A Whisky Connoisseur Remembers That First Sip of The Macallan
Bartender and writer Craig Bridger recalls his first visit to Speyside.
In our editorial series The Macallan Rare Cask Society—sponsored by The Macallan Rare Cask—we will be looking at the the qualities and characteristics that define Scotch whisky. Click here for more of our Rare Cask Society.
I was a bartender in New York City for the better part of ten years. During the course of my time behind the bar I developed a passion for single malt Scotch. My last bar was a place in Brooklyn called Char No 4, which is known for being a strong whisky bar. They were at the forefront of the whisky renaissance that we’re in now.
That was a great place for a whisky lover to be behind the bar. About 80 percent of my time there was curating someone’s whisky choice. Rather than making cocktails, it was trying to guide someone to the whisky that’s going to make them most happy.
I was also a freelance writer. I had visited distilleries all over the world and reached a level of expertise about the subject. And I was lucky enough to receive an invitation to stay at Easter Elchies House, the spiritual home at The Macallan. I was tremendously excited to go.
The Macallan 18 had long being a personal favorite, one of the first spectacular single malts that I ever had the chance to try. Trying The Macallan for the first time cracked it wide open for me in terms of how special whisky could be.
So the trip to The Macallan estate was sort of a pilgrimage. I had, for a long time, been curious about the place where all this fantastic stuff was made. I had talked about and written about places like Speyside, and Islay, and Island of Skye but I’d never been to these places. I’d never seen peat. I’d never looked at the River Spey passing under the Craigellachie Bridge.
On the day we visited The Macallan estate, I made the unwise decision to drive from Islay—a little island off the west coast of the Scottish Highlands—up those winding one lane highways into Speyside.
I got lost. I got turned around a number of times. I had to pause for sheep crossing the road, which is a common occurrence when driving through the Highlands of Scotland.
When I reached Easter Elchies House, it was almost midnight, well, well, well passed the time that I was expected to arrive. The Macallan has an employee by the name of Morag Ralph, who has been there for, I don’t know, more than 20 years and she’s in charge of hospitality. She had been my point of contact as I was trying to get up there. And, bless her heart—she’s a grandmother and has her own life—she was waiting for me at the house with the lights on when I arrived.
I was tired, my eyes burning from the road and kind of disoriented. I remember her walking outside as I shut the rental car door and hearing her charming Scottish brogue ringing out: “Is that Craig now?” She led me and my friend inside to a crackling fire and a plate of Walker’s Shortbread cookies. And she poured us some drams of The Macallan. It wasn’t like she got out the Fine and Rare 1951, or something like that, but it was the most wonderful moment of hospitality and welcome. I never forgot it.
That was the first time I had ever been to Scotland. I wasn’t working for a brand. I wasn’t an employee of The Macallan. But it really summed up to me what the brand represents and, also, what whisky can do. It was a moment of connection. It was a moment of relaxation. It represented everything about the kind of comfort and the little luxuries in life that a good glass of Scotch can afford us. It was a wonderful introduction to The Macallan. —as told to Benjamin Solomon