With endless discussions of Indyref2, you can be forgiven for thinking the only thing going for a region like Aberdeenshire is the magic of black gold. However, on closer inspection, you will discover a wealth of culinary and imbibing delights in this north-eastern corner of Scotland.
One of the greatest success stories in the region outside of the discovery of petroleum is the founding of multinational brewery and pub chain, BrewDog. If you visit one of their first bars in Aberdeen, you will appreciate why they’ve been an unmitigated success since the company was founded in 2007. The number of craft beers on offer can be mind-boggling but thankfully their well-trained staff is on hand to make suitable recommendations. They have their accessible headliners like the tropical, hoppy Punk IPA, amplified options like Cocoa Psycho with alc vol at 10% and plenty of curated guest beers from the likes of Mikkeller, Stone and Oskar Blues. Their vegan-strong menu of pizza and burger offerings pair surprisingly well with their craft beers.
Whisky lovers are equally well-catered for in this county filled with distilleries that are exceptional ambassadors for the ‘water of life’. Glen Garioch is one to consider visiting, being only 17 miles from Aberdeen. The valley of the Garioch has a relatively milder climate than nearby areas with an abundance of sunshine and a lower amount of rain. Their small-batch, non-chill-filtered whisky is filled with creamy, honeyed maltiness which you can sample once you’ve taken an informative tour through their estate.
Aberdeenshire Highland Beef isn’t just a symbol for the county but the country of Scotland, so a visit to a highland cattle farm is a must when you are in the region. Grace Noble started the Aberdeenshire Highland Cattle Farm in 2012 to provide a genuine farm-to-fork experience. She also runs a butchery as well as a maturation facility on-site ensuring maximum control on the quality and provenance of her produce. They supply many of the local, high-end restaurants with their premium beef requirements. What is particularly admirable is the fact, Grace runs the whole operation pretty much on her own with some help from her daughter.
The 2 Red Rosette Dining Room at Meldrum House, Pineapple is one such venue that serves 32-day aged grass-fed steak from Grace’s renowned farm from Deeside. The restaurant works with three carefully chosen local craft butchers to offer some of the best meat in the world. Provenance is paramount for executive chef, Paul Grant, with each dish labelled clearly where the main ingredient came from (all are from Aberdeenshire). For those with a voracious appetite, there is the Donside to Deeside tasting board, which includes a selection of sirloin, fillet and rump steak matched with a selection of mouthwatering sauces like smoked bone marrow butter and bourbon bbq.
Seafood lovers are equally well-catered for with restaurants like The Silver Darling, which is situated in the heart of Aberdeen’s harbour and frequented by celebrities and politicians alike such as Nicola Sturgeon. Their seared Shetland scallops are some of the finest you will find in the region and served with parsnip and truffle, parsnip crisps, and pomegranate dressing. Whilst their signature Silver Darling platter is a must-order with a well-balanced mixture of hot and cold dishes such as home-cured beetroot gravadlax and hot-smoked Loch Fyne salmon.
Many dishes symbolise the culinary tradition of Scotland such as haggis; for Aberdeenshire, you can’t look further than the famous Cullen skink. One of the best places to sample this hearty delicacy is at Cullen Bay Hotel where the Cullen Skink World Championship takes place. They have the traditional version: the thick Scottish soup with smoked haddock, potatoes and onions (the hotel is the current world champions) and also the Cullen skink with a twist version which in previous years has included using chocolate in the soup recipe.
With Aberdeen Angus such a prominent feature of the county, it’s not surprising to hear they have some of the best ice cream companies in the country and none is as famous as Mackie’s of Scotland. Their ice cream parlour, Mackie’s 19.2 in the heart of the city offers classics such as honeycomb to the more indulgent varieties like rhubarb and strawberry (it is called 19.2 because that is the number of miles to their farm).
For afternoon tea, this is best enjoyed at the ‘royal warrant’ town of Ballater. The quaint Victoria burgh is the gateway to the picturesque Cairngorms National Park and a short distance to Balmoral Castle, the Royal Family’s holiday home. Historic Ballater station was sadly destroyed by fire in 2015 but has been subsequently lovingly restored with support from HRH The Prince of Wales. And now you can savour authentic afternoon tea including Highgrove offerings like the Prince of Wales Blend, white chocolate and coconut delice and blueberry and cream cheese tart. Afternoon tea starts at only £18pp, which is a price you won’t find in larger cities like London.
The region isn’t all about wining and dining, the recently re-opened Aberdeen Art Gallery is the pride of the region with a fine mix of masterpieces from Scottish and international artists and cleverly mixing modern statement pieces with traditional artwork. Whilst Aberdeenshire is also home to the famous castle trail with picturesque and stunning castles like the pink-coloured Fyvie Castle. When you next consider a staycation, make sure Aberdeenshire is high up on your list of places to consider.