blend. Whisky is aged in oak casks, bought from U.S. bourbon distilleries, who are required by law to only use a cask once. Casks can also be procured from Spanish sherry-makers. The whisky then takes on the taste of the cask’s previous occupant. Those that need repairing are taken to Speyside Cooperage, the last one in existence in the UK. Twenty coopers and apprentices rejuvenate older oak casks—an art that goes back 5,000 years.
While it’s aging away, whisky actually evaporates through the casks, something known as the Angels’ Share. The joke goes that this is why older whisky is more expensive—customers like you have to pay for what the angels pilfer. Not to worry: There’s always plenty to go around.
(Featured photo courtesy of The Craigellachie Hotel)