Spirit of Speyside 2024: Events not to be missed at this year's festival

Spirit of Speyside 2024: Events not to be missed at this year's festival

From Jedi-themed tastings to raising barrels, fireside drams and salmon fishing, this year’s Spirit of Speyside is about to kick off in style. Millie Milliken picks out some of the best events to nab the last tickets to

News | 24 Apr 2024 | By Millie Milliken

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In less than a week I will be donning my metaphorical judges cap as I embark on deciding what the Best New Event will be at this year’s Spirit of Speyside festival, running from 1–6 May 2024. It is a gruelling and serious task, but someone has to do it. Considering that the festival has had 25 years to hone a certain standard of events that brings hundreds of visitors from more than 30 countries to Scotland’s largest whisky-producing region each year, I think I’m in for a bit of a treat.

 

Launched in 1999, Spirit of Speyside is one of the Scotch whisky industry’s most coveted festivals. Hosting upwards of 500 events each year, the festival attracts both newbies and enthusiasts to the northeast of Scotland for five days of fun. With headline brands taking part, from Craigellachie and Glenlivet, to Dufftown, Elgin, and Rothes, Aberlour and Tomintoul, ticket holders will have the chance to get access to the distilleries and the people who work in them to learn more about the whiskies that make up the incredible community in Speyside.

 

As well as plenty of chances to try the spirits that make this part of Scotland so famous, visitors are treated to some rather special experiences in some extraordinary locations. Events span the four corners of the region and track along the River Spey to the sea (National Geographic has deemed it one of the ‘greatest coastlines’), held in castles, old steadings, village halls, and distilleries of all ages.

 

You can enjoy drams under the stars in an old bothy, enjoy whisky picnics in beach huts, and show off your whisky knowledge with a quiz and live music. Tickets are going fast though, so I have rounded up some of the events that are worth having on your radar as the countdown begins. I’ll see you there!

Peaceful fishing on the Spey at Gordon Castle

Get hands-on

For those who enjoy getting their hands dirty, there are plenty of ways to get involved in the action during the week of the festival. If you’re in the mood to brave the great outdoors, Gordon Castle Estate is running some rather special salmon fishing sessions in the River Spey from 1–4 May. Don’t worry, you will have access to the hut for warming up with some drams over the course of the day.

 

On 3 and 4 May, William Grant & Sons’ former head cooper Ian MacDonald will be teaching ticket holders how to build a whisky barrel at the Balvenie. This rather rare opportunity will see MacDonald impart his 50 years of experience repairing nearly half a million casks, and guests will also get two drams from the Balvenie Stories Series and signed cask ends from MacDonald.

 

Perhaps even rarer is the chance to actually be a distiller for the day at Benromach. From mashing to filling, you will experience all aspects of production, as well as be treated to lunch with some of the team, a tutored tasting including drams from the 1970s and 80s, when the distillery was closed, and even a bottle to take away to remember your experience.

Try the 'raise a barrel' experience at the Balvenie Distillery

Enjoy some drams

If keeping your palate in tune is the aim of your week, there are some rather fun tastings happening throughout the festival. The evening Dram Tram will see you travel from Dufftown to Keith Town sampling five drams associated with the region’s historic railway network. Drams on a train — what’s not to love?

 

For Star Wars fans, look no further than Glen Moray’s much-awaited Return of the Jedi event on (you guessed it) 4 May. Hans and Becky Offringa will be bringing the worlds of whisky and Tatooine together for an evening that promises to be very, very fun.

 

If it’s a friendly bit of competition you’re after, then head to the Craigellachie Hotel on 4 May for Two Sides of Speyside, a showdown between two of the region’s most polarising drams, Aultmore and Craigellachie. Six drams, a gaggle of John Dewar & Sons ambassadors, and a standoff worth spectating await.

Glen Moray's Return of the Jedi event

Up your knowledge

Anyone looking for some extra learning during the week have the experience of some of the brightest brains in whisky at their disposal. One of them is Ann Miller, aka the Dram Queen, who will be hosting a Making Sense of Scotch Whisky masterclass on 2 and 4 May. You will enjoy a blind tasting session with Miller, learning how to use your senses of smell and taste to distinguish key characteristics, before delving into the origins of these flavours too.

 

On the evening of 2 May you can enjoy a live record of Not Another Whisky Podcast where hosts Mitch Bechard and Nicholas Pollacchi will orchestrate a ‘dram off’ between ambassadors of some of Speyside’s most recognisable whiskies: Mark Thomson and Struan Grant Ralph (Glenfiddich), Gordon Dundas (Tamdhu), and Charlotte Coyle (Benriach). Each will come armed with their secret-weapon drams — you taste them and decide which is best.

 

On 4 May, there’s a very special lunch happening with former master distiller of The Glenlivet, Alan Winchester, called ‘Illicit Distilling’. Starting with a late-morning trip to the recently discovered illicit distilling spot of the distillery, Winchester will then host you for lunch to talk all things production and, of course, provide some surprise drams along the way.

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