Dornoch Whisky Festival by Angus Macraild
Tell someone you’re going to Dornoch and you can expect one of two responses: “I didn’t know you played golf?” or “Where?”. I’ve been coming to Dornoch and Sutherland for a number of years now for work (and more than a little pleasure to boot) and if there’s an unsung whisky nook of Scotland then it’s here among the sprawling coastal headlands and the seemingly distant mountains that heave suddenly from the earth as you move inland.
The idea of a ‘Dornoch Whisky Festival’ is one of those notions that might make you scratch your head at first but on further rumination makes you wonder why you didn’t think of it yourself. That northern vertebrae of the A9 from Muir Or Ord up to its termination in Wick boasts a scattering of some of Scotland’s most famous distilleries; as well as some of its most respected ‘under the radar’ and newer names. Indeed, in Dornoch itself with it’s fledgling eponymous wee distillery – currently undergoing finishing touches at Dornoch Castle Hotel – you’ll find one of Scotland’s most exciting and ambitious new distilling projects; one driven by ideology and smart economics rather than brute efficiency.
So given the wealth of local tradition, product and knowledge, it’s sort of odd this is only the second year of the Dornoch Whisky Festival. Looking over the event pages you can see the sheer scale and versatility of the events and people that will be involved, from local bars, shops and distillers, to international whisky figureheads such as Charles MacLean. The festival features dinners, Ceilidhs, all manner of tastings, lunches, tours and walks. One of the central highlights of the festival – and one which I’m particularly excited about – is the Gala tasting on Saturday 29th at 12pm in Dornoch Castle Hotel. Of all the events this is probably the key place for people to come and get a thorough understanding and overview of all the various malts that this region of the Highlands has to offer. The chance to meet, taste and talk with the people that make these great drams and garner some first hand knowledge is the key to a deeper appreciation and understanding of whisky. And for anyone who fancies a break from the drams or just wants a wee refreshment, I hear you’ll be among the first in the world able to sample the new craft gin from Dornoch Distillery at the event.
There is something about Scotland when you travel north of Inverness – beyond the wall if you will – the character of the land, the people and the produce changes. Whenever I drive up the A9 there’s a feeling when you get over Kessock bridge and into the smaller towns and villages that you’re somewhere with its own identity. I’ve always looked forward to heading north but to head up to a festival that gathers together some of the best local produce and the people that source and make it – that’s a special occasion, one worth the effort of the trip and one not likely soon forgotten. I look forward to sharing, and discovering, a few great drams with even greater people.