The Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival has honoured three whisky aficionados who have made an outstanding contribution to the event and the wider whisky industry. The three ambassadors – two of them from overseas - were presented with ambassador awards for their services to Scotland’s national drink at the Festival launch last night (Thursday, 1 May 2014).
Ambassador of the Year is Penny Ellis, owner of the Knockomie Hotel, Forres, who will stepping down as a director of the Festival this year. The ambassador award was presented to Penny in honour of the work she has done to promote the festival over the past five years, and her long-standing service to the Speyside whisky industry.
Penny, who has had a keen and passionate interest in whisky since moving to Speyside over 20 years ago, has written a book - Distinguished Distilleries - and also wrote a regular whisky column for Scots Magazine.
Penny and her husband Gavin have run the Knockomie since 1993 and have been actively promoting and selling whisky to their customers ever since. However, she has worked in the hospitality industry for over 30 years and previously looked after the corporate guests of J&B Rare Whisky and Cutty Sark Scots Whisky.
Penny has also been a regular judge at numerous whisky competitions, and is the main organiser of the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival Whisky Awards.
Husband and wife duo Frank and Jacqui Scott, from Canada, have been announced as the two International Ambassadors. In a year which has also seen them take part in the Festival’s own Whisky School.
Jacqui - originally from Stirling - met Frank, a native of New Brunswick, Canada, while he was touring Scotland with his pipe band. Their love of whisky began during their regular trips around the Scottish countryside as they talked their way into tours of distilleries that were not normally open to the public.
Frank is currently co-owner and general manager of the Lunar Rogue, a pub known for having one of the best whisky selections in Canada. Frank and Jacqui have been regular visitors to the Spirit of Speyside Festival since it first began, and quickly started organising trips with groups of friends, introducing dozens of new people to the Festival.
The couple say the highlight of the Festival is not the distilleries or the whisky, but the knowledge, hospitality and passion of the people involved.
Frank and Jacqui are the founders of the New Brunswick Spirits Festival - the oldest whisky festival in Canada – and are credited with raising the profile of malt whisky in New Brunswick to the point where it is known as a "whisky destination" to visitors from around the world.
Festival chairman James Campbell says, “Our ambassadors this year can be credited with introducing people to the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival and importantly, the passion that is behind it. They have all been successful in introducing Scotland’s national drink to a new and global audience, and we’re honoured to reward the hard work that they have done for both the Festival and the wider industry.
“Penny is as passionate about Speyside as she is about whisky, and her input over the last five years has helped to propel the Festival into one of the leading events of its kind anywhere in the world. We wanted to present her with this award to show our appreciation for the incredibly impact she has made.
“Frank and Jacqui and great friends of the Festival and have done a power of work over the years in promoting it across the Atlantic. Thanks to them, dozens of people have been introduced to the Festival and I am sure their work has greatly influenced the fact that Canada is now one of our fastest-growing markets. We are proud to call them our friends.”
The awards were presented last night at the Festival’s gala dinner, which was held at Glen Grant Distillery in Rothes. The Spirit of Speyside Festival 2014 runs until Monday, 5 May. 2014. Visitors will be able to discover the delights of the dram with tours and tastings at many of the area's distilleries, explore the great outdoors against the beautiful backdrop of Speyside's spectacular scenery and uncover the spirited history of the region that was home to some of the first smugglers' stills. To find out more visit www.spiritofspeyside.com