Spirit of Speyside 2016: Faces of the Festival

From the festival chairman to first timers, and everyone in between, we talk to the people who make the festival what it is.

Published 6th May 2016
Updated 21 st Sep 2023

This year's festival was a huge success and we were keen to find out from the many people involved, what the festival means to them.

Pery Zakeri, Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival manager

Pery Zakeri

"I’m incredibly proud to be part of such an amazing event that helps to put Speyside - my home and the place where I grew up - on the worldwide map.

What I love about the Festival is meeting new people from all over the world, learning that visitors are just as passionate about Speyside as I am.

"I know just how important whisky is to the local community. It’s more than just a product – it’s the lifeblood of the area – it’s a pleasure to work with the Board and the Festival partners, members, supporters and volunteers.

"My favourite event was the opening ceilidh – it’s a great chance to meet and get to know visitors and make friends. and getting to know them and making friends. I left with invites from people in Sweden, Iceland, Venice to go and visit.

"It’s cheesy to say, but it feels like a family, a community, and I’m genuinely sad when everyone starts to go home. You work all-year-round on the event, then the five days just fly by – and, before you know it, it’s Monday."

Anne Miller, International Brand Ambassador with Chivas Brothers


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"Whisky, music, food and fun. The festival is just a fantastic weekend, where thousands of people converge on Speyside from many, many different countries. There's events at 50 or more distilleries and all the communities in between.

"Yes, it's whisky and there's lots of things for experts and enthusiastic beginners to do, but there are also lots of other things for people who don't drink whisky to enjoy too.

"They can go on walks, they can go on Argocat trips, they can explore the countryside, they can take a trip down the Spey in a canoe, they can watch barrel racing and should they want to try whisky for the first time, they can try it with cheese, try it with chocolate or pair it with food and have other gastronomic delights. It really is for everyone.

"I think the thing that really sets this event apart from a lot of the whisky shows that happen all around the world is that it happens in a place that has many, many distilleries and you've got the local experts, men who have spent their entire life working at the distillery and their fathers and sons have also.

"Here at Glenlivet, you'll get the chance to talk to the master distiller, a man that's had 40 years or more of experience in the distillation industry, who's worked at 20 distilleries, who is responsible for distilling millions of litres of spirit every year, not jut here at Glenlivet but at all the other distilleries that are owned by Chivas.

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"We are all connected, we all know one another, everyone who was born and brought up in Speyside has probably got fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters and cousins working at different companies so they all have all sorts of interesting perspectives on what's happening and  at the festival you can hear some of these people telling these stories.

"We open our doors, we invite people to come and really participate and enjoy the welcome they'll get. We are putting a nice show on for everybody - getting out some of the best drams - we really do want to share some nice things with you."

Val Lord, who runs the Whisky Shop Dufftown with her husband Mike 


"The Festival is one of the great times of the year where we can welcome so many more people here, so we have visitors from around the world all year round but they really come together at the Speyside festival.

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"Some of them are old friends now and some of them are new people that we get to meet for the first time and that's great.

"So many people here, they love the whisky, they want to enjoy it and try new things and that's what we try to do with our events.

"People see it as a great thing for the area, so a lot of distilleries that don't open their doors normally will have tours and it's an excellent opportunity to try something different, something new.

"For us it's a chance to let people try new flavours and find something else that they like and I love that.

"We try to put a whole range of events from independent bottler tastings in the shop, to bus tours and fine dining whisky dinners such as the one we did on Friday night at the Dowan's hotel. We work closely with the local businesses and charities, so there's a whole range of people who really get involved."

Frank van Paridon, publisher of Drinks Only! and 100% Whisky, the leading consumer magazines on drinks in the Netherlands.


“I thought the Speyside Whiksky Festival was quite special in the sense that although many people attended, it still remained personal.

"With 500 events , taking place at 50 different venues within 50 miles, you never meet big crowds at any of them.

"I had been to Speyside and most of the other whisky regions in Scotland, but this was a lot more fun. It was great to get involved in the ‘social dancing’ at the Ceilidh. You Scots are even stingier getting drunk than the Dutch. At least we pay for all our drinks and then reap the benefits… You have just one drink and then start catapulting each other around on the dance floor, until dizziness occurs!

"Next to the partying at Ceilidhs and the Dogfest, I also enjoyed the quality of the food and some of the beautiful settings it was served at.

"Finally the ‘blackening’ at the Speyside Cooperage, an age old ritual was very special and for me as a passionate photographer an unique opportunity to witness. All and all I am very happy I went and look forward to come back in the next few years!”

Frank Scott, International Ambassador for the Festival 2014, New Brunswick, Canada.


"Well it's absolutely the World's greatest whisky festival, there's no where you can go in the world where you can get this atmosphere, the friendliness and of course the whisky.

"The festival is just an amazing experience for anybody that loves whisky and the hospitality of the Scottish people, you can't find that anywhere else, other than here in Speyside, we love coming here. This is our 15th festival, my wife and I have been coming here every year, I think this is the 17th festival and we've only missed the very first one and I think one other,  it's the highlight of our year.

"We come over for usually three weeks to a month and take in the Festival, we stay in the local community and over the years we've become friends with so many people on Speyside."

Martin Booth, Editor, Bristol 24/7


"I was only here for a few days so I only really got a glimpse into everything happening, there's just so much going on. I only managed to go to a few distilleries but I feel I've had a privileged glimpse into the world of whisky, particularly in Speyside, which I never really realised was such an important region for the industry.

"I loved seeing all of the distilleries and realising that in all of those wonderful buildings whisky is being produced that will soon be going all around the world.

