It is 125 years since an eccentric traveller called Alfred Barnard set out to visit every distillery - 162 - in Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales. It took him three years to do it, and the result was the most important book every published about the water of life: The monumental Whisky Distilleries of Great Britain and Ireland.
Now an actor, a comedian, a journalist and a broadcaster will attempt to equal his feat - starting this June with visits to 50 of the distilleries currently operating (out of 106) including an epic motorcycle trip taking in the most northerly and southerly Scottish distilleries, along with one each in England, Ireland and Wales. The 2010 leg will conclude at the Tartan Heart Festival, Belladrum, near Beauly (6 and 7 August), followed by a charity auction of special whiskies, signed by all the participants, from each distillery visited.
It is the beginning of The Barnard Challenge, and the main beneficiary will be a charity set up and run by top Scottish actor David Hayman, Spirit Aid.
David is the star of TV's Trial and Retribution, as well as many big screen epics such as The Jackal with Bruce Willis, and The Tailor of Panama, starring Pierce Brosnan. He is the operations director for Spirit Aid, which is dedicated to children whose lives have been devastated by war, genocide, poverty, abuse or lack of opportunity at home and abroad.
"I'm thrilled that a celebration of Scotland's spirit will, appropriately, highlight the work of Spirit Aid, and the needs of children both here in Scotland and across the world,' said Hayman. 'I've always loved single malts - but I didn't enjoy blended whisky until a couple of years ago, when I was given a masterclass in its wonders by the great Richard Paterson. Now, not only do I appreciate blended whisky's greatness, but I love the fact that uisge beatha - the water of life - illustrates the essence of Scotland - generosity, hospitality and conviviality."
Paterson, master blender for distilling giant Whyte and Mackay, is a legend in the industry and among whisky lovers for his spectacular tasting sessions and passionate enthusiasm for whisky's unique qualities. those attending a Paterson tasting are warned: "If he sees you drinking whisky too quickly, he'll slap you. And if he sees you holding a tasting glass the wrong way, he'll kill you."wPaterson will be conducting a masterclass at Belladrum, along with the editor of Whisky Magazine, Rob Allanson, Stephen Rankin of distillers, blenders and bottlers Gordon and Macphail, and the writer and broadcaster Tom Morton.
"This is a dream come true for me ," said Paterson. "Barnard is a crucial figure in the history of whisky and for many years I have longed to see his achievement celebrated properly. This is a fitting tribute to the man, his muse and his mission."
Morton and Allanson will, in 10 days, use motorcycles to visit Scotland's most northerly distillery, Highland Park in Orkney and the southernmost, Bladnoch in Wigtown. They will also go to the most northerly mainland distillery, Old Pulteney in Wick, as well as Bushmills in Antrim, Northern Ireland, Midleton in Cork, Republic of Ireland, Penderyn in Wales and St George's in Norfolk, currently England's only whisky producer.
Morton, BBC Radio Scotland's weekday afternoon presenter, wrote the seminal whisky travelogue Spirit of Adventure in 1992, later made into an STV series.
"Rob and I will be covering over 2000 miles on motorcycles, so any drinking will have to be, as ever, extremely moderate," he said. "We aim to collect unopened bottles from each distillery for auction, and I hope people will follow in our wheeltracks in later years - the Barnard Challenge is a continuing charity project and I'm hoping people will visit distilleries on pushbikes, on footm, on horseback, following Barnard, having fun, enjoying the occasional dram and raising money for Spirit Aid."
And if all this wasn't enough, step forward, Vladimir McTavish. One of Scotland's top comedians, McTavish will be visiting up to 30 distilleries, some with David, and will use his experiences and some filming of the trip in his Edinburgh Festival Fringe Show Whisky: An Idiot's Guide. A hilariously sobering look at drink and its role in the Scottish psyche, the show will use a mixture of stand-up, stories, poetry and short film to look at the vital contribution drink has made to Caledonian culture. As McTavish says: "No-one has ever been to a teetotal ceilidh. And no sober person could ever have invented the bagpipes."
"It's going to be a frantic period of activity," said David Hayman, "and it works on several levels. The Barnard Challenge revives the story of the extraordinary man who was Alfred Barnard, draws attention to Scotland's national drink, raises money for charity and offers anyone the chance to get involved by setting up their own mini - or maxi - Barnard Challenge. Next year It would be great to see dozens of folks involved, and dozens of means of transport."