A view from the city: Inverness

Hamish Smith speaks to Grant Murray, General Manager at Scotch & Rye.

Tell us about the drinking tradition of Inverness.

Back in 2010 when I first came to Inverness, the drinking culture was very ‘traditional’ and most people were opting for beers, wines, cheap doubles and nasty shots for their night out. This is about the time we opened Inverness’s first dedicated cocktail bar, Bar One, which we were told would never work. The first couple of years were challenging, but as Inverness’s attitude towards drinking changed, business vastly improved. Nowadays, Inverness’s drinking habits are closer to that of Glasgow and Edinburgh than they ever were. Cocktail bars are now the busiest in the city at the weekends, and people are more likely to pay for quality.

Have cocktails started to make inroads?

Cocktails are a massive thing in Inverness and have been for a good four years or so, with a number of quality venues now established. When I talk about cocktails in Inverness, unfortunately orders for the showcasey, boozy, sipping drinks that you would see in a competition or in a London hotel bar, are few and far between. Inverness still has a real sweet tooth and general weekend drinkers are still opting for bright and gimmicky drinks. But as a business owner I’m happy to oblige. The cocktail scene in Inverness is also an aspirational one. All the new drinkers as they come of age are making the cocktails bars their first ‘legal’ stop, trying the bright and colourful cocktails they have been seeing on social media for the past year or so, but have never tried. I think this can only be a good thing for the future of the drinking culture.

Who and what are the key bartenders and bars?

The key bartenders in Inverness include Rikki Allan of The Ivy, who has been active on the competition scene in recent years and has constructed a fairly progressive (for Inverness) cocktail menu. Glen Howatson at Bar One has an amazing mind for competitions and Mariusz Plucinski is doing well on the competition scene. Ignoring humility, I am proud of jumping to a city with a more progressive scene, I chose to change Inverness’s.

After a number of years working hard to establish the bars I am involved with and having achieved top accolades for my competition work (Martell 300 global top 10, Cherry Heering classic 2016 world number one, Tennesee Calling winner), it became my focus to raise the profile of Inverness in the eyes of the UK and, to a degree, the global bartending community. I am always networking whenever possible and am now working alongside brands to organise and host local competitions for all the city’s bartenders, so they can get some experience without travelling to Edinburgh or Glasgow.

What does Inverness’s bar scene do well?

Volume. With a large number of punters venturing out over the weekends, along with a huge amount of visitors to the city, most of the bars adapt very well to high volume and fast service without sacrificing quality. Most of them. What needs to change to inspire a generation of career bartenders? Inverness is small enough for there to still be some unhealthy rivalry between bar owners and companies, although I see this less and less, and this can only benefit the drinking culture of the city. 

After all, we are all working towards the same goal, and some healthy rivalry is good for business. Inverness needs to provide an environment for the well educated and wealthy – at the moment most of them look to the likes of Edinburgh, Glasgow and down south for their further education and employment opportunities, to the detriment of the drinking scene in general. This also means that Inverness has a very small bank of well-trained bartenders, which means you are training everyone from the ground up, which has its plusses and minuses. Someone needed to take charge of Inverness’s bartending scene and give inspiration and drive to continue in this industry and show people it is a viable career option, not just a stop gap. This is what I always aim to do with my staff and what I would like to come out of the local competitions I am organising for the whole of Inverness.