A turn of events

It’s a case of déjà vu as May’s whisky festival season stays virtual this year. Moa Nilsson takes a look at what’s in store online for whisky lovers missing out on travelling to Speyside, the Highlands, Campbeltown and Islay, as well as what the SMWS has lined up to make the most of the month and beyond


As May approaches, whisky enthusiasts from all over the world would normally be feeling that exciting anticipation of packing their bags and checking their tickets to get ready to travel to one of the regional whisky festivals taking place across Scotland.

LEFT: Moa Nilsson

Last year was of course a huge disappointment, when all the festivals were forced to cancel due to the coronavirus pandemic.

But even though there wouldn’t be any festivities in person, the whisky community still united and took the events online.

A strange year for sure, but a big positive was that even more international whisky lovers could meet up virtually, since the only travel you needed to do was to and from your couch or kitchen table.

Despite expectations, it seems we’ll be meeting up virtually again this May as well. Here’s what’s happening this month:


The organisers of the Spirit of Speyside have already held a smaller online ’spring’ festival, and have pushed back the dates in the expectation of holding a full physical festival to 3rd-8th November, in the hope that fellow Speyside enthusiasts can meet up safely by that time.


The Highland Festival has put all events on hold for this year, both virtual and in-person.


Instead of the cancelled Malts Festival, the distilleries and their brands are arranging their own events as well as releasing festival bottles.

Glen Scotia will be doing their own #GlenScotiaFest with a virtual dunnage warehouse tasting with master distiller Iain McAlister on Monday, 7 June.

The five brands owned by J&A Mitchell – Springbank, Cadenheads, Longrow, Hazelburn and Kilkerran – are also taking their events online through their social channels, with a different brand taking the lead each night from 10-14 May. The events are free to access though Facebook and YouTube and tasting packs are available for purchase, as well as special releases from each of the brands. If you are already looking forward to the Campbeltown festival next year, then mark the dates Tuesday 24-Saturday 28 May 2022 and keep all fingers crossed that we’ll see the return of the festival then.

ISLAY (Fèis Ìle)

This year’s virtual festival will run from Friday 28-Saturday 5 June, with distilleries holding their own open days online and selling festival bottlings through their websites.

Islay has had festivals since 1985, which were focused on reviving the Gaelic culture and language, but it wasn’t until 1990 that the first whisky tasting took place during the festivities. In 2000 the distilleries became more involved and introduced their now-legendary open days and special bottlings, and nowadays we recognise it as a week of both music and malts where each distillery has its own day over the course of a marathon whisky-fuelled week.

Keep an eye on www.islayfestival.com for updates.


Facebook live on 7 May

Of course the Society will also be celebrating these whisky regions, releasing a range of festival bottlings throughout the month with special illustrated labels available so that you can find a flavour profile that suits you. The month kicks off with a festival-special pub session on Friday, 7 May, hosted by Unfiltered editor Richard Goslan. He’ll be bringing members on a journey across the regions with chat from distillers and music from across Scotland.


27 May on Facebook and YouTube

Our big festival special virtual tasting will take place on Thursday, 27 May, where you can join SMWS master brand ambassador John McCheyne and social media guru Mads Schmoll with your five-dram festival tasting pack – so even if you don’t get a full festival bottling, you can delve into the tasting pack to experience these amazing drams.


Even if we’re taking part from a distance, we can still be united in virtual spirit. Just remember to stay hydrated, stretch your legs regularly and take the opportunity to celebrate your favourite regions, explore others, and join with fellow whisky enthusiasts along the way.

Hopefully we will create new memories and experiences virtually this year, that we can all share in person later in 2021 or in 2022!