PICTURES: Whisky takes on stage as National Whisky Festival brings hundreds of whisky enthusiasts at Eden Court in the Highland Capital
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WHISKY enthusiasts from across the Highlands flocked at an Inverness theatre to attend the first local edition of a popular event dedicated to the national drink.
A strong contingent of people – and exhibitors – from Ross-shire made the trip to the Highland capital for the eagerly anticipated event.
The National Whisky Festival, an event born in Glasgow in 2015 which has branched out in Edinburgh and Aberdeen, had a successful first round in the Highland Capital.
Festival-goers shielded from the rain and warmed up with some special drams.
With around 300 people were in attendance, the event saw whisky producers and other exhibitors bringing their passion and knowledge for whisky to an eager and varied crowd while local musicians played to enhance the tasting notes.
Festival coordinator, Gareth Croll said the team was very excited to be in Inverness.
“We are so buzzing to be in Inverness," he said. "It's really exciting – it’s perfectly located for me and a complete no-brainer. It’s right in between the Highlands and the Speyside region and there’s so many new distilleries popping up. "
The festival saw Eden Court's One Touch Theatre re-purposed to welcome stalls and a stage for performers.
Mr Croll said: “Eden Court theatre is fantastic, it’s an iconic venue in Inverness. I wouldn’t have done it anywhere else – the room, the atmosphere, the music, the mood, the lightening..it’s perfect!
“They are at the forefront of the creative scene in the Highlands and they always have something going on, it's the ideal location.
“To me the aesthetics are really important and it helps getting people to understand that whisky isn’t only a traditional drink but something creative, dynamic, colourful drink to be celebrated."
With around 20 exhibitors attending, this edition of the festival was smaller than the sessions in Glasgow and the other cities, but plans are in place to keep going and expand.
“As a first time in the city I am just so thrilled about how many people have picked up on our event," Mr Croll added.
"We have been around the streets and talking to people about the event, and everybody already knew about us. All the bartenders know about us and tourists as well, the audience speaks for itself. We’ve got people from the age of 25 up to retirement age right now and for me that’s a real win. I am just so glad that Inverness has come on board and supported our event like that.
“We tend to work closely with all the new distilleries to give them a platform. These younger distilleries tend to have a very diverse workforce as well, so many young people and males, and females, and everyone is involved. Working with independent distilleries for me is really important.
“We actually don’t have many of the bigger companies involved so we are into giving quite a different range of exhibitors."
The idea of bringing younger audiences was key, and as the day went on a crowd of women and men of all ages were chatting to the whisky folk manning the stalls.
“We can welcome really experienced whisky drinkers as well as complete beginner," said Mr Croll.
"All of our team is formed by ex-bartenders and we are all very passionate about the whisky.
"We are all very young and many people do not expect it but I think that helps younger people coming forward and getting involved.
“The whisky market is very saturated with tartan and bagpipes, but we want to talk to tomorrow’s whisky drinkers and our aim is to get as many people as possible into whisky.
“A lot of people are afraid of whisky as they had a bad experience maybe when they were 18 but coming to a festival like ours you are presented with so many different ideas and ways of drinking whisky and you really understand that it is not the drink your grandad used to have. It’s something to be sipped, savoured and understood, it’s absolutely beautiful."
Dingwall-based GlenWyvis distillery was among the local producers at the event. At the event they presented their second batch of whisky, which was launched only at the end of June.
Distillery manager, Matthew Farmer, said: "It's great to see this type of events coming to Inverness, the demand was there and the time was ripe.
"For us this type of events is really important: not only we are new but as we do not have a visitor centre, this is where we can get to meet people and present our product."
Tomatin and Balblair added to the ranks of local producers attending.
Other treats for the night saw a variety of independent bottlers such as Thompson Bros (from Dornoch), Duncan Taylor and J.G Thomson & Co entertaining the thirsty crowds.
The festival featured a flavour and experimental section, with alternatives to whisky but which are influenced by the water of life. Liquid Oats, Birkentree and Seven Croft's Gin were there with their products, along with a cocktail bar.
A fine lineup of local artists, curated by Tain fiddler Laura Wilkie, contributed to a relaxed and cheerful mood. Amy Henderson and Dagger Gordon kicked things off, followed by Katie Gregson and the Cala Ceilidh band as a closing act.
Local wine and spirits shop, Wood Winters Inverness manned a bottling selection with an on-site whisky shop.
The whisky buzz was not only to be enjoyed inside Eden Court, as other venues held parallel masterclasses in parallel with the event. The Malt Room hosted a Single Cask Tasting on the Friday night, and Macgregor's bar held a Saturday night showdown tasting with some special guests as well as a Sunday whisky and music session.
The festival will be back in the city next year, with dates to be confirmed.