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Michael Urquhart

A striking image of Duffus Castle has been selected as the winner of the Benromach Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival Photography competition.

Outright winner John Macgregor Seasons - Frosty Morning at Duffus

Outright winner
John Macgregor
Seasons – Frosty Morning at Duffus

The stunning photograph showing the historic property on a frosty winter morning was taken by John Macgregor from Lossiemouth. Frosty Morning at Duffus was one of three images by Mr Macgregor to be shortlisted in the final of the competition – and all of them received prizes. He wins a five-day commission to capture the 2014 Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival on film, along with a cash prize, trophy, bottle of Benromach malt whisky and tickets for the prestigious opening night dinner.

Michael Urquhart, managing director of Gordon & MacPhail, the owners of Benromach Distillery, says the competition always attracts entries of a very high standard. “I was really impressed by each and every one of the entries this year,” he said. “The very high calibre never fails to amaze me. This was one of the most difficult years to judge because of the quality, and to determine an overall winner was a real challenge. Each of the entrants has really taken the theme to heart and delivered results far beyond our expectations. We asked for images that encapsulated the spirit of Speyside, and the entrants have certainly delivered.”

John Macgregor Abstract - Seaside Sculpture

John Macgregor
Abstract – Seaside Sculpture

James Campbell, chairman of the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival, was delighted with the continuing success of the competition. “All of the entries this year have been superb,” he explained, “and John is a thoroughly deserving overall winner; his frosty morning shot of Duffus Castle captures the stunning pink hues of the sunrise. Not only does the competition put this beautiful part of the world on the map, but it also provides a platform for photographers whose work is exposed to thousands of people at the festival and at the viewing gallery online.”

Mr Macgregor’s shot – Seaside Sculpture – took the honours in the abstract category, while his photograph called Happy and Grumpy was runner-up in the people section. The runner-up in abstract was Gabriel Varga from Slovakia with her image, Out of Service – a photograph of an old red telephone box.

Alistair Petrie Seasons - Winter Pines

Alistair Petrie
Seasons – Winter Pines

In the category for seasons, Alistair Petrie from Carnoustie scooped first place with his Winter Pines image. The runner-up in this category was Helen Crowley from Elgin with Tattie Field. In the people category, the winning image of Tomnarieve – a farm worker overlooking a flock of sheep – was taken by Myrddin Irwin of Tomintoul.

The touring exhibition of the finalists’ photographs is currently at Benromach Distillery, but moved to the Grain to Glass Exhibition at St Giles’ Church in Elgin – another part of the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival – from Thursday, April 17.

The images will take pride of place at the Festival Hub in the Square at Dufftown for the duration of the Festival from May 1 – 5. They will go on tour at libraries across Moray in May and June, the Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh from July, and back to Benromach in September.

The finalists’ photographs are currently on display online at www.spiritofspeyside.com and visitors to the site are asked to vote for their contender for the People’s Choice. The winner of this competition will be announced later in the year.

Myrddin Irwin People - Tomnarieve

Myrddin Irwin
People – Tomnarieve

The Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival, which is now in its 15th year, takes place at venues across the region. A signature event for Homecoming 2014, it will start Whisky Month – a four week national celebration of Scotland’s world class food and drink.

It will also launch a brand new event this year – The Spirit of Speyside Sessions – which aims to put to spotlight on the area’s traditional music heritage with concerts and ceilidhs being staged in venues closely linked to the whisky industry.

Tickets for all events in the 2014 Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival programme can be bought via the website. The Festival is also active on social media – facebook.com/WhiskyFestival and @spirit_speyside on Twitter.

Benromach – Flagship Distillery for Gordon & MacPhail

Two Scottish organisations are celebrating after winning the Queen’s Award on more than one occasion.

Michael Urquhart Gordon & MacPhail Distillers

Michael Urquhart
Gordon & MacPhail Distillers

The distiller, Gordon & MacPhail, was granted the Award for Enterprise for International Trade for the second time. The whisky specialist brought the Benromach Distillery back to life in 1998 when it was officially re-opened by HRH The Prince of Wales. Since then, the Forres distillery has unveiled a series of hand-crafted single malt whiskies including the flagship Benromach 10 years old.

Managing Director, Michael Urquhart expressed his delight at winning the prestigious award for a second time, saying: “This is a wonderful achievement and recognition for the company and our dedicated staff, as well as for our customers and suppliers worldwide. The Queen’s Award is recognised across the world as a mark of outstanding quality and I have no doubt that winning the first award in 2009 has contributed to our recent growth.

“We have been championing malt whisky for more than a century by buying and storing casks of whisky from distilleries across Scotland. But it’s been a particular pleasure for us as a family to drive the growth of our own Benromach whisky.”

Sir David Attenborough at  The Scottish Seabird Centre (c) Helen Pugh

Sir David Attenborough at
The Scottish Seabird Centre
(c) Helen Pugh

At the other end of the country, the award-winning Scottish Seabird Centre in North Berwick is also celebrating. It too has been named as the winner of a Queen’s Award for Enterprise – the UK’s highest accolade for business success; this time, the award is for Sustainable Development. It means that the Centre now joins a rare and distinguished group of award winners to have received the Queen’s Award three times in succession, having received previous awards in 2004 and again in 2009 when HM The Queen paid a visit to the Centre to mark the occasion.

Naturalist and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough sent a special message of congratulations in which he said that the Scottish Seabird Centre had “…pioneered some truly thrilling ways to give everyone insights into the dramatic lives of our seabirds. It richly deserves this prestigious award.”

