A quiet retreat

Gavin D. Smith investigates a newly developed whisky room offering comfort and drams
By Gavin D. Smith
Greywalls Hotel at Gullane, in East Lothian, is one of Scotland’s most attractive country house establishments.

The house, some 17 miles from Edinburgh, was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens in 1901 and has operated as a hotel since 1948, remaining in the ownership of the Weaver family throughout its commercial existence. However, a regime change earlier this year saw Inverlochy Castle Management International take over the day to day running of Greywalls, and a dedicated ‘Whisky Room’ is now a feature of the Greywalls Hotel experience. Here residents and non-residents alike may sample some of the finest whiskies on offer from Scotland and beyond.

The Whisky Room was masterminded by Norbert Lieder, managing director of Inverlochy. “We operate six properties, five in Scotland and one on Lake Como,” he notes. “This is the first Whisky Room we’ve developed. It’s been created so that people can look at more unusual whiskies and we can offer them advice. We will serve them in the room itself, in our bar, or in one of the hotel lounges.”

The Whisky Room is intimate, luxurious, yet unostentatious, and has been created in an area that was formerly the hotel reception. Bespoke wooden cabinets have been constructed to display the whiskies to their best advantage. The bottles are given lots of space in the subtly-lit display cases, and stand like individual pieces of sculpture.

“We have similar display cases for whiskies at our Inverlochy Castle hotel at Fort William,” says Lieder. “In each of our hotels local distillery malts play a role, and at Greywalls we have chosen whiskies which people are not too likely to have found elsewhere. We find that the range of whiskies available even in quite exclusive bars is often very similar. Once one bottle has been emptied we are likely to replace it with something different, though we aim to keep the same sort of overall balance and variety.”

The room has 50 whiskies on offer and there are also in excess of 30 more familiar single malt expressions available in the nearby ‘snug’ bar. The display cases of the Whisky Room inevitably boast an expression from the local Glenkinichie distillery, in this case Glenkinchie Distillers Edition, while other, older, gems include a 25 Years Old ‘Port Askaig’ from Speciality Drinks Ltd, a 1968 Benromach the colour of polished mahogany, a 40 Years Old Tomintoul and a 32 Years Old Diageo Special Release bottling of Mortlach. Malts from long-lost distilleries such as Brora (25 Years Old) and Glenury Royal (36 Years Old) are also on offer. Away from single malts there is a bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue Label King George V Edition, a number of Suntory variants from Japan and a Woodford Reserve Sonoma-Cutrer expression from Bourbon country.

One display cabinet is devoted to a selection of potential ‘gift bottles’ for customers to purchase. These include a 1981 Dalmore, a 30 Years Old Macallan, a 1967 Tomatin and a 1968 bottling of Springbank from ‘Regis Whisky Mad.’

The barman in the ‘snug’ bar will suggest a progression for less experienced single malt drinkers, commencing with Glenkinchie 12 Years Old, followed by a Springbank or a Singleton of Dufftown, then a Highland Park or Talisker, and finally a Lagavulin.

Diageo undertook staff training at Greywalls, so it is not surprising to see their whiskies featuring prominently on the shelves and in staff recommendations. “We have a good relationship with Diageo, who come in at times and host tastings for us,” notes Lieder.

Clearly passionate and knowledgeable about whisky, Norbert Lieder declares that “Part of our ethos is the importance of using as much local produce as possible wherever we operate, and whisky is very much part of that. There is a fantastic heritage of Scotch whisky, and our view is when you come to a Scottish hotel that should be showcased.”