From the minute you step into the Fife Arms to the minute you leave, every experience you have is as luxurious as the last.
And like most things at the five-star hotel, which is nestled in between the forests and hills surrounding Braemar, Aberdeenshire, everything is steeped in history.
Including the venue’s latest addition – Bertie’s Whisky Bar.
A nod to Queen Victoria’s eldest son, King Edward VII, also known as “Bertie”, the bar is located in the former library space and houses 365 different whiskies for customers to try.
With a split of around 85% Scottish and 15% whiskies from around the world, the collection boasts drams from near and far, and is sectioned into four different categories; fragrant, fruity, rich and smoke.
Visiting with my boyfriend, we’d booked dinner in the Clunie Restaurant prior to the whisky bar as we thought the experience would make perfect end to our evening.
We arrived promptly and were greeted by our bartender, Mikael, for the evening, who showed us to our seats which so happened to be perfectly placed near the open log fire which was hissing away.
The room is quite something, dressed in whisky bottles which have all been dimly lit up to create the ultimate snuggery. Lines and lines of golden nectar run around the bar, and the red velvet and wooden finishings add a real sense of indulgence.
Mikael handed us a tablet each which boasted the menu on an app and we got to work scrolling our way through it. On first look I was quite overwhelmed with the amount of whiskies and the styles available and wasn’t quite sure where to begin.
Starting with fragrant, our bartender for the evening brought us some water and explained the menu to us. I was happy to take his lead so made some suggestions of what types of flavours I liked, and what whiskies I had already tried.
Fragrant and fruity
For our first dram he suggested the Kilkerran 12-year-old (£9) for my boyfriend and the Craigellachie 17-year-old (£9) for myself.
Served in a Fife Arms branded tulip-shaped whisky glass, this allowed us to nose the whisky better and really get the depths of flavours from it.
Mikael walked us through the stages of tasting; nosing, a small sip to wet the tongue and awaken the tastebuds, then a bigger sip to unlock the flavour.
My boyfriend’s Kilkerran was smooth and had sweet hints of blood orange while my Craigellachie number provided notes of honey and raisins which I enjoyed a lot, and had nice dried fruits on the palate. It got sweeter with time and I added a little water to the 46% ABV dram to smooth it out a little.
Up next we ventured to the rich category.
My dad is a huge Aberlour fan so I mentioned this to Mikael and he suggested I tried the Aberlour A’bunadh (£10.50).
My boyfriend was recommended the Rowan’s Creek (£10.50), a Kentucky bourbon whisky, after mentioning he had a fondness for bourbon.
The Aberlour was cask strength (60.6% ABV) and was very rich in flavour. It was an intense whisky, but it was lovely and had some gorgeous sherry notes throughout. It reminded me of a fruit cake with plenty of dried fruits and sweeter syrup in there.
The bourbon whisky (50.05% ABV) was well-rounded and was more citrus fruits-forward and had sweeter notes of toasted marshmallows in there.
We were very impressed with the team and their knowledge of whisky and flavour pairings. We discussed what food and drink we enjoyed and Mikael made recommendations off the back of this. His colleague, Blair, was also very helpful and they were both very attentive, always checking in to check how we were enjoying the drinks.
Because the bar is smaller, only six others were seated in the venue at the same time as us which made the experience all that more intimate.
Last but not least, we decided to try a dram each from the smoke category which included some peated numbers.
By this point we had sank a little lower into the large velvet arm chairs and the fire was beginning to die down.
Mikael had suggested Octomore 10.3 (£23) by a distillery which makes some of the world’s smokiest whiskies and also recommended Williamson 10-year-old Carn Mor (£9) to my other half.
He mentioned Carn Mor was similar to Laphroig’s 16-year-old in a way (Mikael’s favourite) and said the independent bottlers, Morrisons Distillers, use ex Laphroig casks to make the single malt.
The Octomore 10.3 was very peaty but I absolutely loved it. It was rich in flavour, oily and while it was heavy with peat initially, it sweetened out as I uncovered he depth of the whisky.
We loved the music in the bar with everything from piano and violin music playing, to Irish and Scottish ceilidh-inspired sounds, and the evening on a whole was absolutely first class.
While we decided to stick to the more budget-friendly side of the menu, with the cheapest dram priced at £9, there is plenty of others at an affordable price tag to enjoy, too.
However I think I’ll leave the £700 dram of 40-year-old Dalmore for someone else to pursue.
The bar is open from 5pm to midnight seven days a week and is open to both residents and non-residents.
Address: Fife Arms, Mar Road, Braemar, Ballater, AB35 5YN
T: 01339 720200