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Issue 76 - The Spirit of Speyside

Scotland Magazine Issue 76
August 2014

 

This article is 3 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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The Spirit of Speyside

Annabel Meikle (The Whisky Belle) looks back on her trip to the Speyside Whisky Festival

It was with excitement that I travelled north to attend this year’s Spirit of Speyside Festival (www.spiritofspeyside.com), the region-wide celebration of Scotland’s national drink which takes place each May in the heart of the malt whisky trail. Things have certainly changed a lot since the last time I attended back in 2006. Each year, the festival (which was celebrating its 15th birthday) has grown in both scale and popularity; maturing and developing a distinct character – much like the whisky at the heart of the celebration!

For a beginner, the whole experience could be rather daunting with the choice of hundreds of events which take place over five days. The titans of the Scotch whisky industry who call Speyside home had come up with a million reasons to explore not only the distilleries (putting on special tours and opening the doors of sites normally closed to the public) but also the scenery, creativity and local produce.

Should you be planning to attend the 2015 festival, the new website is definitely the best place to start when planning your trip. My advice would be to not book more than a couple of events per day, so as to allow some time to enjoy exploring the area. As the festival takes place across the whole region, it is important that you nominate a driver, use the local bus and taxi services or base yourself in one town for the day. The festival has two information centres in Aberlour and Dufftown that open during the day to help you buy tickets, find out about events, pick up timetables and provide a meeting point for friends and festival organisers.

My festival started at Strathisla distillery for The Secret Art of Blending with Colin Scott. Actually, I only just arrived in time – another piece of advice is to leave plenty of time for getting around! Colin has a delightful way of describing the components of blended whisky as different characters at a party and wanted us all to focus on the distinct flavours. After a taste of the 18 year old Chivas Regal, we were set to work in teams to create our own blend using a selection of grain and malt whiskies. Much discussion was generated in the room and eventually each team managed a reasonable result, although not quite to the standards of the Chivas blending team!

That evening, Glen Grant, was host to the festival’s opening dinner. Guests were welcomed through the still house and shiny new bottling hall, every surface polished and painted, sparkling in the light of the setting sun. The annual ‘Touch of Tartan’ dinner offers a unique opportunity for whisky enthusiasts to rub shoulders with the heart of the whisky industry, who warmly welcome those visiting Speyside for the festival.

A new inclusion this year was the welcome addition of music, which came in the form of the Spirit of Speyside Sessions. Friday evening’s sessions offered up Trail West, RM Hubbert and Withered Hand but I opted to strike out for the ruins of Balvenie Castle, which for one night only sheltered the band Copper Dogs. The rather chilly evening was enhanced by the provision of hot stovies and a dram of Balvenie, naturally!

Saturday was the first International Women of Whisky day and was opened with a tasting by Johanne McInnes of Whisky Lassie (www.whiskylassie.blogspot.co.uk). Alwynne Gwilt of Miss Whisky (www.misswhisky.com) charmed her crowd with delectable chocolate paired with some of her favourite drams and I challenged my audience to think about the language they use to describe whisky, providing tasty props to help them create ‘visual tasting notes’. Angela D’Orazio from Mackmyra distillery (www.mackmyra.com) concluded the day with a range of her Swedish bottlings.

Throughout my stay, this whisky producing region shone like the jewel that it is, as drams were discussed, toes tapped, and new friends made; locals and visitors alike found themselves being united not only by a love of whisky, but also by the very real spirit that lies at the heart of Speyside.

The 2015 Spirit of Speyside Festival takes place from 30th April to 4th May 2015. Be sure to find out more about it from www.spiritofspeyside.com.