Four whisky legends were singled out for special recognition at the Opening Dinner of the 20th Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival on Wednesday 1st May.
The 2019 Festival is the biggest to date, with over 700 events taking place across Speyside in the coming days, and the organisers paid tribute to four people who have helped put the Scotch whisky industry, the Speyside region and the annual festival, on the map.
Recognising exceptional service to promoting Scotch Whisky and the Speyside region, the Spirit of Speyside Award for lifetime achievement went to Michael Urquhart.
Michael retired as managing director of Gordon & MacPhail, the Elgin-based whisky specialist, famed for selecting, maturing and bottling some of the world’s finest and rarest single malt Scotch whiskies.
In recognition of his services to the promotion of Scotch whisky worldwide he was made a Keeper and later a Master of the Quaich. Whisky Advocate presented him with a Lifetime Achievement Award and he was inducted into the Whisky Magazine Hall of Fame. Still actively supporting business initiatives in Moray and Speyside, he chairs the Moray Growth Deal Business Assembly.
The award for International Ambassador of the Year went to renowned whisky writer Charles MacLean in recognition of his efforts over many years to promote the festival, and Speyside, to both whisky lovers and those curious about Scotland’s national drink.
Charles has published 10 whisky-related books and has has presented numerous tastings and talks in the UK and abroad for whisky companies, corporations, universities and clubs, in addition to appearances on radio and TV. He is also known to many as the whisky expert in the film, The Angel’s Share.
The first winner of the unsung hero award was coppersmith Dennis McBain, in recognition of over 50 years behind the scenes work at Balvenie Distillery. Although Dennis is not one who is usually in the limelight, he was honoured for his important and valuable contribution to the success of a Speyside company.
Spirit of Speyside Ambassador award went to Ian Millar, who began his career in Scotch whisky production in Perthshire 48 years ago. Twenty years after joining the industry he moved to Speyside to manage Mortlach Distillery before moving to manage both Linkwood and Glen Elgin Distilleries.
Ian then joined William Grant and Sons to manage its Dufftown operations and later became a global brand ambassador for Glenfiddich. He continues to impart his wealth of invaluable experience and expertise in a bespoke role created for him as the firm’s Prestige Whisky Specialist where he shares his infectious enthusiasm and knowledge with valued customers and consumers.
Festival chairman James Campbell, said: “Each of our winners has made a huge contribution to the industry, each in a different way, and we are proud to honour them in this fashion.
“Michael Urquhart has given a lifetime of exceptional service to promoting Scotch whisky and Speyside. In the course of his work he travelled extensively throughout the world meeting distributors, giving tastings and masterclasses to promote single malt Scotch. He always spread the word about the Speyside region at the same time.
“Charles MacLean has done much over many years to promote the festival as well as the Speyside region to novices and whisky enthusiasts from near and far.
“Dennis McBain may be one of the last people ever to have a 50-year career in one job and with one employer. His job has changed very little, as the time-honoured, handcrafted techniques required have remained the same as when he began.
“Ian Millar’s contribution to the world of Scotch whisky has been widely recognised; he was made first a Keeper and more recently a Master of the Quaich. It is with great pleasure that the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival also recognises his achievements in enhancing the experience of visitors from near and far by making him its Ambassador.”
The winners were announced at a sell-out dinner that officially marked the start of the 20th Festival, held at The Glenlivet Distillery, when guest speaker was Lord Thurso, chairman of VisitScotland. With over 700 events, this year’s festival programme runs over six days and continues until Monday, May 6.
It includes everything from exclusive distillery tours, tutored tastings, talks, whisky auctions and fairs, outdoor adventures by foot, canoe or train, traditional ceilidhs, fine dining dinners, live music and crafts. Events take place in venues across Speyside, with the diverse offering suited to both whisky connoisseurs and first-time visitors, whatever level of interest or knowledge they have in Scotland’s national drink.
After 20 years, the appeal of the festival continues to grow, with 173 events completely selling out within the first 24 hours of tickets going on sale, but late bookers can still to join a number of events in Scotland’s malt whisky country. For more information, visit please visit www.spiritofspeyside.com
Pictured (from left to right): Charles MacLean, Michael Urquhart, Dennis McBain, Ian Millar