18th December 2016

The once iconic Craigellachie hotel was brought back to life by restaurateur turned hotelier, Piers Adam, and it is now better than ever.

Piers Adam was first introduced to Speyside by his father, who as a child was evacuated to Scotland from London during WW2. Before his father passed away, father and son took one last trip to Speyside and to the Craigellachie hotel.

The Craigellachie has been an iconic landmark in the Moray village since 1893. The gleaming building dominates the Speyside landscape, overlooking the world famous River Spey and the Thomas Telford bridge. Speyside was a much-loved holiday destination of the Victorian high society who saw value in escaping the city in favour of the fresh Scottish air and the health benefits that came with it. The Craigellachie was built as a hotel overlooking the railway line to facilitate the transportation of the fine produce the area has always offered. The day’s salmon catch would line the river banks waiting for the carriages to pull up and start the journey that would end at Billingsgate fish market. The trains were laden with casks of Speyside’s amber nectar, ‘uisge beatha’, known today as malt whisky. The Craigellachie quickly became known for its hotel bar where land owners and locals swapped stories over a ‘half and a half’ – a half pint of beer with a dram of whisky. The distillers of the area made the pub their own, they discussed blends, entertained and on many occasions would show off their latest creation. The Craigellachie is where many of the world’s greatest blends first came to market.

The Craigellachie Speyside

During the trip to Speyside with his father, Piers was saddened to find the hotel was no longer what it had been– a change of management and lack of funds showed a fading shell of a great community establishment. He heard it was on the market and so with determination and passion set about making The Craigellachie his own.

A bar and restaurant owner by trade, Adam is the man behind the global brand Mahiki which has venues in London and Dubai, VIP pop-ups at V Festival, Henley Regatta and its own Mahiki coconut rum. Before this he pioneered London’s discerning yet fun night scene with venues such as The Punch Bowl (co-owned with film director Guy Ritchie) and Kabaret. However, never had he dreamt he might become a hotelier, and not least one in the Highlands.

But armed with his dad’s advice of ‘do the right thing and go with your heart’ five years on the Craigellachie has returned to its best. Under the brilliant eye of Kevin Smith, the former Hotel Manager of Mar Hall Golf Resort, it is quietly becoming one of the best places to stay on the whisky trail. Its Quaich whisky bar has been hand-crafted by Soane, the bar itself is lined with a silver band designed and engraved by jeweller Stephen Webster. Hugo Guinness prints adorn the walls of the breakfast room and many of the bedrooms. The soft furnishings of the bedrooms are by Johnstons of Elgin, the suppliers of cashmere to Burberry and one of the five Walpole approved brands that call Speyside home.

The rebirth of the Craigellachie has stimulated local tourism, a real source of pride for Adam who cares deeply about the wider area, and its locals’ ability to create livelihoods and futures for themselves. To have a pub, a hotel an institution they can be proud of as one of the best. However, the appeal stretches beyond the local. In 2015 the hotel was taken over by nutritionist Rose Ferguson for a birthday come Burns Night celebration. The friends comprised of Nick Grimshaw, Sadie Frost, Mary Charteris, Kate Moss and Noel Gallagher. What ensued was a good oldfashioned, Scottish knees-up complete with bagpipes and ceilidh dancing. Picked up by the Daily Mail, suddenly the local ‘Craig’ was known to the nation.


However this occasion was perhaps more momentous for the hotel in another aspect – it was the first sampling of Copper Dog whisky. The pub belonging to the hotel was launched shortly after the hotel reopened – it has become the Copper Dog. It is simply a great pub where locals, tourists, still-men and the occasional ‘A-lister’ meet to drink whisky, eat the best of Speyside’s natural larder from farm to fork (lobster from ‘Mad Dan the fisherman’ of Lossiemouth, Shetland mussels and Isle of Mull scallops) and swap stories.

It is one of these stories, which inspired the naming of the pub. Since the early 18th century whisky was largely distilled illegally, with the Scottish refusing to pay taxes to the English crown. Speyside, tucked away in the rugged Highlands, became a hot-bed of illegal distilling. Following the rebellious example set by their bosses, it was tradition for the workers to siphon off their own drams to take home with them ‘free of charge’. They would use all kinds of mechanisms to get their own blends out of the distillery – stone bottles, body hugging hot water bottles on strings around their necks or pretty much anything laying around the workspace that could contain and conceal liquid.

The most celebrated of devices, however, was the ‘copper dog’ – a bit of easily found copper tubing with a penny soldered to one end and a cork in the other. This soon became the vessel of choice, earning its name as it was made of copper and always by your side… just like man’s best friend.

Copper Dog whisky launches in October 2016 – its aim is to make whisky cool, but also as accessible and democratic as the pub itself. The hope is to do with Scotch whisky, what has been done with Bourbon in the States. To demystify and provide an alternative to the traditional way of drinking Scotch.

For a bespoke Speyside experience at  The Craigellachie, please email and quote ‘ROX’

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