MORAY AND SPEYSIDE food and drink producers are gearing up to ensure they are ready for the much-anticipated Autumn gathering in Elgin Town Hall.
While only in its second year, Spirit of Speyside: Distilled has wasted no time in capturing the public imagination.
If the Spirit of Speyside heralds the start of the spring/summer tourism season, attracting visitors from around the world, the Distilled version perhaps enjoys a greater ‘local’ feel.
Among those who will be at the event on the first two days of September will be Jill Brown, who launched Berry Good, which produces fruit-based gin liqueurs, in 2008 while she was studying for a BSc in rural business management and agriculture.
Deeply passionate about food provenance, she wanted to put into practice what she was learning on her course. Berry Good was a huge success, and inspired her to launch Avva Scottish Gin last year.
Jill said: “What has always struck me about the Speyside region is that it has everything the food platter needs to thrive – it’s coastal, but it also has fertile lands, pure water, hills and glens.
“That may be one of the reasons why so many famous names started here and have had so much success, but for new producers like me, the history and heritage attached to the distilling industry is also incredibly important.
“There’s a huge amount of experience in the Speyside area, not just from the distillers, but with the coppersmiths, electricians and so on who have been working with food and drink producers for years.
“I remember being at an event a couple of years ago and had the opportunity to speak to Jim Walker of Walkers Shortbread. Walkers is a huge international brand, and I was humbled that he had time for me but even more surprised that he had heard of Berry Good.
“The big names want to see smaller companies do well, to keep the food and drink industry in Speyside sustainable and keep first-class products coming out of here.”
Jill will be sharing the story of Avva Scottish Gin during one of Distilled’s master classes, and will also be using the event to launch a new cask-finished expression.
Another who will be returning to the Town Hall is Graeme Cruickshank, master distiller of Aberlour Distillery, who says the Speyside success story is all about quality ingredients and craftsmanship.
He said: “Speyside’s single malt whiskies, such as The Glenlivet and Aberlour, use barley grown in the fertile ground surrounding the distilleries and local springs provide water for distillation.
“The craftsmanship, which is at the heart of single malt creation, coupled with the quality of these local ingredients results in Scotch whiskies that are rich and fruity in flavour.”
On the food front, innovation is a byword for one of the area’s largest food producers, Baxters Food Group, who will also be at Distilled.
The family firm continues to be based near the village where it was founded, but now spans a huge complex. Fochabers site director Graeme Morrison said: “Not only are the people of Speyside passionate about what they do and feel a great sense of pride in sharing their products with the world, they are innovative and forward-thinking.
“Baxters Food Group is a prime example of that. Generations of the family have continually evolved the business, created new products and experimenting in the kitchen, while all the time holding on to the traditions that have been at the heart of the company since its inception.”
Meanwhile in Aberlour there is another family-run firm which has achieved international acclaim. The bakery was originally launched in 1898 just over the county border in Deeside by Joseph Walker, who had a deep-rooted ambition to create the world’s finest shortbread.
However, he knew that a move to Speyside was necessary to grow his bakery and customer base due to the area’s growing population and transport links.
Grandson Jim Walker is now at the helm of the business along with his brother Joe and other members of the family. He believes that Speyside in itself is a great selling point.
He said: “The view from our base in Aberlour appears on our marketing and we believe that it adds to the integrity of the product. Not many food producers can say that they have such a stunning view, or that four of the world’s top-selling single malt whiskies are based within 10 miles of their factory,” he says.
“Speyside is known as Scotland’s golden triangle. It has been very successful for food and drink producers, and has a nice mix of small and large companies – all of which share a passion for quality and ambition.
“The shared interest means that we all co-operate. That is especially true when events like Spirit of Speyside: Distilled are taking place, when we all work together to showcase everything that is great about food and drink on Speyside.”
All whisky, gin, beer and foods on offer at Distilled will have a Speyside provenance – and there will be the chance to purchase products from stand holders. Festival merchandise will also be available to buy.