Tapping Into the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival

by Keith Savage · 4 comments

The Clocktower in Dufftown, at the Epicenter of the Spirit of Speyside Festival

This past May I had the opportunity to attend the 13th annual Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival, and do something I’ve always wanted to do: drink for five straight days on the job and not feel compelled to chastise myself for lack of discipline. As the name suggests, the festival takes place in one of Scotland’s most beautiful and tranquil settings – the Speyside region north of the Cairngorms Mountains – and it sure doesn’t hurt that it has the highest concentration of distilleries of anywhere in the world.

If you’re a fan of single malts, you need to consider blocking out early May 2013 and jetting over to Scotland. After I missed the Spirit of Speyside whisky festival in 2011 (I was holed up in Shetland at the Shetland Folk Festival), I promised myself I’d go in 2012. And so I did. I built my three-week trip around the festival. It was a damn good idea.

The Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival spanned five days from May 3rd through May 7th and encompassed more than 300 events across the breadth of Moray/Speyside, from Tomintoul to Elgin and from Keith to Grantown-on-Spey. The festival is a pretty big deal. Last year it drew some 47,000 visitors, an influx of people that makes accommodation scarce, the local economy boom, and whisky distilleries very, very happy. One of the neat things about the festival is that it’s not just about whisky; many of the Spirit of Speyside’s events also highlight the region’s unique history and culture. Learning about the history of the place while enjoying its liquid spirit makes the experience of drinking it down the road a much richer experience.

Looking over the slate of events, I felt a bit like a kid in a candy store who doesn’t have enough hands to carry everything he wants. I literally spent days pouring over the events list in an effort to craft the best and most representative experience possible. The astounding array of events included everything from rare tours of inaccessible distilleries to rambling over the glens like smugglers of old to dram-infused outings of golf and archery (watch out!) to tastings, concerts, and food/whisky pairings. Eventually I settled on a spate of events that kept me busy darting back and forth across Speyside from my homebase at Trochelhill (new review forthcoming). Alas, there was little time for any other activities in the region, but then…who am I kidding, it was awesome!

In the coming weeks and months you can expect:

  • A detailed look inside the Glenfiddich distillery as I embark on the vaunted Pioneer Tour.
  • Coverage of the Spirit of Speyside’s VIP-esque opening dinner at Macallan distillery.
  • A dispatch from deep in the Glenlivet hills as I follow the smuggler’s trail on an argocat…in a snowstorm.
  • Notes from the Glenlivet Legacy Masterclass hosted by master distiller Alan Winchester and global brand ambassador Ian Logan.
  • Scrawls and scribbles from an ultimate tour of the recently reopened Glenglassaugh distillery on the north coast, replete with a tasting of ancient Glenglassaugh whiskies.
  • A ramble around Speyside’s smallest distillery, Benromach, and a dram or five (or six) of their award-winning whiskies.
  • Guided tastings of independently-bottled Speysiders and Wemyss malts courtesy of the Whisky Shop Dufftown.
  • An awesome and incredibly rare visit to Mortlach distillery, makers of one of my favorite malts ever.
  • A review of the great Celtic folk band Breabach playing in the atmospheric warehouse at Glenfiddich distillery.

It’s going to be a delicious fall here on Traveling Savage. I’ve no doubt that by the end of this coverage you’ll be working on your own visit to the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival. In the meantime, why not check out the tasting notes I wrote during the festival?

With fall upon us, it’s a good time to get some bottles of single malt, settle down by the fire, and tap into the Spirit of Speyside.

Tom MooreNo Gravatar September 12, 2012 at 3:17 PM

I love Breabach! I wish they would come over to this side of “the pond!”

Keith SavageNo Gravatar September 12, 2012 at 4:26 PM

They were recently in Australia, but I agree that it would be nice to see them in the States sometime.

RandyNo Gravatar September 11, 2012 at 6:01 PM

Seems kind of weird I was sitting at the same table with you when that shot was taken. I was able to record a couple of pretty good videos of the band on my blackberry that night. I should put them on u-tube I guess. It was a lot of fun. I’d like to see Breabach in Ottawa some day.
I remember too, that when we were wandering around Abelour and we were talking to some locals they told us to get accommodations right away as it quickly fills up so we heeded their advice. We had a B&B by noon, the Torchattan in Abelour. Reasonable cost, good food and the proprietors were very friendly.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar September 11, 2012 at 7:48 PM

To all reading this: don’t miss a chance to see Breabach live. Such a great traditional folk band. Good tips about accommodation during the festival, too.

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