A Touch of Tartan Dinner– Spirit of Speyside

Spirit of Speyside Festival kicks off with the Opening Dinner

Spirit of Speyside
Spirit of Speyside

After months of writing about, preparing, investigating and generally getting caught up in the whirlwind that is Spirit of Speyside Festival.  It was finally here, and what better way to start this year’s Festival, Whisky Month and the Year of Homecoming Scotland, than with a very special, very elegant and very exciting Opening Dinner.   So I frocked up and Stewart donned his tux and off we set.

The venue? None other than Glen Grant Distillery, who along with Dennis Malcolm, were our hosts for the evening.  Glen Grant have almost 200 years of whisky history behind it and is still one of the top selling single malts today, so it seemed fitting that they hosted the dinner.  They really excelled themselves! The evening started with a piper in full dress, we were then piped into the Distillery, we saw the bottling plant in operation, which was fantastic!  We then hit the red carpet (nice touch guys) and tackled some precarious stairs, well those of us in heels did anyway.  As can be expected in Scotland, in May…it was freezing!  I for one was very grateful for the, quite simply delicious Rum Cocktail and Stewart for his GlenGrant Cocktail.   We said hi to lots of people, took a few “selfies” (it was exciting, we couldn’t help ourselves) and headed through to the marquee.

Glen Grant Distillery
Glen Grant Distillery

This really was stunning, the team at GlenGrant had really outdone themselves, a huge beautiful white marquee with around 400 guests, with soft lighting, chandeliers, lots of noise and of course whisky awaited the guests.  Music was provided by the Cairn String Quartet, playing both classical and then contemporary numbers, added to the glamour and the wow factor.  There was something quite magical about the whole evening.

Us at the Opening Dinner
Us at the Opening Dinner

After taking our seats Chairman and Festival Director, James Campbell gave the opening speech, there were numerous people to thank, including Glen Grant themselves.  The speech was funny, witty and entertaining.  Guest speaker Charles Maclean spoke between courses, giving a short introduction to the food and whisky pairing.

So on to the food, the starter was Comfit of Lossie Seafood, smoked salmon, prawns served on horseradish & tarragon mousse with caviar.  Stewart assures me this was delicious (not being that adventurous I passed) this was paired with a Knockando 12yo, which was really lovely, gentle yet a hint of spice, a fantastic choice.

The main course was chicken breast stuffed with sundried tomato and Glen Grant apple chutney, served on a potato rosti and a beautifully presented parcel of green beans, delicate baby carrots and a tasty cider jus, the whisky paired with this was the BenRiach Sherrywood Matured 12yo.

After the main course were the presentations, Penny Ellis, owner of the Knockomie Hotel, Forres, who stepped down as a director of the Festival this year, was presented with the Ambassador the Year, for all her constant hard work and service to the Speyside whisky industry and for supporting and promoting the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival for the past five years.

Then husband and wife duo Frank and Jacqui Scott, from Canada, were announced as the two International Ambassadors. In a year which has also seen them take part in the Festival’s own Whisky School.

Jacqui – originally from Stirling – met Frank, a native of New Brunswick, Canada, while he was touring Scotland with his pipe band. Their love of whisky began during their regular trips around the Scottish countryside as they talked their way into tours of distilleries that were not normally open to the public.

Frank is currently co-owner and general manager of the Lunar Rogue, a pub known for having one of the best whisky selections in Canada. Frank and Jacqui have been regular visitors to the Spirit of Speyside Festival since it first began, and quickly started organising trips with groups of friends, introducing dozens of new people to the Festival.

The couple say the highlight of the Festival is not the distilleries or the whisky, but the knowledge, hospitality and passion of the people involved.

Festival chairman James Campbell said, “Our ambassadors this year can be credited with introducing people to the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival and importantly, the passion that is behind it. They have all been successful in introducing Scotland’s national drink to a new and global audience, and we’re honoured to reward the hard work that they have done for both the Festival and the wider industry.

“Penny is as passionate about Speyside as she is about whisky, and her input over the last five years has helped to propel the Festival into one of the leading events of its kind anywhere in the world. We wanted to present her with this award to show our appreciation for the incredibly impact she has made.

“Frank and Jacqui and great friends of the Festival and have done a power of work over the years in promoting it across the Atlantic. Thanks to them, dozens of people have been introduced to the Festival and I am sure their work has greatly influenced the fact that Canada is now one of our fastest-growing markets. We are proud to call them our friends.”

Frank and Jacqui are the founders of the New Brunswick Spirits Festival – the oldest whisky festival in Canada – and are credited with raising the profile of malt whisky in New Brunswick to the point where it is known as a “whisky destination” to visitors from around the world.

Charles Maclean took to the stage once more and ensured that there were laughs aplenty with an entertaining and amusing speech, which was essentially Charles doing what he does best.

Next up was dessert, a visually stunning and amazing tasting trio of raspberry pannacotta, a pear and caramel bavarois and a mouthwatering and rich chocolate torte.   They were fantastic and were paired with the easy drinking Glen Grant 10 year old.

There was also a charity auction, I think I scared Stewart to death by becoming quite involved in a fast moving bidding war (I eventually gracefully stepped aside).

Glen Grant V Decades
Glen Grant V Decades

On the tables (along with wine and water) was the very special 25yo Glen Grant V Decades.  Glen Grant say: A single malt specially crafted by Master Distiller Dennis Malcolm to celebrate and pay homage to his five decades of experience with Glen Grant.  This Unique Selection of the Finest Vintages is the marriage of the most valuable Glen Grant casks from the past 50 years, carefully hand-selected to deliver the distinctive smooth, fruity and rich taste experience for which Glen Grant is renowned.

We say, wow, more please!

After catching up with friends old and new, Alwynne Gwilt, Annabel Meikle, Ann Miller and finally meeting Johanne McInnis and Graham MacKenney, not to mention the friendly people on our table.  It was time to finally take our leave.

It was an absolute pleasure and a privilege to have attended the Opening Dinner and we would like to thank Ann Miller, James Campbell, Glen Grant Distillery and everyone involved with the Festival for welcoming us.

Kirsty Clarke (@kirstyclarke29) & Stewart Craigon (@stewartcraigon)

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