Fancy a drink at Andy Murray’s house?
There comes a time in everyone’s life when they finally feel mature enough to enjoy whisky without spitting it out and crying. After a particularly unpleasant misadventure with Asda own brand Scotch when I was 18, it’s never been one of my favourite drinks.
But then you don’t often get a chance to sample a 50 year old Balvenie single malt, retailing at £26,500 a bottle, do you? Not unless you’re an oligarch with a yacht, or an A-list celeb. At the launch of the two new highly limited edition Balvenie Fiftys (only 10 bottles are destined for the UK), it’s time to put the supermarket whisky demons behind me and grow up.
If you’re going to have a riotously expensive whisky epiphany, you’d better make sure you’re in Scotland. And there’s no better place for it than Cromlix House, the restored 5 star country retreat co-owned by local boy and tennis ace Andy Murray. Three miles from his hometown of Dunblane, it’s an understated Victorian country pile which oozes class from every dove grey window frame and blade of grass on the croquet lawn.
Andy Murray’s Cromlix House
Image credit: Weir Photography
Cromlix House has only been open since April, but already it’s won the Scottish Hotel of the Year award and boasts the kind of five star fabulousness that only certain celebrity connections can conjure. There’s a Chez Roux restaurant, and the Balvenie have created a whisky enclave, where you can have a wee dram before dinner. For outdoor types, there are tennis courts (of course) and a loch full of trout to complete the picture of luxurious, low-key serenity.
The 15 rooms are named after great Scots – the Connery, the Hoy, the Carnegie – and in the suites there’s a spa in the shower, a TV masquerading as a mirror, and a great canopied bed in shades of oatmeal. Meanwhile, in the public rooms, it’s all roaring fires and billiards and stags head peering from the wall. Built in the late 1870s as a private residence for a Royal Navy captain, since the 1980s it was a country house hotel of the lentil broth and stern signs over the sink variety. Now, it’s a sleek, muscular, 5 star winner.
The famous Gleneagles hotel
Image credit: Justin Goring
Sadly, Murray isn’t standing at the door in his whites, asking to take your bags. But in his absence there’s a line of super shiny Morgan cars to celebrate the launch of the Balvenie Fifty. These gorgeous convertibles, which have been produced since 1909 and have a curvaceous frame made from ash, can go up to 150 miles an hour. And they get up to speed fast enough to knock your teeth out.
Cromlix is at the edge of Perthshire, an area that is lush, verdant, dotted with lochs and tasty things to shoot for your supper. Roaring through it with the wind in your ears, as conkers are shaken off the horse chestnut trees and terrified squirrels flee for their lives, has to be the best way to travel. But even if you’re not in a shiny bespoke vintage car, it’s still a lovely 20 minute drive to the nearby swanky Gleneagles Hotel, through wee villages, forests and rolling heather.
The delights of a Gleneagles dinner
All images:Robert Young
Once there, you might meet the Gleneagles cat, a laid back fat feline called Ryder, who doesn’t seem phased by any amount of fancy posturing. Here, you have a choice –either leave because you can’t even afford to look at it, play golf, have afternoon tea, or shoot clay pigeons. I can heartily recommend the clay pigeon shooting. Although it’s seriously posh (there’s a Rolex clock on the front of the clubhouse), there’s a relaxed atmosphere and the calm, collected instructors don’t even roll their eyes when you miss for the 36th time.
Back at the hotel, hair distinctly unkempt after going from 0-60 in 4 seconds over bumpy hillsides, it’s time to sample the water of life. This is a pretty reverent occasion– the two whiskies have been sitting side by side in their European oak hogshead barrels at the Balvenie distillery since 1964. 50 year old whiskies are pretty rare – hence the astonishing price tag. One is dark, one is lighter, both are like gold dust.
But is it any good? Well, I’m a complete novice, but the darker of the two was pretty amazing. Floral, oaky, spicy, with a definite taste of polished antique furniture. As the Balvenie’s resident expert Sam Simmonds pointed out, ‘it tastes like no other whisky.’ Nope, not even Asda own brand.
So after an indulgent dinner of bisque with crab and coriander wontons, a nice Sancerre, fillet steak from the nearby farm, and Roux’s choux pastry Paris-Brest– created for the Paris-Brest cycle race and known for its high calorie content – it’s time to retire to the billiards room with another dram and try not to impersonate Mr Creosote.
It’s funny, though. Although Cromlix is a fine place, and the whisky was even finer – the thing I’ll always remember is that bone-shaking, exhilarating drive through the Perthshire countryside. Andy Murray better up his game if he’s going to beat that.