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In pictures: The Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival 2016

From distillery visits and whisky tastings to going off-road on an eight wheeled argocat and the return of The Blackening, we take look at this year's Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival.

Published: May 6, 2016
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The view from the wonderful Station Hotel in Rothes, gave an ideal first glimpse into what the Festival had in store.

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The Spirit of Speyside Festival sees the region's many distilleries throw open their doors to the public, giving a unique insight into some of the smaller and more elusive distilleries, such as the very much under-rated Cragganmore.

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There are also hundreds of bespoke tasting sessions, offering people the chance to not only see how the product is made and taste the whisky, but also to gain access to the industrious distillery workers who turn the Spey valley water into liquid gold.

Cragganmore distillery manager Kevin Innes takes time out to talk to his guests.

Cragganmore distillery manager Kevin Innes takes time out to talk to his guests.

 

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The delightful Cragganmore tasting in full flow.

This year also saw the chance to spend time in some of the area's more famous residences, such as the wonderful Ballindalloch and Gordon Castles.

The picturesque Ballindalloch Castle.

The picturesque Ballindalloch Castle.

The Ballindalloch estate has its own coffee shop, gardens, golf course and of course two rescue donkeys, two llamas and a Shetland pony - providing a brilliant family day out, not just for the Festival but also all year round.

And don't forget to check out their eponymous distillery, which is the first Single Estate distillery in the area, offering teasing glimpses into not just the distillation of the whisky, and the history of the family and the castle but also the farming practices involved in growing, and harvesting, their own barley.

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The stills at Ballindalloch Distillery.

While Gordon Castle, another of the big estates is a wonderful setting for dinner and hosts Angus and Zara Gordon Lennox are perhaps some of the most enthusiastic and engaging people you will meet. It is possible to hire out the charming castle as accommodation and the estate offers some of the best fishing spots on the Spey.

The stunning Gordon Castle.

The stunning Gordon Castle.

Not to be outdone, the bigger distilleries also offer a regular programme of great tours, tastings and experiences and Glenfarclas, one of the region's most popular, is always a big draw for the crowds.

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The Festival usually offers more glimpses behind the scenes at practices that aren't always part of the usual, all year-round tours.

This year, the festival also brought back a little appreciation for blended whiskies, with Grant's ambassador Rob Allanson's blending sessions and Ian Buxton's Desert Island Drams giving a little bit of love to the work horse (or should that be cash cow) of the whisky world.

Rob Allanson gets the blending session underway

Rob Allanson gets the blending session underway.

The first (and probably last) outing of Murphy's Magical Medicine.

The first (and probably last) outing of Murphy's Magical Medicine.

Indeed, Ian Buxton's Desert Island Drams added a little glamour with outings for the Chivas Regal 25-year-old  and the Ballantine's Christmas Reserve, both lovingly matched by French author and cook Martine Nouet, author of à table, and cooked by French chef Eric Obry.

From L-R: Dave Broom, Alice Lascelles, Martine Nouet and Ian Buxton

From L-R: Dave Broom, Alice Lascelles, Martine Nouet and Ian Buxton

 

The wonderfully warm and spicy Christmas Reserve was paired caramelised pork with apple purée, yum!

The wonderfully warm and spicy Christmas Reserve was paired caramelised pork with apple purée, yum!

One of the most interesting trips around (other than the canoe trip down the Spey) is the one offered by Glenlivet on their wonderfully named Argocat, a tenacious little eight-wheeled vehicle, perfect for some off road dramming.

The Argocat - as at home on the rood as it is on steep inclines and heather strewn hills.

The Argocat - as at home on the rood as it is on steep inclines and heather strewn hills.

The views at the top of the peak behind the distillery, stretching from the angular peak of Ben Rinnes to the Cairngorms is stunning and it was accompanied by spotting the odd hare or two. Finishing off with a dram at the old site of the original distillery (and more at the illicit still bothy) it made for a wonderful afternoon trip.

A dram in the sunshine with Ian Buxton was the perfect way to while away the afternoon.

A dram in the sunshine with Ian Buxton was the perfect way to while away the afternoon.

Not to be outdone by this enjoyable little sojourn, Ann Miller also arranged for an enjoyable hour spent in the company of Dave Broom (again) and Glenlivet distillery manager Alan Winchester, who seemed to be channelling the Two Ronnies, such was their camaraderie and delivery of enjoyable anecdotes on the industry as they took us on a vertical tasting through the decades.

The ubiquitous Dave Broom (definitely the face of the festival) with Alan Winchester.

The ubiquitous Dave Broom (definitely the face of the festival) with Alan Winchester.

One of the most exciting - and chaotic - events had to be the wonderfully unique 'Blackening' event at the Speyside cooperage, an initiation ritual that dates back centuries, which saw two young apprentices tarred and feathered (before receiving a much needed dram) to celebrate the end of their four year stint learning the trade.

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One of the apprentices recovers with a dram

 

The industrious Speyside Cooperage.

The industrious Speyside Cooperage.

The final day saw a trip to Dufftown and the Aladdin's Cave that was the Whisky Shop, where Mike and Val Lord host over 40 events of the course of the festival including the exciting WSD Challenge, a blind tasting of independent bottlings that includes the chance to win a bottle of the winning whisky.

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Val and her husband Mike Lord run the famous Whisky Shop in Dufftown

Val and her husband Mike Lord run the famous Whisky Shop in Dufftown.

From there it is just a short trip across the street to enjoy some delicious whisky ice-cream from Balvenie Street. The Bowmore ice-cream was hugely popular, stunningly sweet with a little hint of smoke in the after taste.

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The Bowmore was definitely a favourite.

Finally, one of the most intriguing events is perhaps the lunch with Ann Miller, International Brand Ambassador for Chivas Brothers, who was happy to share stories of her time in the industry, a really insightful opportunity to hear one of the most successful women - and not to mention knowledgeable people - in the industry discuss planning the original festival in the very room the lunch takes place.

Ann Miller in the Quaich Bar at Craigellachie.

Ann Miller in the Quaich Bar at Craigellachie.

Overall, the Festival is one of the best whisky events around and it has everything a whisky geek could hope for. From tastings and tours to drams and dances, it offers a unique experience that will linger long in the memory, just like a good dram.

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Driven by a passion for all things drinks-related, Sean writes for The Scotsman extensively on the subject. He can also sometimes be found behind the bar at the world famous Potstill bar in Glasgow where he continues to enhance his whisky knowledge built up over 10 years advising customers from all over the world on the wonders of our national drink. Recently, his first book was published. Dubbed Gin Galore, it explores Scotland's best gins and the stories behind those that make them.

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