Piers Adam at The Walmer Castle with a bottle of Copper Dog whisky.
Navigating his busy native streets on foot one Monday rush hour, seventh-generation Londoner Piers Adam isn’t distracted by the passing of cars and mopeds, the beeping of horns, or the ceaseless streams of commuters. In his mind, he’s a world away from the capital and its unsleeping nightclub scene, in which he made his fortune. He’s giddy in his enthusiasm for the subject of our conversation and the place that occupies his thoughts 24/7: Speyside.
In 2014, Piers purchased The Craigellachie Hotel, arguably the most famous place to stay in Speyside for more than a century. Since then, he’s entirely renovated this illustrious institution and launched a respected Speyside blended malt named after the hotel’s Copper Dog bar – and now, as a businessman by day and a concepts man by night, he’s planning new projects that will showcase Speyside to the world.
A grand ambition, to be sure, yet Piers’s introduction to Speyside – and to whisky more generally – was an altogether more humble and private affair. “One of my grandfathers was English, the other was Scottish,” he says. “One of the ways I distinguished between them when I was young was the fact that one drank beer and the other drank whisky – and you can guess which was which.”
In later years, after building a name for himself as a serial entrepreneur in the hospitality and drinks industry and founding some of London’s most famous nightclubs, Piers visited Speyside for the first time. His father had been evacuated to Scotland during World War Two, and Piers wanted to take him back north of the border. A friend who owned The Craigellachie Hotel invited them to stay.
The Walmer Castle exterior
“I immediately fell in love with it,” says Piers. “I just felt this energy, and I knew this was something special. It wasn’t a concept about me or about promoters or who’s behind the decks. This was – is – a hotel steeped in history, provenance and authority.” Piers “mortgaged everything” he owned to buy the hotel and began realising his vision for it.
It’s fair to say that many whisky drinkers would regard The Craigellachie Hotel as much a rite of passage as a conveniently located (not to mention stunning) pitstop in this most prolific of Scotland’s whisky-producing regions. For Piers, it’s the epicentre of what he calls “the ultimate luxury valley”, and in renovating the hotel, he’s created a country house for all at the very heart of the whisky community.
Approaching the investment as an entrepreneur, Piers admits that, at the time he purchased the hotel, he hadn’t been properly introduced to whisky. Beyond his childhood memories of his paternal grandfather, Scotch hadn’t featured in his life, nor in his clubs. But it only took a chance encounter with a blender in Speyside who unabashedly recommended he try drinking whisky any which way he liked – neat, with water or with soda – for Piers to fall in love with it. “This was a creative genius of the whisky world giving me the key to wonderland,” he says. “Since then, I’ve never looked back.”
Piers has a vision for The Craigellachie Hotel that goes beyond its bricks and mortar – and even beyond whisky. He’s developing a luxury lifestyle collection representing the ‘home from home’ feeling around which the hotel has built its reputation, in order to showcase the best of Speyside.
Spearheading The Craigellachie Collection in the role of creative director is Sarah Burgess, known for her critically acclaimed work as lead whisky maker for The Macallan, where she led the production of The Macallan Genesis and collaborations with the likes of Pantone and Sir Peter Blake.
Scenes from a stay at The Craigellachie Hotel in Speyside.
“There’s a camaraderie in Scotch and a desire across the whole Scotch community to promote this incredible product,” says Piers. “Scotch is in their DNA, and here we are surrounded by people with a passion for what they’re doing and the community from which they come.”
Notably, though, the collection goes beyond whisky, with beer, cider and soda from Speyside producers, incorporating local produce, all set to feature. There’ll also be a range of white spirits, including a gin and a vodka. The collection itself will be available across Piers’s portfolio of venues, including, of course, The Craigellachie Hotel itself.
In a recent development, Piers has also taken the helm at Notting Hill’s famous Walmer Castle, a venue through which he plans to bring the spirit of Speyside to London. The Craigellachie’s executive chef, William Halsall, has headed up menu development for the restaurant, and the gourmet food offering will showcase Speyside and Scottish ingredients through a mixture of classic and contemporary dishes. Meanwhile, Sarah Burgess has developed an offering of more than 400 whiskies for The Walmer Castle’s first-floor Spey Bar, which will transport whisky lovers to the heart of Scotch whisky country. Following a thorough refurbishment, which has seen the introduction of furniture crafted by Scottish carpenters and soft furnishings created in collaboration with Scottish cashmere company Johnstons of Elgin, The Walmer Castle is set to bring a touch of Scottish elegance to the affluent London borough.
I had to ask how Piers reconciles leading such an apparently dual life, at once a nightclub impresario and the proud custodian of The Craigellachie and now The Walmer Castle. “I’m not qualified to do anything,” he says, with what I quickly come to realise is characteristic humility. “But what I know and love is the on-trade and what it represents. I love people getting together, be it on a first date, consoling somebody or celebrating a birthday. The on-trade enables unique social gatherings of communities, and people have missed out on that during Covid. People need to be together.”
Fitting, then, that Piers should have fallen in love with The Craigellachie Hotel, famed for its storied association with the world of whisky and tourism. Where its founder, Alexander Edward, effectively put Speyside on the tourism map more than 120 years ago, Piers is now using the hotel to bring the Speyside brand to life on the global stage, whether that’s over ‘hauf-n-hauf’ of local ale and whisky in the cosy confines of the Copper Dog bar, or something more befitting a night out in cosmopolitan London Town.
While Speyside and London might seem as diametrically opposed in character as the Spey and the Thames, Piers would say otherwise. Since 2014, he’s had the two greatest rivers in the world as part of his life, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.