After my journey to Islay in May 2010 I thought it would be only consequent to also visit the other whisky focal point in Scotland, Speyside. Just like Islay’s Feis Ile (which I deliberately avoided last year), Speyside has its own whisky festival called Spirit of Speyside. Well, that’s actually even two festivals because there is one in spring and one in autumn.
The Spring Festival 2010 is taking place from 28th April to 2nd May, traditionally not long before Feis Ile. But there is a big difference between the two festivals. From the whisky side, Feis Ile is basically a succession of distillery open days where you just can pop in with some additional events that can be booked at the distilleries in advance.
Spirit of Speyside made up of a large number of single events, most of them bookable in advance from the festival website or at other central places. Speyside is pretty large compared to Islay, and there are much more events, so it is inevitable to make selections where to go and what to skip. I wanted to stay in the Dufftown area in order to avoid travelling around too much, as this is more or less the epicentrum of the festival. I booked my accomodation already last week, and it turned out that virtually all B&Bs in Dufftown were already full. But I managed to secure a room at Norlaggan Guesthouse in Aberlour. The bus connection to Dufftown is pretty decent, and then you can also rely on the Diageo taxi vouchers that give you a 50% reduction (a nice idea here by Diageo!).
Booking festival events officially started on 14th January 7pm GMT. By creating a bit of a countdown to this date, opening the virtual box office immedieatly crashed the website. I felt reminded of the launch of the Ardbeg Rollercoaster back in February 2010 where the hype created around this release caused massive server problems at the distillery online shop. It has to be said though, that the festival team managed to get their site up and running again within an hour. But still I would favour a solution where instead of a fixed time the site will “secretly” go online at a random time of the day, just to avoid the massive web traffic jam caused by impatient whisky lovers.
I will arrive on Wednesday, 27th and will make a relaxed start into the festival on Thursday with just a visit to the Speyside Cooperage in Craigellachie. In the afternoon I will probably head over to Dufftown to have a look around, and later that evening may find me meeting some Twitter/Facebook friends who will be staying in Dufftown. Weather permitting, I may have a stroll around Aberlour on Friday morning. In the afternoon I will take the Mortlach distillery tour followed by a hopefully whisky-enriched high tea at the Grouse Inn.
Saturday kicks off with the Dufftown Whisky Fair followed by the Cadenhead’s tasting in the afternoon. The Sunday is dedicated to fellow Malt Maniac Dave Broom, first joining him on his walk up to Ben Rinnes, allowing to breath through a little after some potentially dramming intensive days. This will lead up to Dave’s tasting at Benrinnes distillery. Monday will be the last day of the festival, in the morning there is a tour of Duffton distillery which is normally just as impenetrable as Mortlach. Grande finale will be the Benriach tasting with distillery manager Stewart Buchanan.
I think this schedule will allow me to experience quite a bit of the festival while still leaving some room to relax or meet up with someone for a dram (maybe you?). Originally I also had in mind to attend the fabled Aberlour Dinner on Friday which would give me the chance to maniacal colleague Martine Nouet in full action. But seeing it priced at £85 per person I sadly had to let it pass.
It’s not been finally decided yet, but I will stay in Speyside two days either before or after the festival to be able to see some distilleries outside the hassle of the festival. I will also stay in Edinburgh for a couple of days and will try to squeeze in a night or two in Glasgow as well.
I think this trip should provide enought material for a couple of blog articles. I’ll keep you posted.