Step inside The Whisky Cellar in the departure lounge of Inverness airport and you’ll be met with an enticing display of the best of Scottish whiskies – Island and Highland malts, drams from Speyside, as well as Lowland and Campbeltown favourites too.
There are all the old classics and some more unusual bottles too, with collectors’ items nestled among limited edition releases.
Add to that a wide array of craft gins and – new to the store – high quality Scottish gifts and food. You could be forgiven for thinking you’ve landed in retail heaven!
You’ll find that perfect gift for the friends or family you are flying off to visit. If you find a bottle which would be more at home in your own drinks cabinet (and we bet you can!) mention it to the staff and they’ll arrange for you to pick it up when you return to Inverness.
The stock in The Whisky Cellar has been carefully curated by Murray Lamont, a Highland whisky and wine connoisseur. In addition, he and his wife and business partner Ellie are proud owners of Mackays Hotel in Wick and The Whisky Cellar’s sister wine and whisky shops, Bin Ends, in Wick and Thurso.
Murray grew up in the hospitality business; Mackays has been in his family for over 60 years. Bin Ends has been supplying good value, quality wines, whiskies and spirits since the mid-1990s. The aim, both at the hotel and in the stores, is simple. It is to help customers choose a bottle of something that they’ll really enjoy, at a price which offers value for money.
“We’re all about debunking myths” smiles Murray. “There shouldn’t be any rules like ‘white wine with fish, or red with beef’ – people should drink what they enjoy. All of our staff, in the hotel’s bar and No 1 Bistro and in our shops, are industry trained, so that they can help you find something you’ll really like.”
It is no surprise to learn that Murray has a qualification from the Scotch Whisky Association; he passed their exams with merit. He owns a handsome collection of rare and fine malts, perhaps some of the oldest in Scotland, dating back as far as the 1930s and 40s, and while some of these may appear for sale on the Whisky Cellar website from time to time, many will stay in the family collection.
There have been a few bespoke bottlings over the years – memorably the 2009 bottling of a barrel of Old Pulteney that Murray’s father laid down in the early 70s. That was hand-bottled, hand-labelled and hand-sealed with the help of Scotland’s leading whisky expert Charles MacLean, who wrote the tasting notes for the dram:
“This is a sensational dram! Truly one of the finest whiskies I have ever tasted and I evaluate around 1,000 a year. It is an ‘old fashioned’ malt -rich and heavy; a reminder of what whisky tasted like 30 years ago – but it is also a remarkable marriage of spirit and wood. Beyond price!”
Just a few of the 197 bottles remain – these can be bought from the hotel, from The Whisky Cellar (RRP £1000) or by the dram from the hotel bar, but you might need to be quick. If you miss out, keep in touch; further casks have since been laid down as ‘Mackays specials’ and there may be another bottling soon!
For Murray, whisky is about taste and flavour, and about matching the right dram to the right occasion. But above all, it’s personal. It’s about people, and memories, and friendships.
The first-time whisky had a real impact on him was on a Highland croft in the late 1970s. He had been driving north to Wick one snowy evening and stopped to drop off a pal, John, at his parents’ farm near Culbokie.
The weather closed in, and the power went off, and Murray had to stay until the roads reopened. John’s mother was a tremendous cook, and over the farmhouse’s solid fuel stove she produced a rib-sticking beef stew. The evening was rounded off with candlelit stories round the fire, lubricated by a dram.
Although that was Murray’s first real whisky memory, 40 years later he’s still making memories. Like the measure of heavily peated Islay malt he enjoyed on a recent summer’s evening, with thoughts of his pal Nick, who had gifted him the bottle.
Good food, good wines and good whisky are about more than fuel and alcohol; they are about good friends – and making good memories. A purchase from the Whisky Cellar or Bin Ends, or a night at Mackays Hotel in Wick – perhaps with Murray behind the bar – could be the start of making many more.