The Mash Tun, Aberlour: hotel review

March 3, 2014

A whisky-themed pub with rooms offers stunning views, a great location for walkers and fishermen, and fine if unadventurous local food. But it’s the drams that make it particularly memorable

Speyside is whisky country: a land steeped in Uisghe Beatha, or Water of Life, and generously sprinkled with more than 50 distilleries – so where better to stumble after a dram or two than a whisky bar with rooms?

The Mash Tun in Aberlour, a pretty, low-slung village on the banks of the Spey, is a quirky, ship-shape – literally – little pub designed by a marine architect for sea captain James Campbell in 1896. It was originally called the Station Bar but, after the Strathspey Railway closed in 1965, the name was changed. The new name is just as fitting, however: a mash tun is a giant vat (up to eight metres wide) used to mix malted barley, water and yeast. The floor of the bar, and the cosy bar itself, are made from old wooden “washback” vessels, also part of the whisky-making process. Mark and Karen Braidwood bought the pub 10 years ago and converted five upstairs rooms into whisky-themed, but not gimmicky, B&B accommodation.

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Karen led us up the steep, wood-panelled stairs to our room, The Macallan, in the eaves. A snug twin with iron bedsteads, sheepskin rug and whisky memorabilia including a Macallan-branded mirror, it also has stunning views of the Spey.

Britain’s fastest-flowing river is popular with anglers (it’s a top salmon beat) and kayakers. This makes the Tun a handy and picturesque base for fishing, for walking the Speyside Way, and for the Malt Whisky Trail, a tourist route linking nine distilleries and the Speyside Cooperage (where they make the barrels). Aberlour also has its own distillery, and is home to Walkers Shortbread.

I sneaked a peek at the other rooms. The Glenfarclas and the Glenfiddich are manly doubles, with strong colours and chunky wooden furniture; the Aberlour suite can be used as a family room; most popular is the Glenlivet, with its romantic wrought-iron bed, luxurious roll-top bath, and sweeping views of the river.

We headed straight back down to the bar, with its beams and burgundy banquettes, for dinner. The menu flags up fresh, seasonal local produce. Scottish staples of smoked salmon and Aberdeen Angus steak with chunky chips, grilled tomatoes and pepper sauce were simple and straightforward.

The whisky, however, is a cut above. There are more than 100 single malts and blends, including the exclusive Glenfarclas Family Casks, a collection of 46 single-cask whiskies, kept in a glass cabinet by the bar, one for each year from 1952 to 1997. The price for a 35ml dram of the 1952 is an eye-popping £224.25. “The only year we’ve yet to uncork is 1956,” Karen told me. Maybe in 2016 someone will crack it open…

I went local with the 18-year-old Aberlour, made half a mile away. Slightly oaky on the nose, it tasted zesty and spicy, with a nutmeggy finish. It was long, rich and warming – perfect for an icy winter’s night.

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• Accommodation was provided by The Mash Tun

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