Whisky in Craigellachie
“Old” Joe Brandy has been behind the bar at Craigellachie’s Fiddichside Inn for 57 years, right in heart of Scotch country.
Joe, who turned 85 this year, took over the operation from his parents-in-law, who themselves had run the joint for some four decades prior. He’s seen it all, so when four Americans loudly stroll in without any form of legal tender to pay for a round, he’s having none of our shit. My wallet’s stuffed with dollars, and awkwardly no British pounds, and Joe tells us they don’t accept credit cards.
Ashamed at our failed attempt to get served in this hidden-away bar that houses all of this great history, we retreat. A sunny Scottish day awaits outside, as water trickles past in the adjoining River Fiddich, the namesake for Glenfiddich, and a tributary to the River Spey, a namesake to the entire Scotch region of Speyside. We’re here visiting an ambitious nine distilleries in a week, so there’s been no shortage of drinks to be had. Still, we were eagerly anticipating the opportunity to soak up some of Fiddichside’s lore, and perhaps nab a bit of hard-earned wisdom from Old Joe along the way.
It just wasn’t meant to be. Taking our time outside the inn with a few regretful photos, two passing couples start a conversation with us. We share the shame of our story, along with what we’re doing in Scotland, and we quickly learn that here in Scotch whisky’s heartland, there’s always a connection to the industry. The father of one of the women had been a stillman at Macallan, two miles from the Inn, and the family grew up next to the distillery. And these lovely folks would simply not accept the idea of our group leaving without a drink.
So one of the four, John Owens, leads us back inside and orders up a round of Macallans from the bar. John is a brandy-and-Coke kind of guy, but is happy enough to partake in the local wares on our behalf.
There was no way to pay John back for the drinks he bought us, and he wouldn’t have asked for it, either. I told him I’d write this story, though. Sláinte, John.