If you think that Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival simply celebrates amber nectar from the world-famous region that is home to more than half of Scotland’s malt whisky distilleries then think again – visitors will have the opportunity to sample a range of Japanese whiskies too.
While the chance to meet key players in the Speyside whisky industry and join exclusive behind the scenes distillery tours are in high demand, the festival’s reputation as a premier whisky event means that some unexpected drams will be on offer during the experience.
Although Speyside distilleries would argue that their produce is the best in the world, Japanese whiskies have been making their mark. Speyside’s The Highlander Inn at Craigellachie is owned by Tatsuya Minagawa from Japan and is home to one of the world’s largest collections of Japanese whiskies outside South East Asia. It is here that Global Brand Ambassador Yumi Yashikawa will discuss ‘Everything about Chichibu Distillery’ with a rare chance to try brand new bottlings and new cask samples of whiskies not yet available in the UK.
Whisky isn’t just served in glasses in Speyside, it can be tasted in an array of foodstuffs, as the Spey Larder in Aberlour will show. This High Street delicatessen is serving samples of whisky-flavoured haggis, smoked salmon, cheeses, pâté, ice cream, cake, tea and coffee, all specially created by Scottish producers.
If you love crafts then a workshop offering the opportunity to create a textile card or brooch based on Scotland’s national flower, the thistle might appeal. Working with a choice of fabric, including Harris Tweed or cloth from Johnstons of Elgin, it is a chance to use simple stitching or gluing techniques to create a small piece of Scotland to take home. Coffee and cake can be enjoyed at this workshop taking place at Dufftown’s Seven Stills on several dates throughout the festival.
Scotland is gathering a growing reputation for its gin production and the home of Caorunn Gin is opening its doors to festival goers. Speyside’s Balmenach Distillery will be offering an insight into Caorunn’s artisanal production process with a tour of the production area followed by tutored, deconstructed nosings and tastings, including neat tastings.
Chocolates will be served with very special drams when drinks writers Joel Harrison and Neil Ridley get together at Aberlour Distillery to go back to the birth of film and use the moving image to highlight the influence of maturation in sherry casks with a silent classic accompanied by live music.
This year’s Festival runs from April 27 to May 1 and the programme comprises almost 500 different events across Speyside, taking place in distilleries old and new, charming village halls, local whisky bars, historic castles, old steadings and the great outdoors.
Festival manager Pery Zakeri says that the festival is continuing to make new partnerships and extending its appeal and interest to whisky fans and other visitors seeking unique activities.
Pery says, “Events like our exclusive behind the scenes tours – and events where people get to meet the key players in the Speyside whisky industry such as master distillers and expert blenders – will always be the most popular.
“But every year we look to add interesting and unusual choices to the Festival listings so there is an incredibly varied programme to choose from.“
Festival chairman James Campbell also underlines the importance of the festival being an unforgettable experience for all visitors, whether they are whisky devotees or curious beginners.
“The Festival is very much the gold standard for whisky connoisseurs, but we ensure there is plenty to attract those who are less knowledgeable about Speyside malts or indeed who have never tasted whisky.”