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Spirit of Speyside Distilled: More Details Revealed

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Hey whisky lovers, I’ve got a good news for you today!

Tickets are about to go on sale (15th of July) for a brand new drinks festival that unites, for the very first time, Speyside’s famous whiskies with the region’s award-winning brewers, gin makers and food producers.

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Spirit of Speyside: Distilled, from the world-renowned Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival, will bring together an array of great flavours through drinks, food and masterclasses contained within one weekend and at one venue. The ticketed event takes place for the first time at Elgin Town Hall from September 9-11. Entry to each session will be limited and demand for tickets, which will go on sale at 9am on Friday, July 15, is expected to be strong.

While whisky is the region’s most famous export, Spirit of Speyside: Distilled brings together new partners to champion the area’s food and drink, and masterclasses will offer some very special experiences to sign up for. There will be the chance to try some very special whiskies, gins and beers; learn about pairing whisky with food; join a mini-mixology session using botanical gins and liqueurs or enjoy cocktail making demonstrations.

As visitors browse round, they’ll meet Speyside’s drinks industry stars, people passionate about their products, including experienced distillery staff and brewers who will talk through their ranges and offer samples.

Having sampled, visitors will be able to purchase their favorite bottles to take home through a retail shop organised by specialist outlet The Whisky Shop Dufftown. And there’s plenty more to explore in the home of malt whisky with over 50 distilleries nearby. experience will be different to that delivered by the five-day Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival which offers over 500 different events at venues across Speyside in the first weekend of May. Organisers believe the smaller, centrally located event will appeal to those who want to enjoy and learn more about Speyside’s whiskies, gins and beers   but don’t want to plan an itinerary to attend a larger event at many different venues.

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And talking about organisers, I had the chance to ask James Campbell, Chairman of the festival, a few questions to find out more about what this new event will really be about!

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First of all, could you please introduce yourself: where are you from, career background and how did you end up Chairman of Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival?

I am originally from Forres in Speyside and have had a long career in accountancy and tax planning. I started at the bottom as a trainee Chartered Accountant with a relatively small firm in Elgin, and rose to become its Chairman.  Over those years we grew to become a national firm and the biggest independent firm of Chartered Accountants in Scotland. I stepped down as Chairman of the firm to work part-time and was approached to see if I would take on the voluntary role of Chairman of Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival and try and take it on to the next level.  I always like a challenge and that was just over four years ago and it has been great to be part of the significant growth and development of the Festival and we are still moving forward with lots more still to come.

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SoSWF has been increasingly popular amongst worldwide whisky enthusiasts, attracting more and more people to Speyside every year in May: how do you explain this? What, according to you, makes this festival unique?

Speyside is the most important whisky producing region of Scotland, and is home to over 50 malt whisky distilleries – half of Scotland’s total. It is a strong message that six of the seven top selling malt whiskies are all made in our region and they are all within a 15 mile radius so Speyside is very much  “whisky central  “ of Scotland. We are lucky to have these huge internationally recognised brands with huge followings here. They promote Speyside as part of their story which often becomes a major selling point of their brands.

Every year there are new and different events added to the programme which keeps it fresh and interesting. So whether a visitor has come along for the first time, or is back on a repeat visit, the offering will never disappoint. We are constantly looking at how we develop and find new angles. This year in our event offering, for example, we had an event pairing whisky with music and also a whisky and coffee pairing exploring the differences and similarities between nosing and tasting the two drinks.

Everyone in Speyside is passionate about the region. Visitors often comment on how friendly and helpful people have been and how people have gone out of their way to help them.

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On 9-11 September this year, Elgin is to hold the first edition of a brand new festival called “Spirit of Speyside Distilled”: what’s new about this festival? What makes it different from the May festival?

Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival in May features over 400 events at a range of different venues across Speyside – from distilleries and villages halls, to castles and a railway.  Spirit of Speyside : Distilled is a unique chance to see whisky companies side by side in their home region, for the very first time, in one centrally located venue, Elgin Town Hall. It also adds the area’s gin makers and craft brewers to the mix as well as showcasing many of the region’s great food producers.

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I read in the press that this new event is meant to attract a younger audience: how do you plan to attract those consumers? Any specific strategy?

We expect Spirit of Speyside: Distilled to attract a new and younger audience  because it will  not only feature whisky but will have gin, craft beer and cocktail making demonstrations and the events will be aimed at a younger audience. We expect interest from those who want to learn more about Speyside’s whiskies, craft beer and gin but don’t want to plan an itinerary and attend a larger event at many different venues. There will be a greater use of social media to reach out to this new audience, to raise their interest in Spirit of Speyside:  Distilled – and we hope we will see that converted into ticket sales and attendances.

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How do you see the impact of this new festival on local tourism? Are you setting up any partnership with local tourism businesses?

We already work alongside people and organisations in promoting the whiskies and other assets of the area which is part of the Cairngorms National Park,  has the wonderful Moray Firth coastline and  one of only two  bottle nose dolphin populations in the UK, and boasts globally recognised food producers and of course the River Spey. Working together we are all determined to promote Speyside as a year round destination and make everyone aware how fantastic it is to come here, even though we are competing against other destinations all over the UK and worldwide.

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How many exhibitors can we expect for this first edition? Apart from tastings and traditional whisky-related activities, will there be any ‘out-of-the-cask” events to attend? A little teaser perhaps?

There has been a great deal of interest and there will be some very special drams on offer .We already have 14 major whisky brands, four gin firms and three craft breweries from Speyside. There will be at least 10 different local food producers there too offering samples and as part of the ticket price we will be serving a light meal of some very nice food, featuring local ingredients. We will also have some of Speyside’s whisky stars holding masterclasses, gin and beer masterclasses and we will have some pairings of whisky with chocolate and with cheeses  and with patisserie and some excellent cocktails , whisky-based and also gin-based again using ingredients from the local area ,wherever possible.

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And the technical details to finish: When are the tickets to go on sale? When will the full exhibitors list be released? Official website?

Tickets go on sale at 9am on Friday, 15th July  priced £20.

The ticket price includes entry, a lanyard, vouchers for five 10ml tasting samples of gin or whisky, a voucher for a tasting measure of a beer, a Glencairn crystal nosing and tasting glass and a light snack featuring the best of local produce, prepared by event caterers, Good Highland Food.

There are four different sessions over the course of the weekend and these take place on September 9 from 7-11pm; September 10 from 1-5pm and 7-11pm and on September 11 from 12-4pm.

There are limited places for masterclasses, full details of which are available on the Spirit of Speyside: Distilled website – www.distilled.scot – where tickets can also be bought.

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