It’s an environment that has sheltered illicit whisky makers of the past, and it’s one of the best places in Britain from which to study the night skies - little wonder the natural landscape has a starring role in the 2018 Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival.
The festival programme boasts its greatest ever mix of events exploring the natural environment that has spawned some of the world’s best loved whisky brands.
From rugged hills to fertile plains, trickling burns to fast flowing rivers, the unspoilt nature of Speyside’s landscape can be explored on foot, by canoe or on board an eight wheeled Argocat during the five-day dram-fest.
Whisky author Blair Bowman and #LoveScotch's Stephen Martin will deliver a Speyside by night experience - and what better time to enjoy the amber nectar than after the sun has set and darkness has fallen?
It will be a case of digging out a cosy sweater and pulling on stout boots for this guided night exploration, featuring whisky tasting and chat. Different drams will be encountered along the route, and a few surprises too, before returning to the warming fireside of the Copper Dog Pub at the Craigellachie Hotel.
The Glenlivet Off Road Smugglers' Trails will head off into the hills on board an unstoppable eight-wheel drive vehicle to retrace the steps of Robbie McPherson, one of the area’s most successful smugglers, who hid his whisky through the winter in camouflaged pits dug in the hillside, then sold his smooth, matured spirit in the spring.
Off-road Argocat adventurers will travel to the Peat Reek Bothy to view a reproduction Pot Still and see a copy of McPherson’s last will and testament before being driven to the summit Carn Ghrantaich for a breath-taking 360-degree panoramic view of an area where scores of illicit stills were hidden throughout the 18th and 19th centuries.
Speyside’s soft, pure water has made the region a world leader in whisky production, but remote parts of the region would have undoubtedly have been a difficult place to live in the past, given the bleak and sometimes hostile environment and its remoteness.
An award-winning young adventurer will lift the lid on the plants and trees on which Speysiders of the past used to survive within this landscape. Passionate about outdoor education, conserving wild places, and retaining traditional wilderness living skills, 18-year-old Zeki Başan won the John Muir Conserver Award in 2016 and the Young Scot Award 2017 for the Environment.
He will lead a foraging walk around The Glenlivet Distillery, talking about the many ways that plants, fungi and tree bark were used. This will include natural fire lighting and explaining how people used to carry embers.
Botanicals aren’t just for gin – they will help give whisky lovers a sense of the place where Aberlour malt is made during a walk exploring the historic, medicinal, culinary and beverage uses of plants. Expert historical ecologist Dr Kathy Ader will lead the group along the Lour Burn to the Linn Falls exploring the aroma and flavours that make Aberlour single malt whisky unique with a rewarding dram at the end.
Every ticket has been snapped up for the canoe and whisky journey which is a hugely popular annual event with Spey specialist David Craig leading the canoeists from Knockando to the landmark Telford Bridge at Craigellachie, with a picnic lunch and dram en-route.
John Blyth, manager of the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival, says the region recognised as being the spiritual home of Scotland’s national drink, with over 50 malt whisky distilleries, is also a place of great environmental beauty too.
John adds: “Whisky, heritage and landscape go hand in hand. The remote hills and glens of Glenlivet offered places to hide illicit whisky making while today, the rich fertile landscape provides the water and barley that create some of the finest whiskies in the world.
“We’re delighted to be able to offer unique experiences to give Festival-goers the chance to discover this distinctive environment and to develop an appreciation of the intrinsic links between whisky and the landscape in which it is made.
“As well as the opportunity to explore and learn more about the region, many of these events include a welcome dram along the way. There could be no more appropriate way to toast Speyside than enjoying its most famous liquid export in the natural environment where it is created.”
The Festival takes place from May 3 to 7, with over 500 events taking place over the five days across Speyside.
The programme for the Festival, which attracts both connoisseurs and the curious, also features behind-the-scenes tours at internationally renowned distilleries not usually open to the public, whisky tasting masterclasses, whisky and food pairing. It has traditional music, outdoors activities and heritage events, meaning the festival offers something for die-hard whisky fans and those who have never tried it before.
For further information and tickets visit www.spiritofspeyside.com. The Festival is also active on social media: facebook.com/WhiskyFestival and @spirit_speyside on Twitter and Instagram. Use the hashtag #dram18