The Torridon Hotel Whisky Bar Review: Mclaren 720S Scotland Tour
Should you be contemplating installing your own whisky and gin bar at home, you will undoubtedly undergo research to determine the design and feel. Your inspiration will be drawn from personal experience and research, perhaps looking at some of the finest whisky bars in Scotland.
For me, the bar at the Torridon is its sanctum and a place of inspiration. It is a place to sit, chat, ponder over the breathtaking beauty of the location, and imbibe a dram with friends. Its design aesthetic, with tall single-bottle shelving, large enough to accommodate 500+ bottles with a traditional feel, would feature highly on my list of inspiring designs.
The bar is perfectly sized, more intimate than cavernous, allowing you to develop a relationship with the staff, delving into their knowledge. Time is a luxury, and at the Torridon, you feel that it is in abundance. The bartender takes time to get to know you, your preferences and how adventurous you are, gauged by the inquisitiveness of your questions. I very rarely choose my own drink – I prefer to order on the advice of those that know the bottle and have personal experience with it. A gem, unseen by you, yet hidden in plain sight may fit your taste profile perfectly. It is these discoveries that I long to find.
Preferences differ, and relaxing in one of the deep leather chairs to peruse the extensive list, containing 365 whiskies might appeal to your senses more. This indeed can form part of the whole experience, and takes away price anxiety, in a bar where single drams of fine and rare whisky can be in the hundreds of pounds. Although these whiskies are available, the hotel realises that its patrons might wish to experience the bar, whilst not partaking in the upper echelons of their bottles. To this extent, and to be inclusive and cater for all tastes (and budgets), the bar stocks very familiar names such as Jack Daniels and regular core range bottles from distilleries we all know. Although, I am not sure why you would want a Jack Daniels whilst in Scotland at one of its very finest whisky bars.
Adjacent to the bar lies a generously sized lounge with an open fireplace offering a different feel. A place to read the paper, your latest book or unwind before dinner in the 1887 restaurant. I personally prefer the intimacy of the bar, where prior to dinner (you can read about our stay here) I chose to enjoy cocktails.
My choice was the Wester-Ross Sunset. Containing Glenmorangie 10, Aperol, homemade marmalade, bitters and egg whites, it was sublime. As someone who makes his own marmalade, seeing it combined with whisky was an easy choice for me. Including the Aperol and bitters suggested that it would not be too sweet, which is very much my preference. It was delightful, offering a true balance of sweet, sour and bitter, that epitomises a great cocktail.
One might assume that developing a whisky bar is a somewhat easy task. I would disagree. It is about curation. Having the right balance of accessible whisky whilst catering for the knowledgeable. Fundamentally it is about balance, variety and the depth of your collection. It takes time along with careful judgement to select which bottles to stock. Although whisky does not go off, it does change when opened (over a prolonged period) and has contact with oxygen, so a good bar will ensure bottle turnover is good. A whisky bar evolves with time, as it finds what its customers enjoy, and this in turn helps to turnover bottles.
One of the greatest benefits of a specialist whisky bar is not only the varietal selection but the ability to taste multiple expressions from the same distillery. This affords you the opportunity to explore the distillery’s DNA and the effect different cask finishes or age statements have. I am particularly fond of red wine cask finishes, so usually try to find examples I have not sampled, to guide me toward future purchases.
To complement the likes of Macallan and Ardbeg, what sets a great whisky bar apart is their selection of expressions from independent bottlers. That is, a company that has purchased a barrel from a distillery, and then aged it themselves, often using a finishing cask. They may have purchased new make spirit from the distillery (if very well established and have strong relationships with the distillery). These special arrangements, to this day, are often based on handshakes taken place many decades ago. It provides an opportunity to experience different ages or finishes that the distillery itself may not offer. At the Torridon, you are blessed with a good variety, providing an ideal opportunity to taste side by side with an official distillery expression.
With 365 whiskies on offer, choosing one may be problematic, or you might be unsure on what to try. In this case, The Torridon will happily select a whisky-tasting flight according to your preferences. Alternatively, they offer at certain times, tutored whisky flights, that tend to be based on quite interesting expressions. So much so, that it will be a surprise at the time of the tasting. The greatest advantage of a tutored flight is the knowledge imparted to you. You will learn, if unsure, the fundamentals of tasting whisky as well as background information on the whiskies. It allows you to go back and forth between the drams to detect the individual nuances or pick out descriptors the tutor has pointed out.
The bar at The Torridon has an air of formality about it, one that those looking for a luxury experience, with a fine country house hotel feel about it will relish. For those that prefer a more informal time, the hotel has a far more relaxed and casual bar (the Beinn Bar) and restaurant (Bo & Muc) in its own separate building. For those that are driving the NC500, I suggest taking drinks in the hotel bar and eating in the Bo & Muc.
As far as inspiration goes for your own whisky bar, you would be hard-pressed to not be inspired. Any whisky bar that incorporates a ladder to reach the serious bottles, demands respect (and copying.)