So, a few months ago I booked a couple of tickets to the Inverness Whisky Festival for two primary reasons; I wanted to go to Inverness and I like whisky. And that was about the extent of my knowledge of the festival. I had no clue what to expect, figuring that if it turned out to be shite, I could just head back into Inverness and chalk it up to a life-lesson learned. As it turns out, I had nothing to fear whatsoever. In fact, it was one of the best (albeit off-beat) festivals I’ve ever had the privilege of attending.
My friends and I had booked seats on the free bus from Inverness into the Festival on Saturday. After some initial confusion which resulted in us waiting in a nearby pub for half an hour for the bus to drop off the first load of whisky enthusiasts (there are truly worse things in the world than being ushered into a pub for a sneaky lunchtime pint), we were on our merry way.
The Inverness Whisky Festival
Pulling up to Bogbain Farm (about 15 minutes from Inverness town centre) I admit that I did start to second guess myself a bit. The site was much smaller than I expected, with only a small marquee housing the majority of the festival activity. On entry, we were handed a whisky glass, a bottle of Glenlivet water, a notepad and a pencil to record our tasting for the days. I’m going to go ahead and admit right now that my note-taking lasted all of about three tastings before it was chucked in my pocket and forgotten about, but I’m sure classier and more serious whisky connoisseurs would have made good use of it.
Bogbain Farm is a stunning venue. Though unassuming from the outside, it offers a warm and welcoming bar area on entrance with a crackling fire place and lovely decor. Along with the inevitable whisky selection, there was also a really good selection of beer, cider and spirits – and an interesting selection of whisky based cocktails. But it wasn’t the bar that was the star of this festival. Nor the decor. Nor the warm, inviting fireplace. It was purely, completely and absolutely about the whisky.
The Malt and Barely review, Inverness Whisky Festival
We entered the marquee with wide eyes and empty glasses. About a dozen different distilleries (including Glen Moray, Glenmoragnie, Springbank, Cardhu, Talisker – and many more) were set up around the marquee – and they all had an impressive spread of bottles ready for tasting. Oh, the tasting. I started coyly at Tomatin, eying their new release Cu Bocan (which recently won the Best New Launch Whisky at the World Whisky Design Awards) with interest. “Is it ahhh, OK if… Can I please try that one?” The resulting pour was both friendly and generous, with the representative more than happy to answer any and all of our questions, with no hard sell on his product. Not that it needed it – whisky of that quality sells itself. And so it went from there. In fact, every distillery we approached was more than happy to let us taste as we please, and chat with us about their product with breathtaking knowledge.
The barn at Bogbain Farm
One of the more interesting (and absolute stand-outs) of the day for me was the Glen Moray Peated Spirit. It’s only two years old (and, therefore, can’t be called a whisky), but it’s an incredible drop that I purchased a bottle of on the spot. Considering how much I enjoy it now, I can only imagine how good it’s going to be once it ages. It’s certainly one to watch.
We’d signed up for a Glen Ord masterclass on entrance to the festival (at only an extra £5, it was a no brainer), and it was time to head in before we knew it. The Masterclass was an interesting concept of experimenting with whisky and food pairings. Though it didn’t offer my favourite whiskies of the festival (three full drams were enjoyed as part of the class )it a spot of educational fun. Hot tip – peaty Lagavulin with a slice of rich, stinky blue cheese. Amazing.
The Glen Ord Masterclass, Inverness Whisky Festival
After the class it was time for… well… more whisky. We pulled up a pew inside the barn (a wonderfully whimsical room littered with fairy lights and hay bales) to watch the Malt and Barley Review – which was absolutely fantastic. Vocalist Tom Morton sang and recited original works which were, unsurprisingly, exclusively about whisky. Before I knew it, full bottles of single malt were being passed around the crowd for us to enjoy through the whisky-themed entertainment, and to discuss with Angus McRaild between songs. It was such a novel, fun and interesting way to enjoy both the entertainment and the whisky.
There was also a cooperage demonstration – which we unfortunately missed. Twice. Oops. I blame the whisky entirely for that one.
The view from Bogbain Farm
My only disappointment on the day was the food – but just because there wasn’t enough of it. By the time it occurred to me that I really, REALLY should eat considering the amount of whisky I’d consumed, they had sold out of most of the hot dishes leaving only soups. Fortunately, the lentil soup was delicious – but I would have loved to give the haggis or stovies a try.
The crowd was growing increasingly – err – jovial as the afternoon wore on. But with so many whiskies on offer, who could blame them? We left the merry crowd late in the day, eager to experience central Inverness on a sunny, spring afternoon. Our arms were full of single malt – and so were our bellies.
Though a part of me wants to encourage every whisky lover in Scotland to get to the Inverness Festival next year – I also feel like I want to keep it a secret lest bigger crowds affect the awesome, yet intimate atmosphere of the festival. Or maybe it’s just going to get better as it inevitably gets more popular? One thing is for sure – I know exactly where I’ll be this time next year… On a little farm just outside of Inverness, with a whisky in hand and a great big smile on my face.
The Inverness Whisky Festival, Bogbain Farm