The chairman of the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival has been honoured for his outstanding commitment to promoting Scotland’s national drink. James Campbell, a volunteer who has been chairman of the Festival for the past five years, has been inducted as a Keeper of the Quaich – one of the industry’s top honours.
Mr Campbell was one of very few inductees at the ceremony not to be employed by a distiller – and is only one of a handful of Keepers who does not work directly in the industry. He is the first chairman in the event’s 19-year history to receive the honour.
With a background in accounting, Mr Campbell gives up his spare time to work on the Festival, which is one of the biggest events of its kind in the world. Over the past five years he has steered it towards further international recognition, increasing the number of global visitors attending the five-day event.
The Festival now includes an even greater number of partners from venues across Speyside, who host innovative and interesting events showcasing the region’s most famous product for both connoisseurs and those who are new to the amber nectar.
A limited number of people are inducted as Keepers each year to honour those who have made an exceptional contribution, and they are nominated by key professionals in the industry. The citation read out at the ceremony at Blair Castle stated, “In 2012, James was appointed chairman of the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival which celebrates the local whiskies, along with music and food.
“Under James’ leadership the Festival has expanded its vision and impact to become a leading example of its kind. Each May, around 50 distilleries throughout Speyside collaborate to create a diverse, varied and imaginative programme which draw visitors from over 40 countries to the area. James has overseen the development of the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Awards and Whisky School.”
Over 2,600 people from more than 100 countries have received the honour of becoming a Keeper of the Quaich – named after the traditional two-handled drinking cup. New Keepers are inducted at a private ceremony held twice a year.
James says, “It is a real honour to be inducted as a Keeper of the Quaich, but I feel this is not recognition for the role that I alone have played. This recognises the efforts by all our volunteer directors since the early days of the Festival, as well as the staff and dozens of partners who all work tirelessly to make the Festival one of the best events of its kind.
“What makes the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival stand apart from other events is the unique opportunities that exist to visit distilleries not usually open to the public and to meet people, such as master distillers and distillery managers, who play a key role in producing Speyside’s whisky.
“That does not happen anywhere else but Speyside and it is only as a result of the commitment and passion of the industry and the local community. Without these people there would not be a Festival, and for that we have to be incredibly grateful.”
Festival director Ann Miller adds, “James has been an exceptional leader throughout the five years that he has been chairman, bringing people together to work together for the benefit of the Speyside area.
“He has also shown great vision in growing the Festival, from the inception of international judging sessions for the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Awards to the launch of our autumn mini-festival, Distilled, to try and encourage a new, younger audience to develop an interest in Speyside’s food and drink.”
James’ honour comes as plans start to take shape for the 2018 Spirit of Speyside Festival, which will take place from May 3 – 7. Details of the programme will be announced early in the new year, with tickets scheduled to go on sale on February 6.