Fiddler on the Loch

Jon Beach and ‘The Whisky Library Shelf'
By Hans Offringa
If you are planning to drive from Fort William to Inverness along the A82, be sure to stop in the village of Drumnadrochit. Not only to enjoy the Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition but certainly for a visit to Fiddler's. Proprietor Jon Beach has the most amazing collection of whisky, loves to talk about them and pours every single one of them - as long as you are ready to pay.

How did Jon become acquainted with whisky? "My grandfather came to live with us in Inverness after my grandmother died. With him came a regular delivery of blended Scotch whisky, so that would have been my first sight of it." When in his late teens, Jon noticed his father Dick also liked the cratur, but preferred single malts. "So, it must be a hereditary thing. Dad's love for whisky was fuelled by a certain Mr Frank Clark, who at the time owned the Cairngorm Whisky Centre in Aviemore. He had a well-stocked tasting room and introduced me to Lagavulin 16 Years Old. That was his favourite tipple. All his friends drank it and they were dubbed the Lagavulin Louts."

So, a heavily peated single malt was Jon's initiation into the world of single malts. What happened then? "After high school I started working in different hotels, then set up my own little business and eventually washed op on the shores of Loch Ness, to help my sister run Fiddler's restaurant in Drumnadrochit."

Jon kept visiting Frank Clark's shop and once purchased a case of six Port Ellens for the currently incredible sum of £130. Why Port Ellen? "Well, it was my mother's name," Jon smiles. Only later did he realise what a special whisky he had purchased. "Just before the millennium my father retired and moved to Drumnadrochit too, causing himself a problem. He did not have room at home for the huge collection of whisky he'd amassed over the years, so we created a 'whisky den' in the Fiddler, where whisky lovers could taste and discuss whiskies."

That was the start of what is now known as 'The Whisky Library Shelf,' which grew into many shelves over time. "With Fiddler's being bang on the tourist trail, beside the iconic Loch Ness with its legendary resident, we have always had a global customer base and whisky is what many of them are here for."

It worked. In 2007 the Fiddler received the Whisky Bar of the Year Award from the Scottish Licensed Trade News (SLTN) for the first time. It would turn out to be a straight hat trick - Fiddler's won the award again in 2008 and 2009. "To celebrate this we took the Fiddler on the road with our selection of Port Ellen Annual Releases - the first to ninth at the time - travelled to Islay for the 2010 Feis Ile and organised a historic tasting."

In 2008 Jon founded his own whisky club in Drumnadrochit, appropriately called The Loch Ness Whisky Parliament. The first tasting ever was held by Malcolm Waring of Old Pulteney fame. "It was the first of many memorable nights. In 2012 after a break of two years the SLTN Whisky Bar of the Year Award was reinstated; we entered and we won it yet again, a record four times! Our love of whisky seems to be infectious as several past employees of Fiddler's have left and found work in the whisky industry. It's great to hear about how they're getting on."

When asked about his favourite whisky moments, Jon smiles and starts off with a very tasty monologue. "I've been lucky to get in tow with three other guys whom you know, Phil and Simon from Dornoch Castle and Angus from Whisky-online. We call ourselves the Glug Glug Club and we buy and drink old bottles of whisky, the kind most people collect and pretend that they will open one day. We have over the past three years organised some amazing trips, the first of which was the Broracademy, a day when about 16 of us got together and vertically tasted Clynelish and Brora from the old Clynelish distillery starting with a 1907 Ainslie's blend and finishing with a 1983 Brora. My bottle was a 1970 Douglas Laing Platinum bottle, which was a birthday gift from my father. I opened it and tasted it in the company of him and some great friends; it was truly memorable. The Broras from the early 70s are some of the finest whiskies out there with their solid Highland profile accompanied by a complex and integrated smokiness."

I hate to interrupt Jon's enticing ramble, but someone has to do it. How many whiskies does he currently stock? "I don't know exactly; but I would say about 600 different ones at the moment. After next spring we will have refitted the café and we'll stock some 900."

If that does not make you stop in your tracks when passing Drumnadrochit, what will? If it's not the Monster, it should surely be Jon's monster collection of whiskies!

Fiddler's Bar and Restaurant

Fiddler's has been a family-run business owned by the Beach family since 1996. They have high standards of customer care and provide value for money, as I have attested to myself on various occasions. The restaurant mostly serves local food. In 2000 the Beaches acquired Oakdale Bed and Breakfast opposite Fiddler's and this together with Fiddler's gives them six rooms, accommodating 12 people max.

Tel: +44 (0) 1456 450 678

Tasting Note

By Jon Beach

The 1899 Glenlivet was quite a remarkable whisky, the freshness of the nose outshone the palate just after opening but after 24 hours the palate had totally opened up. 100 years in the bottle but that extra 24 hours made all the difference to me. A lesson in true patience.