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Dornoch Whisky Festival 2020: COVID-19 Update

Today we announced that we made the exceedingly difficult decision to cancel the 2020 Dornoch Whisky Festival as we know it. For those looking for a bit more information on our thinking, we’ve outlined it below:

The coronavirus pandemic took us all by surprise and back in March when the UK went into lockdown we naively thought it would last a couple of weeks, a month or two at most – then it would be over and we would emerge into the new normal! At that stage, the Dornoch Whisky Festival was 7 months away – plenty of time. We were still just planning bits and pieces – “there’s nothing to worry about”.



Then as it progressed, we saw lots of events started getting moved from the early summer to our neck of the woods in September/October – “fantastic”, we thought. We can still go ahead as everyone else is jumping into October, it is a great month after all. So, the planning continued.



By the time we hit the 6-month mark at the end of April, we looked over what was normally getting done and started to worry. Time was running out, businesses were still shut, this lockdown didn’t seem to be lifting much and more and more events were getting cancelled, this time in October. However, 6 months is still plenty of time, other countries were making great progress and in 6 months we would be fine!



By the end of May, we were seriously contemplating what we were going to do. As you’ll know, we work with a lot of other companies to make the Dornoch Whisky Festival come together and that list of tasks of who to contact and what to get in place was getting longer and longer. Still, with five months, we were still hopeful.



When the end of June hit, we had to be realistic. Yes, lockdown had started to lift, but social distancing was still in place, health and safety measures were (rightfully) required in all places opening and for the most part, life was starting to look a little bit more like we’re used to. Talks of second waves, local lockdowns, restrictions on where you can and cannot travel to and all the rest just left us with a huge amount of uncertainty. We came to the conclusion that the Grand Tasting (or any marquee events) couldn’t take place – that was a very tough blow – because we would just be creating the perfect breeding ground for the virus: “Here, have an enclosed space with some stranger that you can turn into a friend and don’t forget your alcohol – have at it”. No, I don’t think our conscience could handle that.



Then came the next dilemma; do we push on without the Grand Tasting? After all, the Dornoch Whisky Festival is not just the Grand Tasting; it’s made up of a whole programme of around thirty events! However, those events also must adhere (rightly so) to the new normal of social distancing & health and safety regulations. Some of the six individual businesses that make up the Dornoch Whisky Festival are only just opening their doors (in fact, just their gardens) today, others remain closed due to governmental guidelines. The sheer uncertainty of what lies ahead is daunting for our small community.

So that is our thinking. That is how we came to the difficult conclusion which started as naivety, a bit of ignorance muddled in with a lot of hope and ultimately ended in the same way it started, with uncertainty.

To end on that brilliant, hopeful demeanour that we have:

We will bring you something.

We are working on something, but you’ll have to bear with us a little while longer as our Scottish lockdown is lifted a bit further and we can see what we can do. The plans are there - they just need a few final touches.


It won’t be the Dornoch Whisky Festival as you know it, but we’ll make up for that next year.

Stay safe.

With love from the Dornoch Whisky Festival Team

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