During our time travelling around Scotland’s beautiful countryside, visiting Distilleries and sampling whisky we have had the good fortune to stop at some of the finest whisky bars and eateries. Commencing a new feature here at The Whiskyphiles we present our reviews of some of the more noteworthy places to rest, relax and enjoy some superb whisky selections, leaving you only with the problem of which whisky to select!
Our first review is from Duck’s Inn in Aberlady, East Lothian. The Lowlands have long been associated with a decline in whisky distilling and the sadly lamented loss of jewels such as St. Magdalene (Linlithgow), Rosebank (Falkirk) and Littlemill (Bowling). Until recently the Lowland whisky region only possessed two dependable working distilleries Glenkinchie (nr. Edinburgh) and Auchentoshan (nr. Glasgow). Fortunes are currently turning and the revival of Lowland whisky is in full swing. Bladnoch Distillery has recently been rescued again after a couple of uncertain years out of production and in a similar fashion Annandale Distillery also – though in that case over a much longer time period. New initiatives throughout the Lowland region, in both Glasgow, Edinburgh and Fife (Eden Mill Brewery and Distillery, Kingsbarns Distillery) are all at various stages from concept to distilling though none yet have mature whisky (spirit over 3 years old) except Ailsa Bay (Ayrshire) and Daftmill (Fife).
Aberlady is perfectly sited on the East Lothian coastline a short hop from Edinburgh, and has a much more relaxed atmosphere than Auld Reekie herself. It was partly for this reason that Malcolm Duck finally closed Duck’s at le Marche Noir in Edinburgh and moved out to this 16th century coaching inn at Kilspindie House in Aberlady. Despite wavering fortunes within the Accomodation sector and a resistance against becoming a seasonal business Malcolm has recently re-focussed on simply providing fine-dining in a beautiful relaxed atmosphere.
Malcolm’s extensive knowledge of food and wine has matured into a real love of whisky and in November 2012 the burgeoning whisky bar at Duck’s Inn was bolstered by becoming an official partner bar of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, offering both society members and non-members the opportunity to sample from the fantastic range of casks bottled by the SMWS. The concept has been advertised as a ‘Home From Home’ experience very much centred upon the comfortable and relaxed tasting lounge and traditional local bar experiences.
As the focus of Duck’s Inn is on great food we settled into their recently refurbished restaurant and sampled some of the dishes from chef Michael Mozdzen. To start Paula selected the Cured foie gras, ham hock and confit duck leg roulade, red wine vinaigrette, grapes, hazelnuts, and I selected the Ceviche of hand dived scallops, brown crab meat panna cotta, Yuzu, Alsace bacon. We were both very pleased with our starter selection and despite a little switch halfway through we each maintained our preference.
Paula enjoyed the balance between sweet and savoury of the rich meats and fresh grapes complimented by the crushed hazelnut this dish evoked memories of the cured French sausages with walnuts and figs we have when visiting Brittany in autumn. For me the subtle sweetness of the scallop ceviche balanced against the rich brown crab meat flavour of the panna cotta was supreme.
For mains Paula tried the Roast loin and smoked boudin of venison, Brussel sprouts, macerated pear, juniper Valrhona chocolate while I opted for the Fillet of Scotch beef, pomme Anna, celeriac remoulade, ox cheek pithivier, Chantenay carrots Madeira jus. Again a surreptitious swap over allowed us to compare and contrast our dishes and again we both maintained our preferences for our own choices. The individual flavours of all the components were maintained and delivered interesting combinations when paired.
Each components had its part to play in the dish and we had to keep checking back to the menu in delight to work out some of the ingredients.
For dessert we both decided we had to try the Valrhona chocolate chiboust, lime Turkish delight, coconut sorbet which to our delight even came recommended despite our already having chosen. Paula fell in love with the lime Turkish delight, for me the coconut sorbet was a nice surprise, so often coconut cream/ice cream is used but this sorbet had such a refreshing lightness as to cleanse both the chocolate and even the lime from the palate.
It is clear that Duck’s Inn have maintained their high-calibre of fine-dining that we have become accustomed to in our previous visits. To compliment our meal and with a view to our imminent whisky tasting session Malcolm recommended a Marques Del Lagar Rioja 2014 from their internationally renowned wine list. This is a lighter, fruitier Rioja with a slight sharpness that didn’t overpower our starter and was refreshing with our mains. Spending any time at Duck’s Inn you will quickly realise how Malcolm and his staff work in a jovial and relaxed manner and a with a keen sense of humour – all to help you relax and enjoy your meal and wine.
Finally we retired to the lounge area and bar and set about the whisky selection. Duck’s Inn boasts an impressive array of Scotch single malts (around 90 at last count) as well as a smattering of world whiskies (a Crown Royal in particular caught my eye) bolstered by the familiar icons of coded SMWS bottlings. The bar also stocks a cask ale selection and on any given night has a small population of friendly locals, particularly happy for whisky banter.
With a regular rotation of SMWS stock this ensures there is always likely to be something new even for seasoned whisky explorers. Between us we selected out a 1990’s Glen Ord 12 Years Old (square bottle), though it’s 1980’s counterpart was on the bar, a SMWS 124.3 (Japanese) sherried Miyagikyo at its best and finally a vintage vertical of Glenfarclas 25 year old, 30 year old and 40 year old expressions to chew the fat over and finally a peaty Bowmore 12 Years Old ‘Bass’ bottled by the local Lockett Bros in North Berwick.
From the outset it was obvious Malcolm approached his whisky much like his wine, he has a simple no fuss approach to scoring expressions, a thorough understanding of how to taste whisky combined with a good deal of experience. Soon our discussions took us through the effects and types of glassware, the ambience and aesthetics (applying equally to food, wine or whisky), the history of flavour profiles and regional variance. Food pairing in particular was fun, especially pairing each of our samples back to dishes or even individual elements of our meals.
In essence this is why if you love whisky you should pay a visit to Duck’s Inn. A whisky bar stocked with great expressions and supported by knowledgeable hosts, the SMWS offerings alone will make a visit worthwhile! If you are visiting Duck’s Inn then you really must take the time to sample their fantastic food as well as their great array of whisky. Duck’s Inn also has plenty of comfortable rooms to warrant a stay, so why not make a short break of it?
Thanks to Malcolm and his team at Duck’s Inn Aberlady for a wonderful evening of fine dining, good whisky and great discussions. Cheers!
Ducks Inn, Main Street, Aberlady, EH32 0RE
01875 870 682