gavin smith

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The Mash Tun, Aberlour

by Gavin D Smith, 08/10

Last month we paid a visit to The Highlander Inn at Craigellachie, one Speyside's leading whisky bars. This time around we travel a couple of miles south-west along the A95 from Craigellachie to the pretty village of Aberlour, home to Aberlour distillery and another leading whisky watering hole, The Mash Tun.

The Mash Tun stands back from the main road that runs through the centre of the village and is within sight of the River Spey. The building was constructed in 1896 by mariner Thomas Campbell, who commissioned an architect to design it in the shape of a ship, hence the curious curved wall that houses the principal entrance.

In the days when trains still ran through Strathspey, providing a lifeline service to the area's many distilleries, the building served as the Station Bar, being adjacent to Aberlour station. When the line closed during the 1960s the name was no longer relevant, but the owner of the property at the time wrote into the deeds that in the event of the railway line reopening, the name must change back to the Station Bar. Sadly for train buffs, that seems unlikely to happen, but for lovers of whisky the existence of The Mash Tun is a real stroke of luck.   

Owned since 2004 by husband and wife team Mark and Karen Braidwood, The Mash Tun now boasts four distillery-themed luxury letting bedrooms and offers contemporary Scottish cuisine, in addition to Cairngorm Brewery casks ales and as fine a line up of single malts as you could wish for.

Mark Braidwood was previously a chef in London, before moving into the managerial side of catering, involving boats on the River Thames. Originally from Ayr, he first spent time in the Speyside region while posted to one of the local airbases during service with the RAF, meeting and marrying Karen, who came from the town of Forres.

"We have over 100 single malts on display at any one time," says Mark, indicating that there are many more in the capacious cellar beneath the building. "Usually, I wouldn't replace one bottling with another identical one when it's empty," he says, "I'd put something different out instead."

    The Mash Tun is one of only three venues in the world to boast the full range of 43 Glenfarclas Family Cask, single cask bottlings, representing every year from 1952 to 1994. They are displayed in an oak and glass cabinet at the end of the bar, which features a distinctive Oregon pine bar top, made from former distillery washback timbers. Prices ranging from 15 a measure for the 1994 to 224 for the 1952.

"We were the first people in the world to buy the Glenfarclas Family Cask Collection," says Mark. "We did it because it's an attraction in itself. No other distillery can do it and I'm a great Glenfarclas fan."

The display case and its contents are certainly not just for show, with Mark Braidwood insisting that "We do sell drams of the 1952 Family Cask. A group of golfers came in one day and bought a round of drinks which included a 1952. A round of three drinks cost over 400! It's a great promotional tool for us, and birthdays are the most obvious reason for them to sell. People will treat themselves to a glass of whisky distilled the year they were born."

On a more affordable level, Mark says that "Aberlour is our most popular whisky and it's what we generally recommend to people new to the area. It's the local distillery and we have the full range of expressions. The Macallan is also a great seller. We try to give overseas visitors something they can't get in their own country, perhaps from Diageo's 'Flora & Fauna' range; something they can't find at home or in duty-free. My personal favourite drams depend on the time and the place, but I'm a fan of traditional Speysides like Aberlour, Glenfarclas and The Macallan."

Of course, there is little point in stocking a wide range of whiskies unless the establishment's bar staff understands them, and Mark Braidwood explains that "Our staff go on one-day courses to learn more about whisky, we really want them to be enthusiastic and knowledgeable. We have a ??? 'nosing box' which contains a range of aromas associated with Scotch whisky and that is very useful in helping people describe what they are smelling in a whisky."

Always on the lookout for something unusual, Mark notes that "I got a case of 1970s-bottled Aberlour and we've done comparative tastings. It's sweeter than the current versions and I prefer it. It's good to do comparative tastings like that and I'd like to do more if we get the chance. I've got a 1967 bottling of Aberlour, too. We will do tutored tastings for people if they are interested, by arrangement - especially if they feature the Family Cask Collection!"

The Mash Tun
Broomfield Square
Aberlour AB38 9QP
Tel. 01340 881771

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