Mike heads up to The Shoreditch Tree House for a Speyside inspired menu and Copper Dog whisky cocktails with the master blender.
The Shoreditch Tree House is not in a tree, but it is a climb to the top floor of a handsome old building.
Myself and my guest Julian puff and pant our way up. Once in the fairylit timber clad room, drinks are thrust into our grateful hands. A Granny Dog mixing refreshing apple juice with Copper Dog whisky.
It’s always good to learn new things and I had no idea that distillery workers were all thieves.
They used to get a length of copper pipe and solder a penny on one end and a small chain to the other to make a Ã¢â‚¬Å“copper dogÃ¢â‚¬Â. They would then surreptitiously dunk these into different whisky barrels, pop a cork in and stuff them down their trouser legs, Great Escape style, to drink later or swap and blend in the pub.
Ã¢â‚¬ËœDog’ in the name as they were always at your side, just like man’s best friend – only full of booze.
We sit down to a starter of hand dived Tobermory scallops, black pudding, pea cress, candy tomatoes and black pepper vinaigrette.
Goodness me, it’s excellent. We wash it down with a Petit Pois Highball (Copper Dog whisky, homemade pea cordial, topped with soda). It’s refreshing too, but when are we going to get a dram of the stuff by itself?
Club and bar entrepreneur Piers Adam is introduced but pauses before his speech. Ã¢â‚¬Å“We need some whisky on the table!Ã¢â‚¬Â Bottles arrive as he tells of how he re-mortgaged his house and’sold the kids’ to buy the Craigellachie Hotel Speyside (Est 1893).
It came with The Copper Dog pub and The Quaich, the world’s leading whisky bar which houses over 900 single-malt whiskies from across the globe, so he thought: why not blend our own?
He and MD of the hotel, Kevin Smith, enlisted the help of master blender Stuart Morrison from Stirling, who combined eight Speyside malts, from within a 25m radius.
A mere 92 tastings later, they had created Copper Dog. Stuart says Ã¢â‚¬Å“Single Malts are like single notes, but when you combine them you make musicÃ¢â‚¬Â.
So we glug a neat shot. It’s great, an unpretentious blend, not too peaty with a velvety mouthfeel. Very drinkable. Stuart says the creaminess in the mid palate is from ex-bourbon oak and the spice from rejuvenated casks.
He describes fresh orchard fruit and toffee apple, berries and a hint of citrus, layered above a background of sweet wood and creamy vanilla fudge.
He’s obviously got slightly more honed taste buds than me. I’m still just getting’very drinkable’ and so is Julian who’s necking it.
Piers got an artist friend to design the label and set about promoting it. His experience in London clubland meant he could pull in celebrities such as Kate Moss and Noel Gallagher to get off their famous faces at the hotel one Burns night and presumably tell social media all about it.
A Plum Dog Millionaire (Copper Dog whisky, fino sherry, lemon juice, sugar syrup, plum bitters) lands in front of me.
It’s gorgeous and serves to refresh our palates between courses (as well as the neat Copper Dog we’re already sipping).
The main course is Scottish black face lamb, confit potato, smashed Jerusalem artichoke, hispi cabbage, meat juices and wild thyme. The meat is lean, tender tasty and almost sweet, or is that the cocktail?
We’re all getting along famously and enjoy some live entertainment from Stuart the guitarist from the Copper Dog pub, who’s travelled all the way down to entertain us, which he does in good voice.
As well as the classic dessert of Cranachan cups (honeyed Copper Dog whisky cream, oatmeal, raspberries and cinnamon), yet another cocktail arrives, the Black Dog (Copper Dog whisky, Mr Blacks coffee liquor, espresso coffee, sugar syrup).
Their take on the espresso Martini, which, for my money, is better than the original Ã¢â‚¬â€œ coffee and whisky are born bedfellows.
The chat thunders around the table as all this whisky in all the varied guises has done it’s trick and lubricated the conversation up to eleven.
Jules is fully lubed too, so we think about leaving. It’s been a lovely dinner and I sincerely wish one day to be able to take up Piers offer to visit the beautiful Speyside hotel, it would be something else to enjoy this kind of welcome in their idyllic home environment.
However, when we try to bid Piers, Kevin both the Stuarts and the team a fond farewell, we get a typical Scottish twist Ã¢â‚¬â€œ they all come with us to hit the local pub.
At just under a year old, Copper Dog has already seen huge success, being listed in over 2,500 bars and restaurants and 800 stores across the UK, including Waitrose and Tesco.