The last remaining bottles of one of the world’s oldest and most exclusive single malt Scotch whiskies will go on sale at a special event in Canada. Gordon & MacPhail will release the last 100 bottles of its Glenlivet 70 Years Old at the opening of the new World Duty Free at Vancouver International Airport, chosen because it’s North America’s gateway to Asia.

Cask 339 was filled at Glenlivet Distillery on 3rd February 1940, to the instruction of John Urquhart, grandfather and great-grandfather of Gordon & MacPhail’s current owners. Successive generations of the Urquhart family waited for the day when it would be ready to share with fellow whisky enthusiasts. 70 years on, the whisky was bottled at cask strength (45.9%).

The first batch of the whisky was released in March last year, following an exclusive event at Edinburgh Castle. Whisky enthusiasts and the world press greeted it with acclaim and all 100 decanters sold quickly to customers worldwide. This second, and final, release from this cask is expected to create similar excitement as it offers one last chance for collectors and consumers to own a piece of Scotland’s liquid history.

According to the whisky expert, Charles MacLean who’s sampled the whisky, it’s “stupendous! Although it resonates with aged character – and, indeed, characteristics from another era – it retains vitality, both on the nose and in the mouth.”

According to Michael Urquhart, Joint Managing Director of Gordon & MacPhail, the company has been “overwhelmed by the international interest for our Generations range. It’s fitting that we’re able to mark the worldwide demand and appeal of Scotch malt whiskies with the second release of this sublime single malt at Vancouver International Airport, a gateway between the Far East, North America and Europe.

His colleague, David Urquhart, also Joint Managing Director of the firm, added that “our family has passed its knowledge and expertise of Scotch whisky from generation to generation since we were founded over 115 years ago.” Describing the 70 Year Old as “an exceptional single malt” he said that his was “proud to be able to share this with the rest of the world.”

In Charles Maclean’s view, the 1940 “comes from a distillery which has been the benchmark against which other malts have been measured since the 1820s. Such a whisky will never be seen again. It is incredibly rare, and therefore highly collectable. But, more importantly, it is also celestial on the palate!”

Each bottle is beautifully presented in a tear-shaped hand-blown crystal decanter with an elegant British Hallmarked silver stopper. The decanter nestles in a Sterling silver base and is framed in a handmade box, crafted in Scotland using Scottish Yew. However, you will need deep pockets to buy one. Each one has a recommended retail price of $35,888 (£22,643).

Until the beginning of November, it will only be available in Vancouver. After that it will be sold throughout the rest of the world.

Benromach distillery, Forres <em>Picture: nairnbairn</em>

Benromach distillery, Forres Picture: nairnbairn

The whisky industry is worth billions of pounds a year to the Scottish economy. Much of that comes from sales of the amber nectar itself, but there is also a well-developed tourist trail. This attracts people from all over the world, fascinated by the mystique of the long process which produces such diverse and complex tastes and aromas.

Such is the global interest in Scotch that a new online course, designed to give a better understanding of it, was launched today at Moray College (part of the University of the Highlands and Islands) in Elgin. In keeping with the UHI high-tech approach, the launch was streamed online.

The 20-hour online course can be studied anytime, anywhere with internet access. The course will introduce students to the whisky industry and cover its history, including the production process and marketing. A section on whiskies from around the world – including Canada and Japan – is also covered, to highlight the differences across the globe.

The online version is a development of a CD distance-learning course which has already been sent out to students in some 20 countries. Both that and the new project have been supported by Gordon & MacPhail, one of the few remaining independent, family-owned whisky companies.

Part of the attraction may be that students receive eight whisky miniatures and three sampling glasses. The aim here is to develop skills in nosing and tasting so students can appreciate the general characteristics of different styles and types of whisky, including single and blended malts.

Michael Urquhart, joint managing director at Gordon & MacPhail, says that it is “exciting to see more people from different cultures and walks of life developing an interest and enthusiasm for Scotch whisky. By going online, this unique course is helping even more people across the globe learn about its origins and the many different varieties available.

“The increasing international appeal in whisky is also reflected in the growing number of exports of our very own handcrafted single malt, Benromach, which has seen particular growth throughout Europe, North America, South Africa and Japan over the last year.”

According to Mike Devenney, principal of Moray College, converting the course to an online format “was the natural step in its progression. The technology means we can reach a greater audience and interact with students online via assessments and question and answer sessions.

“New computer animations clearly illustrate the skill and craft that whisky-making requires and students can introduce their own dimensions to the process to see the consequences of their actions on the final dram.”

The tutor for the course will be master distiller Jim Cryle, widely regarded as one of the leading authorities on Scotch. Formerly the manager of the Glenlivet distillery, he will provide the students with his broad expertise of whisky-making, including malting, distilling and quality control.

The project is supported by the Scotch Whisky Association. Its director of government and consumer affairs, Campbell Evans, said that “the use of technology will through this course take Scotch whisky to living-rooms and bars around the world.

“Better informed bar staff will be able to help their customers, and more knowledgeable consumers will be able to expand their appreciation and love of Scotch whisky, whether they are in traditional Scotch whisky export countries or new emerging markets.”

Those who complete the £195 course successfully will receive a certificate. The course is open to anyone over 18 years old (age restrictions for the consumption of alcohol may differ in overseas markets) and with an interest in Scotch whisky. Moray College believes it may particularly appeal to those working in the whisky, hospitality, leisure and tourism or retail industries.

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