The Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival is preparing to go global in a bid to whet the appetite of international whisky enthusiasts for this year’s record breaking event. Organisers plan to tickle the taste buds of whisky drinkers in three major cities by giving them the opportunity to play a crucial role in judging its hotly-contested whisky awards.
Roving judging sessions for the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival Whisky Awards – voted for entirely by the public - are being held over the coming weeks in Amsterdam, Cologne and New Brunswick in Canada. It is hoped that judging sessions will also be staged in venues in New York and Stockholm.
It is hoped that the new initiative will help to introduce even more international visitors to the five-day annual Festival – which comprises almost 500 different events from distillery tours to tastings - and encourage them to plan a visit in future years.
Overseas markets are a key area of growth for the Festival, which takes place this year from April 27 until May 1. The USA, Germany and Scandinavia have traditionally been very strong for visitor numbers, and organisers are keen to expand knowledge of the event in these regions.
The event set new records in the first 24 hours of the box office opening last month: tickets were bought from a total of 24 different countries on the first day, and more event tickets than ever before were sold.
Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival chairman James Campbell says the international arm of the whisky awards has the potential to grow to even more destinations in future.
He says, “We trialled this on a very small scale last year when we held a tasting and judging event at Scotia Spirit in Cologne – a Scottish speciality shop run by long-standing friend of the Festival, Peter Klas.
“It was very warmly received and it made us realise there was potential to take the awards judging to even more international destinations. It provides us with an excellent platform to promote the Festival to the whisky enthusiasts who are most likely to want to travel significant distances to be a part of it.
“It may be too late for them to make travel plans for this year’s event, but we hope that it will encourage them to put a visit to the Festival on their holiday plans in future years. The popularity of Scotch whisky is growing globally, and so too is the reputation of the Speyside area which is home to more than half of all Scotland’s distilleries.
“What we are finding is that people outwith Scotland are very passionate about whisky and they want to increase their knowledge about Scotch. To the real aficionados, making a visit to Speyside is making a pilgrimage and they feel there is no better time to do this than during the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival.”
During the overseas judging sessions, whisky fans will be invited to take part in a blind taste test of eight different malts in four different age categories. The finalists – drawn from across the Speyside region – were selected by a panel of industry experts following a blind taste test earlier this year.
In the non-age statement category Aberlour a’bunadh is up against Tamdhu Batch Strength 002; while in the category for malt 12-year-old and under, the Aberlour 12-year-old will battle it out with Cragganmore 2004 Distiller’s Edition.
In the 13-20-year-old section it is a head to head between The Glenlivet 18-year-old and Glenfiddich 15-year-old. The two shortlisted whiskies in the 20 years and over category are Mannochmore 25-year-old Special Release and The Macallan 30-year-old Sherry Cask.
Each of the international venues will be tasked with organising the event and encouraging people to attend, and a representative from the Festival will be on hand to oversee the voting process. They will also be able to talk to those in attendance about the event and what there is to see and do over the five days.
The event in New Brunswick takes place at the end of March and will be hosted by Frank and Jackie Scott – previous winners of the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival International Ambassador Award. The whisky enthusiasts are long-time attendees of the event and make the journey to Scotland every year to take part.
Frank says, “Jackie and I are delighted, excited and truly humbled to be asked to host an awards judging session. To be given the opportunity to represent Canada for the first time is a great honour, and we look forward to working together to make the event a great success.
“This is a wonderful opportunity to showcase the best whisky festival in the world, and we hope that by experiencing the warmth and hospitality of the Festival on their own doorstep, many more Canadians will consider visiting and seeing for themselves just what it is that makes the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival so special.”
The international awards sessions have been supported by EventScotland, part of VisitScotland’s Events Directorate.
Stuart Turner, head of EventScotland, says, “The Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival is a fantastic event and we are delighted to be supporting to take the Festival to the world. It is constantly finding innovative ways to engage with whisky enthusiasts. The global judging sessions are a great addition to the Festival and are the perfect stage for people to connect with this unique event while enjoying a wee dram of Scotland’s national drink.”
Based in the heart of Scotland’s malt whisky country, the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival takes place over five fun-filled days from April 27 to May 1, 2017. It comprises almost 500 events, taking place from Kingussie in the south to Forres in the west and Buckie in the east.
More information about the event is available at www.spiritofspeyside.com and tickets are also available to buy on the website. The Festival is active on social media – facebook.com/WhiskyFestival and @spirit_speyside on Twitter and Instagram. Use the hashtag #dram17.