"I'll certainly drink more whisky now and I'll be able to go into bars and pick out a whisky, a Speyside whisky, and know how good that dram will be. From Bristol we can now fly easily to Inverness and Aberdeen and I'll now be recommending people to come visit the festival, especially fans of food and drink who want to learn more about the provenance of this wonderful spirit.

"This area is so easy to get to from Bristol and it's just such a fascinating and romantic place.

"I'll take a lot of memories from my time here, particularly our meal at Gordon Castle, getting to spend the night sat next to the scion of the Gordon clan and the Global ambassador for Glenlivet, I'll be remembering it for years to come."

James Campbell, Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival chairman


"The most pleasing thing for me is to see so many visitors at our event with smiles on their faces. There is a huge team of volunteers – on the board of directors and working away in other roles – who give up their free time to make it a success, and to know that we have helped visitors to create memories that will last a lifetime is an incredible feeling.

"We offer five days of whisky, food and fun but the planning goes on all year round. It’s hugely rewarding when it all comes together in the way that it does. The biggest compliment is when we see people coming back year in, year out.

"More than anything, the Festival offers an opportunity for me to play a part in promoting my local community to the wider world. I am deeply passionate about the area – as is everyone involved in the Festival – and every year I feel very proud indeed that Speyside is able to put on such an amazing show."

Ian Buxton, acclaimed whisky writer and author of 101 whiskies to try before you die.


"So the Festival for me, I'm enjoying it, particularly this year, bigger, better, there's more to see, more to do, but personally it's a fantastic chance to catch up with old friends, make some new friendships, meet new people and most of all engage with the people who make whisky what it is, which is to say, the drinkers.

"What we are seeing today, is people who are truly enthusiastic about whisky, passionate about whisky, buying it, enjoying it, savouring it and above all drinking it and sharing it, and that for me is the Spirit of this Festival, which makes it an exciting, engaging place to be."

Rob Allanson, former editor of Whisky Magazine and global ambassador for Grant’s Blended Scotch Whisky

Rob Allanson gets the blending session underway

"The festival is just a wonderful coming together of every distillery in Speyside, it's that cluster of distilleries, the biggest in the world, you can wander around, everything is open.

"Go and see your favourite distilleries, go and see a distillery you've never been to and be surprised. They are all different, there's what, nearly 50 in Speyside now and they are all worth visiting.

"Particularly, from a blending point of view, it's really interesting to go and see how differently they make their whisky at each distillery. What those differences then translate to in terms of flavour and aromas.

"Most importantly, it's the people. The people you get to meet and the people behind the scenes, go and speak to them and for god's sake, give them a hug!"

Kevin Innes, Cragganmore distillery manager


"For me the best part about the festival is getting people in here and trying our whisky. It's an opportunity for people to actually come in and see how it's done and learn from the producers how they actually make the whisky.

It's a unique venture that's very good for Speyside itself. It promotes the region for people to visit and see all the distilleries.

"For myself, I've started off from the bottom from making casks all the way up to managing the site, so I know all the processes off by heart and I like being able to explain them to people, giving them more in depth knowledge of what actually goes on."

Guy MacPherson Gordon, owner of Ballindalloch castle and Ballidalloch distillery.


"For us it's an opportunity to welcome visitors to Speyside, to showcase how we go about making the best spirit in the world and how we can show people visiting what Speyside is all about in terms of its weather, its character and its people.

It's an authentic experience we try to give people through the Festival, though Speyside is great to visit at any time of the year.

Though whisky is the biggest industry in the area, there are still loads of other things for people to do."



Myriam Mackenzie, Export Sales Executive at Glenfarclas.


"It's a great festival for bringing people from all over the world to Speyside. It brings more awareness to local people that whisky is actually sold world-wide and it's a global product, so it's nice that local people get to see that too.

"I've grown up in Speyside and when you grow up here, you don't actually understand the enormity or the global reach of it."

"I grew up in front of Starthisla distillery and I'd seen distilleries all around me, all through my life, so you just think it's normal and the reality didn't hit until I went travelling, particularly to Latin America and saw all of the whisky advertisements, and I thought people are drinking whisky in Colombia and Venezuala, had to go to the other side of the world to understand how big it was."

Ann-sophie Bigot, Whisky Blogger at the Whisky Lady


"It was actually my first time attending the famous SoSWF and saying that I had a definite blast would be an understatement.

"This festival was much more than some whisky tastings here and there, pot still & barley varieties geekery and in-depth distillery tours.

"It was a genuine human experience that I couldn't recommend enough! Mind you, I even ended up on the ceilidh dancefloor (a tradition that I still haven't mastered but hey, I promise I'll improve my dancing skills for next year's event). So expect the unexpected.

"What really struck me spending time in Speyside was this immense sense of community, "convivialité" and friendliness, even amongst fierce competitors (which trust me is a real breath of fresh air from a French point of view and really makes me feel incredibly fortunate to be somehow part of this wonderful industry).

"Personal Highlight? Being able to witness the Blackening - a centuries-old tradition - of two coopers at The Speyside Cooperage was definitely a unique and rare experience (the event was actually crowned "best new event" during the closing ceremony... And considering the diversity and quality of other entrants, that says a lot). I will definitely be back."

Ben Borland, journalist from Glasgow


“The whisky festival was great fun and very interesting as well. I was amazed to learn how much a single cask of malt whisky can be worth.

2It is quite incredible to think that you can put a mixture of water, malted barley and yeast in a barrel, leave it for 30 years and it could be worth up to half a million quid!

"I probably drank more whisky over the course of a couple of days than I normally would in six months and it was rather worrying to discover that a few drams in the morning leaves you with a nice, warm glow for the rest of the day.”

• Find out more about the Spirit of Speyside Festival  here

Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival plans Autumn event



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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