It’s been a couple of years since I was last at this wonderful celebration of whisky in Speyside (see here) and what a pleasure it was to go back. After being part of the judging panel for the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival Awards back in January (huge congrats to all at Glenfiddich for sweeping the board by the way) I was thoroughly looking forward to heading north once again as part of a Pernod Ricard press trip.
After bumping into Nicola from the Whisky Boys on the train at Perth, we reached the Boat Hotel in Boat of Garten, complete with unseasonal snow and steam train pulling out of the station. Not a bad welcome. After meeting up with the rest of the group, we headed off to The Glenlivet distillery for a trek up into the hill in the back of an Argocat. Imagine what the bastard love child of a golf buggy and a tank would look like and you won’t be far off. Stopping at several spots for a dram, including a 19th century bothy and the site of the original Glenlivet distillery, the inspiration for a new perfect serve hit us – Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve snow cones! Who ever said never eat yellow snow…? As we headed back down the glens and into the warmth, there was much talk of smuggling along the the Robbie MacPherson Smugglers Trail – an age old track used by smuggles in the 18th and 19th century before we retired to the hotel for an evening of much food, drink and merriment (all enjoyed responsibly… of course).
Day 2 saw us travel to the Strathisla warehouses for tasting of cask strength versions of Chivas Regal 12yo and 18yo, Royal Salute 21yo and finally a 1990 single cask Strathisla. After a spot of lunch in the Old Maltings at Glenlivet we were soon back at the tasting table for a great masterclass of regular Glenlivet expressions as well as some single cask bottlings, finishing on a rather tasty 1969 single cask. That evening saw us participate Grantown’s Curry and Quiz Night. Although the competition was red hot, the curry was even hotter. Cue Nicola ordering a pint of yogurt as the meal progressed. The quiz was hard fought and our victorious team shared a midnight glass of Perrier Jouet back at the hotel, and maybe a few drams too. Responsibly… of course.
Our final day in Speyside saw us attend the star studded Desert Island Drams at Strathisla distillery: a masterclass hosted by Ian Buxton, Neil Ridley, Martine Nouet and Alice Lascelles. This whisky paired lunch was centred around the theme of being shipwrecked and marooned on a desert island, and the drams the panel would take with them, all expertly coupled with fabulous canapés by Martine Nouet. And then, before I knew it, my taxi to Aviemore was waiting outside and I was speeding south back to Auld Reekie once again.
If you think I’ve been showing off for the past few minutes, then I don’t blame you. It’s a fantastic festival and I loved every minute of it. If it’s made you think about attending this festival then by all means go. If nothing else, this article has attempted to showcase the wide variety of events held as part of the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival. Indeed, they’ve announced a second festival which will take place in the autumn; Spirit of Speyside – Distilled. This festival will be held in Elgin from September 9th-11th and tickets go on sale soon. If their new festival is half as good as the current one, it’ll be another must-go-to event on my calendar.