If you’re a fan of fine scotch you ought to know Piers Adam. Although an Englishman by birth, his heart and soul belong to the Speyside of Scotland. Here, under the shadow of some of the world’s most storied single malt producers, this big city nightlife impresario is quietly operating the oldest whisky hotel in the entire country.
The argument can easily be made that an overnight at The Craigellachie is every bit as essential to a proper scotch pilgrimage as tours of the distilleries themselves. And that’s all thanks to the vision of Adam, who purchased the property back in 2014. He refurbished it into a world class destination without sacrificing any of the well-worn charm it amassed over several centuries.
Just off the lobby you’ll enter The Quaich Bar, which holds some 800 bottles of the native spirit—an inventory spanning all of Scotland and dating back decades. Downstairs is the rustic and cozy Copper Dog Pub. It’s an unforgettable locale for a pint paired alongside fish and chips. And if you show up here for dinner on any given night, you’re quite likely to find legendary scotchmakers sharing space at the bar. Though you’d never know; these are humble craftswomen and men that court convivial conversation, not celebrity or outsized attention.
In 2019 Adam partnered with spirits giant Diageo to conceive a blended malt named after this wondrous watering hole. Copper Dog initially launched in the UK, but it’s now making inroads here in the US where it typically retails for $30 a bottle.
Forbes sat down with Adam to learn more about his journey from the frenzied nightlife of London to the bucolic banks of the River Spey. Sure, the brand he co-founded is eyeing continued expansion in the year ahead and his hotel is as popular as ever. But as for his presence on the grand stage of scotch, this is just the opening act.
You’re a Londoner with a pedigree tied to some of the city’s best nightclubs. What brought you to rural Scotland?
Piers Adam: I’m a seventh generation Londoner from my mother’s side. But my father’s parents immigrated from Glasgow after the first world war to London to find work. As a child I had never been to Scotland—I naively wanted to follow the sun and Mediterranean party scene. However, during World War II my father was evacuated from the bombing back to stay with relatives in Scotland. Before he popped his clogs, my wife suggested that I should take him back to Scotland to places that he loved and reminisced about. As soon as I went to Speyside I was hypnotized by the beauty of the area and the warmth of the people. And, of course, the love of whisky.
What, specifically, brought you into the world of scotch?
PA: Up to that point in my clubs I didn’t sell scotch. I was slightly intimidated by the category but when I met a master blender at the Craigellachie, I asked him how one should drink, one’s whiskey. He replied, ‘Anyway you f**king want.’ I was inspired by their genius but also by their humility and accessibility.
Talk about the history of the Craigellachie Hotel.
PA: Speyside accounts for 70% of malt whisky. 1.2 billion bottles are exported every year. It’s the equivalent what Champagne is to France, this is to scotch and Scotland. The hotel is nestled in the very heart of Speyside where the overwhelming majority of distilleries are within a 20-mile radius. It dates back to 1703 and was extended in 1893 by a prominent architect Charles Doig who revolutionized the way that whisky was distilled through the introduction of pagodas. This town is also regarded as the very heart of whisky because its where the [distilling] community has been gathering for over 300 years.
What inspired you to purchase it? And talk about the changes you’ve made since assuming ownership.
PA: It was very difficult at the time for banks to lend money on hotels because it was the height of the recession—and even more so to try and raise finance on 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 somebody’s country house. Ralph Lauren is my hero and creates a lifestyle brand. That is what we wanted the Craigellachie to be. We 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.
PA: ‘Quaich’ means a cup of friendship; a cup of love. It’s how warring tribes would settle their differences drinking from the same cup. James the Sixth of Scotland gave a Quaich as a wedding gift to his wife. Also when they stop fighting my poison is your poison. You could then trust the person not to stab you. The Quaich was then synonymous with friends coming together and it has over a 1000 single malt bottles in its cellars. Everything in the Quaich Bar is handcrafted 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 to be?
PA: I saw a dipper in a bar with the name Copper Dog. I thought, ‘What a fantastic name!’ It’s a metal tube that distillery workers would use to dip into the casks when their bosses weren’t watching. They would put it down their trouser leg and smuggle it home. Hence, it was always by the owner’s side and then got the name copper dog—a man’s best friend. I thought the hotel had been ignored by locals for too long and I wanted it to be the locals’ local. So we decided to call the pub Copper Dog and restore it to its former glory—with its beautiful stone walls—as this was an instrument that the locals would appreciate and understand. It was thereafter we had a number of private parties where some of the great British music scene and fashion scene folks came out and we gifted them a bottle of Copper Dog whisky which we had specially curated.
And that was the birth of the eponymous brand?
PA: Yes. It was soon thereafter, Diageo thought that this was a great solution for an introductory brand into malt. The reason why I chose a blended malt is that people obviously believe malt whisky is the greatest and single malt is revered as a premium product. I wanted to enable a young consumer—a new consumer. I wanted people to understand the complexity of the blending and by creating a blended malt it would be the first step towards understanding and fully appreciating single malt as opposed to the far more ubiquitous blended scotch. We worked on 72 tastings with award winning master blender Stuart Morrison. Basically, I saw a huge opportunity to make scotch relevant. For me bourbon is about freedom and yet scotch is just full of rules and regulation. I thought it would be fantastic to create a liquid and a brand that actually portrayed Britain as being pop culture and not just stiff conservative brands. Everything I’ve ever done in bars and clubs is always trying to make people have fun. I wanted to do that with a whisky.
What’s next for you and the Craigellachie Hotel?
PA: The Craigellachie is at the very heart of the community and I want to build a global lifestyle brand and hope to build a global lifestyle from it—introducing the world to the some of the handcrafted, traditions. Not just scotch, but ciders, mixers, soft drinks and take them to a broader 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 that they can a sense of this place, even if they haven’t experienced it in person…Yet.