If you are a fan of fine whiskey you should know this Piers Adam. Although he is an Englishman by birth, his heart and soul belong to the Speyside of Scotland. Here, in the shadow of some of the world’s most legendary single malt producers, this big city nightlife impresario quietly operates the oldest whiskey hotel in the entire country.
The argument can easily be made that an overnight stay at The Craigellachie is as essential to a true scotch pilgrimage as tours of the distilleries themselves. And it’s all thanks to the vision of Adam, who bought the property in 2014. He renovated it into a world-class destination without sacrificing any of the worn-out charm it has amassed over the centuries.
You enter just outside the lobby The Quaich Bar, which contains some 800 bottles of the native spirit – an inventory spanning all of Scotland and dating back decades. Downstairs it’s rustic and cozy Copper Dog Cafe. It’s an unforgettable location for a pint paired with fish and chips. And if you come here for dinner on any given night, chances are legendary scotchmakers will share a space at the bar. Though you would never know; these are humble craftsmen and men who have a friendly conversation, not celebrity or excessive attention.
In 2019, Adam teamed up with spirits Diageo to come up with a blended malt named after this wondrous watering hole. copper dog initially launched in the UK, but it’s now starting to make its way here in the US, where it usually retails for $30 a bottle.
Forbes sat down with Adam to learn more about his journey from London’s frenzied nightlife to the rural banks of the River Spey. Of course, the brand he co-founded is looking to expand further in the coming year and his hotel is as popular as ever. But as for his presence on Scotch’s big stage, this is just the opening act.
You’re a Londoner with a pedigree connected to some of the best nightclubs in the city. What brought you to rural Scotland?
Pier Adam: I am a seventh generation Londoner from my mother’s side. But my father’s parents emigrated from Glasgow to London after World War I to find work. As a child I had never been to Scotland. I always wanted to go where the sun and the fit girls were – and it certainly wasn’t Scotland! However, during World War II, my father was evacuated after the bombing to stay with relatives in Scotland. Before he took off his clogs, my wife suggested I take him back to Scotland to places he loved and reminisced about. As soon as I went to Speyside I was mesmerized by the beauty of the area and the warmth of the people. And of course the love for whiskey.
What specifically brought you into the world of whiskey?
FATHER: Until then, I didn’t sell whiskey in my clubs. I was a little intimidated by the category, but when I met a master blender at the Craigellachie, I asked him how to drink your whiskey. He replied, “Anyway, you fucking want to.” I was inspired by their brilliance, but also by their humility and accessibility.
Talk about the history of the Craigellachie Hotel.
FATHER: Speyside accounts for 70% of the malt whisky. 1.2 billion bottles are exported every year. It’s the equivalent of what champagne is to France, this is to whiskey and Scotland. The hotel is located in the heart of Speyside, where the vast majority of distilleries are located within a 20-mile radius. Dating back to 1703, it was expanded in 1893 by a prominent architect Charles Doig who revolutionized the way whiskey was distilled with the introduction of pagodas. This city is also considered the heart of whiskey as it is the place where the [distilling] community has been coming together for over 300 years.
What inspired you to buy it? And talk about the changes you’ve made since you took ownership.
FATHER: It was very difficult at the time for banks to lend money to hotels as the recession was at its peak – and even more so to try and finance a hotel in the middle of rural Scotland. So I mortgaged everything to acquire it in 2014. We then had to completely renovate it as it had been unloved for decades. We wanted to create something that was less of a bed and breakfast, but more like someone’s mansion. Ralph Lauren is my hero and creates a lifestyle brand. That’s what we wanted the Craigellachie to be. We have also changed the location of the Quaich bar, which had been there for over 100 years, and restored it to its original position overlooking the River Spey.
Tell us more about the Quaich Bar.
FATHER: ‘Quaich’ means a cup of friendship; a cup of love. Thus warring tribes would settle their differences by drinking from the same cup. James the Sixth of Scotland gave a Quaich as a wedding present to his wife. Even if they stop fighting, my poison is your poison. You can then trust that the person will not stab you. The Quaich was then synonymous with the gathering of friends and has over 1000 single malt bottles in its cellars. Everything in the Quaich Bar is handmade using local artisan furniture makers. The beauty is in the different shape of the bottles and the colors of the liquid and the design of the labels.
How did the Copper Dog come about?
FATHER: I saw a dipper at a bar called Copper Dog. I thought, ‘What a fantastic name!’ It’s a metal tube that distillery workers would use to dip into the barrels if their bosses weren’t watching. They put it in their trouser legs and smuggled it home. Therefore, it was always on the side of its owner, and then it was given the name copper dog – a man’s best friend. I thought the hotel had been ignored by the locals for too long and I wished it was the locals. So we decided to name the pub Copper Dog and restore it to its former glory – with its beautiful stone walls – as this was an instrument the locals would appreciate and understand. After that we had some private parties where some of the great people of the British music and fashion scene came out and we gave them a bottle of Copper Dog whiskey that we had specially put together.
And that was the birth of the eponymous brand?
FATHER: Yes. It was shortly after, Diageo thought this was a great solution for an introductory brand in malt. The reason I chose a blended malt is that people clearly believe that malt whiskey is the best and that single malt is revered as a premium product. I wanted to empower a young consumer – a new consumer. I wanted people to understand the complexities of blending and creating a blended malt would be the first step towards understanding and fully appreciating single malt as opposed to the much more ubiquitous blended scotch. We worked on 72 tastings with award-winning master blender Stuart Robinson. In short, I saw a huge opportunity to make whiskey relevant. To me, bourbon is about freedom and yet whiskey is just full of rules and regulations. I thought it would be fantastic to create a fluid and brand that portrayed Britain as pop culture and not just rigid conservative brands. All I’ve ever done in bars and clubs is always trying to make people happy. I wanted to do that with a whiskey.
What’s next for you and the Craigellachie Hotel?
FATHER: The Craigellachie is the heart of the community and I want to build a global lifestyle brand and hope to build a global lifestyle out of it – introducing the world to some of the handmade traditions. Not just whiskey, but also ciders, mixers, soft drinks and bringing those to a wider audience. Speyside is a magical world. A special place for its beauty and its products. I really want to put this on the map for everyone so they can get a sense of this place, even if they haven’t experienced it personally… Not yet.