Nessie's local

Jonny McCormick explores a monster of a Highland bar on the shores of Loch Ness.
By Jonny McCormick
Round a bend from Urquhart Castle lies a little piece of heaven. You know when you walk into a bar and instantly feel the stresses of the world lifting from your shoulders? Let me give you a steer towards an award-winning bar in the Highlands of Scotland which is quietly building its reputation around the breadth and depth of its whisky selection. Fiddler’s is a family-owned bar, restaurant, café and guesthouse run by Jon and Karen Beach offering sanctuary to the weary traveller on the Great Glen Way and situated at the heart of the community of Drumnadrochit, 14 miles south of Inverness.

When the couple took charge, there were only around a dozen malts behind the bar. Now hundreds of bottles are racked on every vertical surface alongside Ian Gray’s distillery artworks.

“Essentially, this is my personal whisky collection, built up over many years and everyone’s invited along” gestures Jon welcoming me into the bar.

Here, there are entire shelves dedicated to Ardbeg, Bruichladdich, The Balvenie and Japanese whiskies but Jon’s true passion is reserved for Port Ellen. All nine of the Diageo annual releases are on sale and he has amassed a substantial number of independent Port Ellens which make for a rewarding detour if you’re visiting nearby distilleries such as Glen Ord. You don’t need to spend long in the company of Jon Beach to realise what makes him tick. He’s thinking about malt whisky every waking moment.

The bar’s success is testament to his zeal for whisky as he is an enthusiast first and foremost rather than defining himself as a business figure. This is the people’s bar, a committed obsession rendered into physical form through this single malt panorama. On any given evening, the bar will be populated by locals trading the day’s news over dinner or a pint of real ale, and an eclectic mix of international visitors drawn to the area by the landscape and the legend of the Loch Ness monster. A diverse range of Scottish beers is offered, from Cairngorm Brewery’s Nessie’s Monster Mash, Arran Brewery’s Milestone Special Reserve which has been aged in Bruichladdich’s Octomore casks, to the iconoclastic Brewdog beers, creators of the 32% ABV Tactical Nuclear Penguin and the whisky cask-aged Paradox.

With close proximity to such major tourist attractions, Fiddler’s is an ideal spot to spy on people plucking up the courage to order their first whisky. It’s a fascinating process. Discreet enquiries are sought from the waiting staff, who appear more than capable of making an introduction to a suitable dram and advising on how to taste it. The glass is approached tentatively, the nose wrinkling suspiciously as the nostrils bloom to capture the aromas. Counsel is sought from equally curious companions; a single glass preciously passed round the table and pressed to the lips in exploration.

Another convert by the looks of things, and I note voyeurs at neighbouring tables carefully observing and like the Meg Ryan effect in When Harry Met Sally, soon they are approaching the bar to begin their own whisky journey. Some nights, larger parties will book in specifically for a whisky tasting and Jon can be seen hooking bottles down to serve, sharing the stories behind his favourite malts or offering sensations from the bar’s Scotch whisky aroma nosing kit.

Last year, Jon launched the Loch Ness Whisky Parliament, a quarterly whisky club which has relished tutored tastings hosted by distillery representatives from Old Pulteney to Talisker, and Glenmorangie to Tomatin. Each new Member of the Whisky Parliament (or MWP) represents the “constituency” of a distillery of their choice and enjoys the parliamentary privilege of displaying their own bottle of that distillery’s malt on the parliamentary shelf. No prizes for guessing that Jon Beach is MWP for Port Ellen. Each session of parliament consists of convivial yet lively debate as the MWPs scrutinise proprietary and independent bottlings, evaluate food pairings and savour some exclusive cask samples drawn from the warehouse.

When Annabel Meikle, sensory whisky creator at Glenmorangie hosted a tasting, she brought Astar, Sonnalta PX and Signet amongst others while the parliament bought a Glenmorangie Tain L’Hermitage 1975. The Tomatin tasting involved the official 12-25 year olds, which were compared with the 19 Years Old Master of Malt Tomatin bottled at 57.6% which was the subject of Stephen Fry’s adulatory tasting notes.

In May, Fiddler’s will throw open their doors for the first Loch Ness Whisky Festival, a two day event that will incorporate the next sitting of the parliament with live music, and ambitious whisky tastings including one held aboard a boat on Loch Ness within sight of Urquhart Castle, the landmark vantage point for Nessie spotters.

You never know, perhaps the nose of some cask strength monster may cause the legend to stir from the deep and come and join the party?


The Village Green, Drumnadrochit, Loch Ness, Invernessshire, Scotland IV63 6TX
Tel: +44 (0) 1456 450 678
Fax: +44 (0) 1456 459 316