Obituary: Joe Brandie, Scottish publican

Joseph Jamieson Brandie. Publican, cooper and ghillie. Born 19 August, 1929 near Tomintoul. Died 24 September, 2017 in Aberdeen, aged 88

jOE bRANDIE OBIT, 06/10/17
jOE bRANDIE OBIT, 06/10/17

For a man steeped in the culture of Speyside and its renowned whisky industry, Joe Brandie had a remarkably puritanical attitude to alcohol – he had not touched a drop since pulling a pint at his riverside bar almost 60 years ago.

But the move was a simple, pragmatic business decision and one that kept him at the top of his game, presiding behind the counter of the world-famous hostelry day and night until well into his ninth decade.

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Joe and the Fiddichshide Inn gained iconic status thanks to their very personal blend of hospitality: the pub remained just as it was when the family of his late wife Dorothy took it over almost a century ago and the host’s cheery welcome was unchanging, no matter who stepped over the threshold.

He made no concessions to modernity – there was no jukebox, no television, no bar snacks – as far as Joe was concerned the inn was just as a pub should be: “A social environment where you meet people and get talking.”

Visiting the Fiddichside was to turn back time and step into a world defined by the aftermath of the Great War. The property, on the banks of the River Fiddich at Craigellachie, was built in 1840, originally to accommodate workers building the local railway. It had been converted into a house, with a pub in one of the rooms, shortly before Joe’s in-laws bought it in November 1919. When they moved in Dorothy’s mother carried her six-week-old daughter the five miles from their previous home in Dufftown.

Her parents ran the pub and she worked for the Post Office before joining the army during the Second World War, serving in the Middle East with the Royal Corps of Signals.

Meanwhile Joe, whose father worked on a farm at Minmore near Tomintoul, was taken out of school at 13 to replace an injured farm worker and never returned to education.

After his family moved to Craigellachie he went to work at the town’s Macallan Distillery alongside two of his three brothers and his father. Then in the late 1940s he did his National Service with the Black Watch in Germany where, amongst his other duties, Joe was a barman in the sergeants’ mess.

On his return to Scotland he worked as a labourer, for a short time, rebuilding Speyside’s old Benrinnes Distillery at Aberlour. By that time Dorothy, who was ten years his senior, had returned to the area, going back to her old job in the Post Office and helping her widowed mother run the bar in the evenings.

Joe first set eyes on Dorothy in the Fiddichside but love blossomed at a local dance and the couple married in April 1959 and immediately moved into the inn.

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There Joe also began helping out in the pub in his spare time, having sworn off alcohol in the interests of professionalism.

In the early 1960s he switched from labouring and started work as a cooper at Speyside Cooperage but a back injury subsequently forced another change of career and he gave up coopering to become a 

A fan of country pursuits, he was an enthusiastic fisherman and a good shot, having won shooting trophies in his army days, so the job on the River Spey on the picturesque Arndilly Estate suited him perfectly. As lover of the Great Outdoors he knew all the beats on the Spey like the back of his hand and continued as a ghillie until retiring 27 years later.

By this time Dorothy was the full-time landlady of the Fiddichside, having taken over the licence on her mother’s death in 1964, and Joe was now able to take on a more active role in the running of the bar. Together they welcomed visitors from all over the world eager for a taste of the traditional watering hole’s hospitality.

Though the business never entered the digital age, the whitewashed pub attracted regular praise from its international clientele on a Facebook page run by the bar’s Friday regulars.

Enthusiasts came from places as far flung as Australia, Scandinavia and Japan and included a German whisky dealer who made regular quarterly visits.

When Dorothy died in 2009, at the age of 89, she was Moray’s oldest licensee and one of Scotland’s oldest publicans. The only change that had been made since her parents took over was an extension to accommodate inside toilets. For Joe, his wife’s death was the only occasion he took any time off – just four days. He continued to run the pub single-handedly until this summer, opening up each morning for lunchtime trade, then taking a nap or doing chores in the afternoon before opening up again at 5pm for evening customers. At the weekends he opened at noon and worked right through until closing time, as the bar buzzed with laughter and chat.

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A raconteur with a twinkle in his eye and a mischievous streak, on one occasion he reportedly obliged a customer, who had asked where he could get a haircut, with an impromptu trim in the bar. When the man, a ghillie, asked where he learned to cut hair he replied: “Ach my wife had a poodle.” The ghillie wore a hat for the next fortnight.

He knew everyone and everything going on in his area, was enormously supportive of the community and loved nothing more than to regale customers, locals and visitors alike with his own fascinating mix of stories.

Moray MSP Richard Lochhead, who described Joe as “a great character” whose death marks the end of an era, said he would always treasure memories of enjoying a dram and a chat with him about everything from football to the pub’s history.

In two years’ time Joe would have celebrated his 90th birthday and the Fiddichside its centenary, two milestones that, despite his determination to see, he was denied the opportunity to reach.

However, Craigellachie Village Council has declared that both Joe and Dorothy, along with their “iconic wee pub”, should be classed as national treasures.

He is survived by his brother Eddie, sister Margaret, extended family and Dorothy’s