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Scotland Magazine Issue 44
April 2009


This article is 9 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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Scotch whisky, known in the Gaelic language as uisge beatha, the “Water of Life,” is among the most beloved of distilled spirits in the world and therefore a central theme in this year’s Homecoming Scotland programme. With 95 working distilleries, each producing a uniquely different flavour, Scotch whisky has become the stuff of folk lore and legend, and because of this, the month of May has been designated Whisky Month with an extended Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival (1st to 10th May), the Spirit of the West Festival (16th to 17th May), and Feis Ile, (23rd-31st May), a Malt and Music Festival on the Island of Islay.

The Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival, now in its 10th year, is laying on additional distillery tours with tastings and gourmet events at Aberlour, Aviemore, Craigellachie, Dufftown, Elgin, Fochabers, Forres, Glenlivet, Grantown-on-Spey, Keith, Knockando and Rothes.

The festivities come to a climax on Saturday evening with a spectacular musical event on the banks of the River Spey at Aberlour.

Headlined by the Scottish band Capercaillie with the voice of Karen Matheson, the Bucksburn District Pipe Band, and fiddle player Charlie McKerron, it promises to be a truly unforgettable event.

In the following week, the focus switches to the West Coast of Scotland and to Inveraray Castle, ancestral seat of the earls and dukes of Argyll. In a major celebration, themed marquees will provide Scotch whisky, food, music and drama, coupled with displays of heritage, culture, and arts and crafts specifically aligned to that region. Key figures from the Scotch Whisky Industry are overseeing 12 Scotch whisky masterclasses and will be sampling the delights of Springbank and Glengyle from Campbeltown; Isle of Arran; Ardbeg, Bowmore, Bruichladdich, Bunnahabhain, Caol Ila, Kilchoman, Lagavulin and Laphroaig from the Isle of Islay; Isle of Jura; Tobermory from the Isle of Mull; Oban; Ben Nevis from Fort William and Talisker from the Isle of Skye. The Red Hot Chilli Pipers are performing at the opening ceremony, and celebrity chef Nick Nairn will be cooking up dishes with a whisky twist. There will also be performances by folk singer Robin Laing, the Argyll Homecoming Gaelic Choir, Norma Munro from Islay, and the pipes and drums of the tribal group Clann an Drumma.

On Fridays throughout May, the Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh is laying on special tours with tastings and tapas to draw attention to the arrival of the Diageo Claive Vidiz Collection from Brazil, a display of 3,384 bottles, the largest collection in the world.

Virtually all of Scotland’s distilleries are hosting events during the month of May, but more unusually so are venues such as the Scottish Mining Museum in Midlothian, where a red carpet Whisky Ball takes place on 1st May. And in Edinburgh, West Register House is featuring an exhibition of specially loaned objects relating to the topic. At Aberdeen University, on 16th May, the Scotch whisky writer Charles MacLean is giving a talk on his latest book, and on 23rd May, more than 100 whiskies will be on show at the Town Hall in Ayr.

Feis Ile, the Islay Malt and Music Festival kicks off on 23rd May with concerts, ceilidhs and sporting events. Scotch Whisky will be touching every facet of Scottish life throughout the year. There are cruises and golf championships to participate in, not to mention an Autumn Whisky Week. In September, the island of Barra is hosting the first ever Whisky Galore Festival to commemorate the salvaging of cargo from the SS Politician which sank offshore in 1941, and a musical adaptation of the story, immortalised by Sir Compton Mackenzie’s celebrated novel, will run throughout the summer at Pitlochry Festival Theatre.

In September, a series of lavish whisky gala dinners across Scotland will culminate with Whisky Live on 12th September, a unique tasting and sampling event in Glasgow.

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