The lure of the Isle

The Editor packs his bags and heads north,to find a gem of a bar.
By Rob Allanson
There is nothing quite like a tall glass of perfect temperature beer at the end of a long journey (think Ice Cold in Alex), especially if it is accompanied by decent food and a great dram.These were my first thoughts as I headed over the Kessock Bridge on to the Black Isle, the sun just dipping below the horizon and the scent of maritime and heather filled the air.I had decided to break my journey to Tain at the Anderson pub in Fortrose because I had been hearing so much about it and there are some things you should see for yourself.You know sometimes you arrive at your destination after a long journey, in this case an 11 hour ride, that you think you will do the sensible thing and eat then sleep.Well this was one of those nights,however it was not to be thankfully.The Anderson, a classic whitewashed stone walled Highland pub, with its real fire warmed whisky bar encourages conviviality, and if the owner Jim and his beer loving dog are in for the night then you can be assured of an interesting evening of chat and drams. My dad calls these nights “setting the world to rights” and this was one of them, with a good exploration of the bar’s impressive offerings of Belgian beer and whiskies.Jim and his other half Anne, have been expanding the bar’s whisky and beer lists since they took over the place in 2003.Both have extensive backgrounds in the drinks and restaurant industries, with Jim being a former beer magazine publisher and writer. You can sense the passion with these two.He says:“When we bought the place, there were 15 malts on the shelf. Anne thought we should have a lot more, and when I asked, “How much is a lot?”she said,“Well, I think we ought to have 200, so we’ll be noticed.”Talk about a dream assignment!“Over the next couple of years, on a shoestring budget, I assembled the list to include good examples from most of the active distilleries, several silent ones and a range of malts produced outside of Scotland.“We overshot our goal by a few malts,because bottles keep turning up that I’d mentioned to someone a long time ago and completely forgotten about. I have now,however, officially run out of shelf space!” But unlike the bars in big cities the idea with the collection is not bling or bravado, it is that you can afford to try them.Jim adds:“There’s no sense in having a £2,000 bottle sitting around as a monument to one’s vanity, after all, the stuff is made for drinking, isn’t it?“Our most-expensive drams are £20, and all our malt prices represent a fair price at the time I bought them. We still have to be a local for the locals of our small village, which means value is one of the most-important elements of our operation.” When it comes to whisky and food the Anderson takes things refreshingly low key.Jim explains:“We don’t shove it down our customers’ throats like some specialty bars we’ve seen.“Beer is a natural ingredient in many of Anne‘s recipes from Belgium, Germany and the UK. She uses malts in some of her sauces and desserts, but as an ingredient to complement the flavours of other ingredients, not to define ours as a Whisky Bar or Beer Bar. I mean,she also uses cider, sherry, coffee,port, sake and, of course, wine, but, again, as part of a gastronomy.” This enthusiasm for malt and beer has rubbed off on Jim’s staff, who are extremely knowledgeable and happy to lead the novice through the wonderful world of whisky.Jim explains:“We see a lot of visitors who don’t ordinarily drink whisky, but want to give it a try while they’re in the Highlands. We hope they’ll enjoy the experience, but for most of them it’s a one-off, like,people don’t usually get hooked on gondola rides after a trip to Venice.“If my staff have learned anything from me, it’s to identify a novice whisky drinker’s broad taste preferences and suggest a malt that won’t have them running upstairs to brush their tongue.” You get the feeling that Jim has tried to make the Anderson the heart of this Highland community, in a way that pubs once were,and it’s working. Something you can see if you drop in on a knitting night, yes knitting.Jim runs through how the circle came about:“Anne is an avid knitter. So, when a couple of our knitting staff asked if we could hold a knitting night, it seemed like a fun idea.“We now have a dozen or so knitters in front of the fireplace every other Monday night, and it’s great! A pub should be for getting together and having a drink to enhance the experience, but too many pubs up here end up being nothing more than gin mills.” For Jim there is also a perfect night in the bar:“Two or three of us in a busy bar, grazing around beers and whiskies,swapping stories, getting silly with some food, all within a couple of yards of bed.” And I have to say we did get silly with food.When did you last see baked beans forming an integral part of a tapas plate?The Anderson
Union Street,Fortrose,by
Inverness IV10 8TD
Tel.+44 1381 620 236