For the first time in the history of the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival Whisky Awards, lovers of the amber nectar overseas will play a part in helping choose the region’s finest whiskies with the quest to find the region’s best drams going global – to Germany.

Customers of Scotia Spirit in Cologne will gather at the specialist whisky retailer today (Thursday, April 21) for a tasting when they will cast their votes for their top choices from the six finalists shortlisted by a panel of industry leaders, acclaimed writers and specialist retailers.

The German judging will be overseen by Linda Mellis, a director of the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival, who is jetting out to Cologne to meet up with shop owner Peter Klas, a good friend of the festival.

Peter gave up a career in film and media to pursue his passion for Scotland, opening up his specialist store stocked with more than 450 different kinds of whiskies and other luxury food and drink products from Scotland two years ago.

Scotland became his ideal escape from pressures of working in a fast-paced industry and during visits he developed a taste for Scotch whisky, which led him on a path to the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival. He now invites customers to join him on an annual excursion to the drams-fest with a record 17 people accompanying him this year from April 28 to May 2.

With limited places on his organised visit, but huge interest in Speyside’s best known export, a conversation with festival chairman James Campbell, discussing ways in which other German whisky lovers could feel involved in the festival, set the ball rolling for the Cologne judging event.

Peter says his shop has gone from strength to strength since opening, with both interest and demand for luxury Scottish produce and he’s looking forward to being the first satellite tasting site outside of Speyside for this year’s awards.

“The whole atmosphere at the festival is wonderful, and I hope we can try and recreate some of what is so special about the festival by sampling these whiskies in my tasting room on Thursday,” Peter explains.

“Speyside is special as it has the biggest range of malt whisky, its nature and scenery is great and it’s the best place to learn about whisky.

“My customers are really looking forward to taking part in voting for what they think are the best whiskies, and being part in what is one of the major events of the festival.”

The votes of around 70 customers and media guests will be counted and included along with other votes made on Speyside during the festival. Winners will be announced on Sunday, May 1 at the whisky awards ceilidh in the Memorial Hall, Dufftown.

James Campbell, chairman of the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival, says, “Speyside whisky is renowned the world over and we are pleased that this year, for the first time, we have been able to add an international dimension to our whisky awards.

“Our friends in Germany will be among the whisky lovers who determine the results, and being a public vote makes these awards all the more coveted.

“Who knows, this could be the start of something bigger. Maybe in future years we will have whisky lovers in other cities in the world use their nose, knowledge and taste buds to choose the winners in each of the three strongly contested categories.”

The awards are sponsored by coppersmiths Forsyths of Rothes and the three categories for 12 years old and under, 13-20 years old and 21 years old and over.

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