When whisky lovers from all over the world drop in at the Quaich Bar at the Craigellachie Hotel in 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, Lyndsey Gray (28) has served drinks to the stars, created a menu of whisky cocktails and has been asked to judge at the world whisky awards in London this February.
She’s also in charge of curating the Quaich Bar’s world-famous whisky collection, 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 £3 million refurbishment in 2014 and Lyndsey’s work is ongoing as its stock is updated 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 explains, “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’ve got 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 all 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.
Music is a mainstay of the hotel’s festival programme and a marquee will be erected in its grounds next to the River Spey, for live performances, tastings and musical pairings.
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 event to attend.
“The whisky festival brings massive benefits,” says Lyndsey, “and 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 won’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. He’d previously been advised to try the lighter flavours, but Lyndsey introduced him to a peaty malt and that appealed to his taste buds.
Lyndsey says, “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’. It’s not being a woman that surprises, but being younger than what people expect.
“It’s 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.”
While traditionalists may believe that whisky is best savoured neat or with a dash of water, Lyndsey is all for people finding the best way to enjoy the spirit to suit their tastes, and is pleased to have the freedom – and a collection of 800 drams - to help customers sample a diverse range of styles.
Lyndsey adds: “Whisky is there to be enjoyed just like any other spirit and it’s very much up to the individual whether they choose to drink it in a cocktail, neat, or by adding water or ice, but it’s all about enjoyment.
“Cocktails have become a massive trend and whisky is the perfect ingredient in my opinion as it opens so many different flavours there are endless options to match and enhance and give people a different experience.
“It’s great to have the scope to get people into whisky, whether that is with a cocktail, or a malt. Because I don’t work for one of the drinks companies, and we have such a big collection, I have a full range of whiskies at my fingertips. “
Details about the 2016 Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival can be found on the website www.spiritofspeyside.com. Festival details are also available on facebook.com/WhiskyFestival, Twitter and Instagram @spirit_speyside.