The duo behind a new whisky festival will hold their first in-person event later this year having been forced to take it online in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Sandy Fraser and Ewan McIlwraith of Spirit of Perthshire first came up with the concept in November 2018, but had to cancel their first event last year due to the Covid-19 outbreak.
As a result, they took the festival online last May and have since been focusing their efforts to figure out what a whisky festival during the coronavirus era would look like.
Now, Sandy and Ewan plan to welcome around 300 whisky fans to the two-day event which will take place at Castle Menzies, near Weem in Aberfeldy, on Friday and Saturday August 27 and 28.
Working with The Menzies Charitable Trust, 50% of the profits from the ticket sales of Spirit of Perthshire will be donated to the castle to help with funding for its restoration project.
Ewan, who owns whisky and gin shop Robertsons of Pitlochry, is well-known in the industry and is involved in judging various whisky competitions.
Sandy said: “The idea came around in 2019. I met Ewan through my love of collecting whisky at his shop in Pitlochry. We thought it would be fun to try and organise an event which was supposed to take place last May. We put it online and it worked well, and we’ve decided to host the event at the end of August now.
“The response from the distilleries has been fantastic and we have 20 odd distilleries lined up and nearly another 10 to get in touch with. We’ll have a great day for the first event. The location really does make it.
“We’re interested in doing gin, beer and whisky festivals and we’d like to dabble in corporate entertainment, and wedding favours. Ewan, in his own right, is a world-class whisky judge and knows everything you need to know about it.
“We have actually agreed with the castle that 50% of the profit from the ticket sales will be donated to their restoration project fund to help with that. It is in need of some repair, so we thought this would be a nice way to work with them.
“They have offered us the venue for the next five years and have given us the opportunity to extend it to three days.”
Dining at the castle
On the Friday, whisky fans will be invited to dine at the castle for an evening of Scottish fayre and whisky tastings. The dinner will consist of a four-course meal, music, an auction and after dinner speakers including a question and answer session with Tony Reeman-Clark, the founder and former owner of Strathern Distillery.
He added: “We have a dinner on the Friday evening which we’re hosting at the castle with an auction and raffle, and we’ll have some top prizes available for people to get their hands on. All of the takings from that will also go to the castle.
“Four of the distilleries have donated whisky for a tasting between each of the food courses and Tony Reeman-Clark, who used to own Strathern Distillery, will host a question and answer session. We’ll have another after dinner speaker as well which will hopefully be a TV presenter we are trying to line up. There’s capacity for around 80 to 120 people at the event.”
The castle has been the historical seat of the chiefs of Clan Menzies for more than 500 years. On the Saturday it will welcome 300 people and 20 representatives from distilleries through its doors across two sessions.
Products from distilleries including The GlenTurret, Lady of The Glen, Speyside Distillery, Cardrona (New Zealand), The Borders distillery and Kilchoman and many more will be available to sample and purchase at the event.
A series of masterclasses on Saturday will also take place with leading brands hosting their own private events for 15 to 20 people maximum.
“We’ve got lots happening across the day,” said Sandy.
“There’s whisky tastings in the old kitchen, the old wine cellars and the clan chief’s room too. It will be quite a full-on day for everyone.
“For anyone who wants to try more than just five drams they are welcome to purchase more tokens. The tasting sessions are separate and are priced individually and it is up to the distilleries how many whisky samples they decide to give to the participants. Festivalgoers will also be able to go on a tour of the castle and Ewan will select three whiskies for it which will be in a presentation box and can be taken away.
“We’ve split the event into two sessions the first will start at noon and last two and a half hours. The second will kick off around 4pm and there will be 150 tickets available for each session.
“The largest masterclasses will be 20 people – the events held in the kitchen – and the other two will be around 15 maximum.
“The caterers at the event will all be local, and we’ll have someone based outside selling pizzas and that sort of thing. We’re also recommending all of the local hotels to everyone coming along and we’ll consider travel for those attending, too.”
The castle will be closed as a tourist attraction to the public on the Saturday, so those who are attending will have the castle to themselves.
Tickets for the Friday dinner are priced at £55 per person and the festival briefs are £30 per person which also includes five drams of whisky, a Glencairn glass, lanyard and discount voucher for purchases on the day.
For more information visit www.spiritofperthshire.co.uk.