Young expertise amid the old drams
When whisky lovers from all over the world drop in at the Quaich Bar at the Craigellachie Hotel on Speyside, it’s not just the range of 800 different drams that amaze them.
Any visitors of the opinion that it’s older men and women who appreciate whisky are completely blown away when they discover that it’s a young woman with an incredible passion, knowledge and enthusiasm for malt whisky that is in charge of the collection.
Since becoming bar manager at the Craigellachie Hotel almost two years ago, 28-year-old Lyndsey Gray has served drinks to the stars, created a menu of whisky cocktails and was asked to judge at the World Whisky Awards in London earlier this year.
She’s also in charge of curating the Quaich Bar’s world-famous whisky col - lection, calling on the expertise of industry leading lights Dave Broom and Charles MacLean to ensure the right mix of whiskies is available for customers to sample by the dram or by the bottle.
The whisky library was created as part of the hotel’s £3million refurbishment in 2014 , and Lyndsey’s work is on-going , as its stock is up - dated with new releases and rarer drams sourced from auctions. The majority of the collection’s spirits are single malts, but, with international whiskies coming to the fore, these could be among future additions.
Lyndsey said: “We have a massive amount of international visitors, and people coming here are very much looking for whiskies from Speyside, including rarer whiskies and ones that may be discontinued. I have a very nice shopping list of whiskies that I’d like to include that I need to get approval for.”
The Craigellachie Hotel is gearing up for one of its busiest times of the year when, from April 28-May 2, thousands of whisky fans from around the world descend on the area to celebrate all things whisky related, with tours and heritage walks, whisky and food pairings and comedy and art, offered as part of the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival.
The annual festival is an excellent medium for Speyside’s world-famous malt whisky industry and Lyndsey feels that, with such an excellent range and selection attractions, it must be tough to pick which of the 400-plus events to at - tend.
“The whisky festival brings massive benefits,” she said.
“It’s fantastic to see so many people coming back again and again, which says a lot for a festival, now in its 17th year.”
Although Lyndsey graduated in art, she opted for a career in the art of whisky, having had seasonal jobs at Glenfiddich, Strathisla and Aberlour distillery visitor centres and Edinburgh’s Whisky Experience, before her present appointment.
The hotel hit the headlines last year when celebrities Kate Moss, Noel Gallagher, Nick Grimshaw and Sadie Frost spent a weekend retreat there.
Lyndsey wouldn’t be drawn into any talk around the celebrities’ stay, remaining silent on the subject and refusing to reveal whether they sampled a traditional dram or a whisky cocktail.
Sometimes, it’s the simple things that make their mark, like finding the right dram to suit the tastes of a 50-year-old man who said he had never been able to appreciate whisky. Previously, he had been advised to try the lighter flavours, but Lyndsey introduced him to a peaty malt and that appealed to his taste buds.
“A lot of people assume I’m a bar tender and are surprised that I’ve curated the whisky collection and manage the bar, so I do get a lot of ‘oh, so you know what you’re talking about’,” she said.
“It’s not being a woman that surprises, but being younger than what people expect.
“It has been a whirlwind, from the people I have met to the opportunities that I’m being given. To be woken up by a phone call and Charlie MacLean being on the line; being asked to judge at the World Whisky Awards, it’s all pretty incredible.”
● Details about the 2016 Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival can be found on the website www.spiritofspeyside.com