We had just sipped our first dram at a private tasting conducted by a young and impressive whisky expert, Lindsey, at the Quaich Bar in the Craigellachie Hotel. The room was decorated with plush green velvet seating, antique chess boards, and library-style shelves stocked with the local and further-flung whiskies of Scotland and abroad. Over 700 of them, so they say. We were seemingly in the middle of nowhere – an hour and half from Aberdeen, three and a half from Edinburgh, surrounded by mountains, tall and bushy evergreens, and over fifty distilleries in something like a fifteen mile radius — and a whole lot of character. We had the distinct pleasure of meeting two of them when a hotel manager pushed through the door, breaking our concentration on the local flavors of a Speyside whisky.
“Lindsey, there are two gentlemen here to see you.”
Two sweet-looking, snowy-haired men with the most mischievous smiles you can imagine – a specialty of those sorts born to the Celtic regions – walked in.
“Oh, not you again,” from Lindsey.
And the mischief in their smiles flickered and danced.
“We’ll have a whisky, Lindsey!” Said in one breath as if he had just thought of it and couldn’t contain his excitement at the novelty. This was Innis. Soon to be our new best friend, as was his accomplice, David – both barley farmers who sold to the malters who sold to the distilleries. And who enjoyed the “occasional” taste of the end product. They had little difficulty finding ample occasions – perhaps evidenced by the fact that many of their favorites seemed to be recently out of stock – a phenomenon that caused Lindsey to be peppered with witty retorts. Being equally local, equally raised on whisky, Lindsey not only survived, but proved herself to be equally dancing with mischief.
Innis was a local, known by everyone in the hotel. A kind and charming man who (when he’s not farming barley) runs an outdoor adventure sort of company nearby– off-roading, hunting, fishing. David lives a few hours away, but, as he explained, was in town to keep Innis out of trouble. When we asked who was watching out for David, he said, “She has the night off!” She deserves a whole week.
We continued with our tasting, during which Lindsey explained what distinguished the flavors of the area from the rest of Scotland (usually a little fruitiness and a lack of smoke, but not always!), and during which David and Innis gave us their own opinions and recommendations, of which they had many. Of course, we tasted all of them. Loved them all. Still remember some of them.
At one point, Lindsey disagreed with one of David’s “opinions.” Sensitive flower that he is, he declared his heart irreparably broken.
“Oh, you know I love you guys,” she consoled.
The mischief danced again, this time in his eyebrows. “Now we’re talking!!”
A massive bar bill and some rosy cheeks later, our faces hurt from laughing, and we stumbled downstairs to one of the best dinners I’ve had. (The secret ingredient may have been our pre-dinner flight of whisky, but I’m willing to go back to confirm.) The hotel’s restaurant, the Copper Dog, is a farm –to-table place with a fantastic chef. There was duck, there were scallops, a few sides in mini cast iron skillets. All done to perfection. The star was undisputedly the sticky toffee pudding. How have I never had that before??!! Which just occurred to me: why haven’t I tried to make it yet? We also had the luck that that night they were featuring a band of local high schoolers who rendered us speechless with their banjo, guitar, and transportive voices. For both S and I, the music of Scotland and Ireland is one of our favorite parts of each country’s culture.
Breakfast at the hotel the next morning, which S and I took down gingerly, careful not to disturb the trolls that were threatening to wage war on the Middle Earth of our brains, was my first taste of haggis and blood pudding and I loved them both! Despite our caution, the trolls rumbled later that day on the drive to Edinburgh. They’re light sleepers. However, if it wasn’t for our heavy dinner and the incredible Scottish breakfast, I don’t think we would have survived our night with Innis and David. Whether we were referring to them or to each other, neither of us can remember, but here at breakfast was born our oft-repeated endearment of the weekend: “You old haggis!”