TL;DR: With the relaxation of Covid restrictions (thanks vaccines!), public events started coming back, including whisky festivals! In 2022 we attended a couple of wee ones, the Fife Whisky Festival in March and the Whisky Fringe in August. In both cases, we are already looking forward to the next editions!
Until a few years ago, the word “festival” meant a very specific situation to us: (mostly) summer, a few thousand people around, and music blasting your ears. Northern Italy wasn’t short of these events, so during our teenage and 20s we indulged in what the national and international rock scene offered. Fast forward a few years, we are still going to concerts, even to international festivals, despite the older age making it more difficult: sleeping in a tent in our mid-20s was feasible, doing it in our mid-30s, it just won’t happen again (thanks a lot, Bluetooth speakers!).
In the meantime, we collected a new hobby: whisky! As you probably know if you read this blog, we started by visiting distilleries around US and Scotland. We have been enjoying the usually remote location of many distilleries, and the often intimate type of experience. That’s why, when first heard about whisky festivals, we weren’t too convinced. This changed in 2019, when we learned about a couple of them that seemed a great opportunity to know more about our beloved amber liquid.
After missing out on a couple of events in 2019 (Whisky Fringe was already sold-out when we learned about it) and 2020 (we only managed to attend a Fife Whisky Festival side-event at Kingsbarns distillery), the time of our first whisky festival finally arrived, in March 2022: the Fife Whisky Festival, for real! Because of our friendship with one of the organizers (Kask Whisky Justine), we were recruited as volunteers to help out during the day. The festival actually started the evening before, with a dinner at the Lindores Abbey distillery.
A very tasty 3-course dinner, entertained by the radio host Vic Galloway (to note, he’s curating a very interesting podcast for the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, tasting drams with guests from the Scottish artist scene and pairing them with music). The dinner was accompanied by four tasty drams: a wine-matured Lindores, the Glen Scotia Victoriana, a 25y Glenfarclas, and finally a peated Kilchoman, UK exclusive batch 3, each one presented by one of the respective distillery ambassadors.
Archived the dinner, the day of the festival arrived, at the Corn Exchange in Cupar. We were given aprons and instructions: we were going to be at the door, Gianluigi scanning tickets (with Kath, a friend from the Edinburgh Whisky Group) and Teresa putting bracelets and giving away scratch cards (with Kath’s partner, Craig) to get the chance to buy one of the festival bottles, a single cask Lindores Abbey and a highly sought-after single cask Daftmill. The scratch card was actually a very smart move by the organisers, because it avoided tons of chancers going straight to the shop and buying a limited edition bottle to be put on auctions. Of course, someone complained, but there is no remedy against self-entitlement and selfishness…or is there?
After the entrance operation, our task was to set up the room for the two masterclasses, Mackmyra and Loch Lomond. During these, we could do little breaks, which we exploited to taste a couple of drams each. We spent the rest of the session walking around the stands assisting brand ambassadors and chatting with friends.
At the end of the first session, we and the other volunteers quickly cleaned everything up, and had a little lunch break. This is when Justine brought in the mystical fudge donuts: a beast of a dessert, probably hundreds of Kcal per bite. After checking that everyone had one, Gianluigi decided to show his true animal nature and ate a second one.
The second session went almost as smoothly as the first one: a few more drunken fellas, but fortunately no one outrageously pished. Overall we loved the atmosphere, so relaxed and friendly, it was a great day that we are looking forward to repeating.
A few months went by, until we got to the middle of August. Gianluigi had just come back from a conference in Canada (and a distillery trip he managed to sneak in, wink wink), just in time to attend the Whisky Fringe. “Just”: his flight from Toronto landed in Edinburgh around 9am. Fortunately, the festival location, the beautiful Mansfield Traquair, is only about 30 minutes walking from Leith, and the festival was starting at 2pm. After an abundant brunch and a bit of unpacking, we were on our way to the festival.
The number of participants for each session was limited to 500, which seems a lot, but because of the festival layout on different floors, and the space around, never really felt very crowded. The first stand we hit was the Uncle Nearest one. We were already aware of their fascinating history (Green Nearest was the person, at the time enslaved, who taught Jack Daniels how to distill). We tried two of their Tennessee whiskies, both quite delicious. We then went to say hi to our friends at Ardnamurchan (Gianluigi is part of their AD/Ventures club), and to taste one of their fabulous drams. We met several friends, some from the Edinburgh Whisky Group, some from past tastings, some just friends. Feature of the festival, a half-time dram: at 4pm, each person could choose a special dram from one of the stands. Gianluigi went for a 16y Port Charlotte from Thompson Brothers, Teresa for an old Glen Moray, both very tasty!
Choosing what to buy with our 10-quid voucher was hard, of course you can’t get all the delicious Thompson Brothers’, Glenallachie’s, Springbank’s/Kilkerran’s, Ardnamurchan’s at once. We finally opted for a bottle of White Heather 15, a stunning blended scotch from the Glenallachie company, very different from most whiskies we tried, and which we had been after for a while. The night ended with a meal with some friends at the Leith Depot, and a last dram at Nauticus.
Both experiences challenged our prejudice of whisky festivals being messy and noisy. They were both quite relaxed, lively experiences, where we could enjoy some delicious drams (well, not so many at the Fife Whisky Festival, as we were helping out) without spending lot of time queuing. We already signed up to help at the 2023 Fife Whisky Festival, and we will keep an eye on the Whisky Fringe tickets. Are we ready for bigger events? Not really sure, but who knows.
Until next time, slainte!
Whisky Festivals Links