Welcoming a Weary Traveller

Welcoming a Weary Traveller

Joel Harrison goes in search of a few bars in the Speyside region that offer some of the best hospitality and drams

Places | 26 Oct 2012 | Issue 107 | By Joel Harrison

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Speyside jostles for the 'most famous whisky region in Scotland' moniker with its plucky little cousin, the Isle of Islay, asserting its heavyweight advantage by boasting more than five times the distillery count of the Inner Hebridean haven.

With more than 40 distilleries pumping out spirit, finding a dram in a local bar isn't hard, but with the region spread across a sizeable area, don't expect to head out on a Speyside bar-crawl.

This is just a starter selection to some of the best places to enjoy a dram in Speyside. However, due to the sprawling nature of the region, there are plenty of small operators who have stacked their shelves with great bottles, aiming to provide the weary traveller with a warming and welcoming whisky as they take on the pilgrimage of the Speyside Whisky Trail. Other places of note to try are: the Dowans Hotel in Aberlour, the Clock House in Tomintoul and the Laichmoray Hotel in Elgin. Wherever you choose to share a dram, just being in Speyside will make it all the more special.

Craigellachie Hotel

Victoria Street, Craigellachie, Speyside, Banffshire AB38 9SR

Almost standing toe-to-toe with the Highlander Inn, The Craigellachie Hotel, owned by Oxford Hotels, sits proudly, gleaming in white, serving as a lookout down the valley to River Spey. Staying here, you are in no doubt that you're nestled into the heart of Speyside. Always looking to provide their guests with an excellent dram, the Quaich Bar at the Craigellachie Hotel features many, many bottles which will tempt you stay for just that one dram more, before moving in to their excellent restaurant for a local steak. A lucky few regulars have their own personal bottles locked away behind glass doors, for them to drink, or share, whenever they happen to be passing by. Comfy leather chairs make this bar almost irresistible of an evening.

The Castle Hotel

Huntly, Aberdeenshire, AB54 4SH

Built as a family home for the Dukes of Gordon and designed by celebrated architect Archibald Simpson, The Castle Hotel is situated down an amazing, winding driveway. This regal residence will make you think you've landed slap-bang in the set of Downton Abbey. Hosted by the wonder pair of Andrew and Linda Meiklejohn, this grand setting will provides a wonderful way to enjoy a dram at their excellently appointed bar. If you ask kindly, you'll be able to take your dram on a walk back down the long driveway to the ruins of Huntly Castle, a magical place to enjoy a nip of Scotch in any weather. If you like the dram you're having, Duncan Taylor's Scotch Whisky Shop is just a short walk into town if you want to purchase the full bottle.

Highlander Inn

Craigellachie, Speyside, Banffshire, AB38 9SR

In a seemingly constant play-off for the top of the table position when it comes to drinking in the heart of Speyside, two hotel bars are right at the top of their game. Any hotel whose website is WhiskyInn.com is making a major statement about its collection, and the Highlander certainly doesn't disappoint. Cabinets stacked high with bottles not just from Speyside but from far flung locations (check out the Japanese selection), there is an endless whisky list with a dram for all size wallets to enjoy in a great pub-like atmosphere.

The Mansefield Hotel

Mayne Road, Elgin, Moray, IV30 1NY

North up the A941 from Craigellachie, this charming hotel located in Elgin, The Mansefield has a well stocked bar full of single malts and blends, just a short journey from the heart of the Speyside region. Easily accessible by car and rail alike, this is an easy place to relax, with the hotel making a good base for forays to multiple distilleries, especially those located in the Dufftown / Craigellachie area. The last time I was a guest, the bar boasted some unusual Scottish drams only usually available in foreign markets, which made for an extra special nightcap.

The Mash Ton

8 Broomfield Square, Aberlour, Speyside, Scotland, AB38 9QP

This wonderful wee bar boasts a varied selection of whiskies with a heavy focus on Speyside. Warm and welcoming, it is one of only three bars in the world where you can experience a dram from consecutive years, starting in 1952 and ending in 1995, from one distillery: the very local Glenfarclas. These 44 bottles make up the 'Family Casks' collection. With an excellent food menu and accommodation to boot, if you do choose to take a journey through the ages, the Mash Tun could provide all you need for the ride.

The Grouse Inn

Lower Cabrach, Huntly, Aberdeenshire, AB54 4EL
Trip Advisor page

Just eight miles south of Dufftown, the opposite direction down the A941 from Elgin, you'll stumble across The Grouse Inn. Closed during the winter months, due to the location of this delightful venue, when you do find the Inn open in the summer months, they have a tea room and provide lunch, too. This service, coupled with one of the best whisky selections in Scotland, means you can't go wrong with a stop off here to refuel between distillery visits. Not a bad place to make a pit-stop en route back to Aberdeen, you'll always leave this quaint pub with a full belly, either from their vast whisky selection or their home-made high tea.
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