This article appears as part of the Food Matters newsletter.

For weeks, the date of Thursday, September 7 had been circled in my diary as the night of the Scotland Food & Drink Excellence Awards at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre, where hundreds would gather to hear the results of this year's final judging announced.  

One mid-afternoon phone call from a distressed neighbour eager to locate the source of a leak from their ceiling would instead see any plans for a glamourous evening hosted by twinkly-eyed First Dates star Fred Sirieix dashed.  

A frantic bus ride home with heels and dress in tow offered a dismal alternative.  

The next morning, safe in the knowledge that my flat was in fact watertight, I was thrilled to receive a rundown of the night’s winners which included both established businesses and small-scale producers from across the length and breadth of the country.  

From hand-dived Orkney scallops to purveyors of pickled kimchi, these ceremonies are a hive for talent and a worthy way to celebrate those who work tirelessly throughout the year to remain at the top of their game.  

The next major event on the foodie calendar is the Highlands and Islands Food and Drink Awards which will take place in Inverness on Friday, October 27.  

Regular readers may have caught last week’s interview with a talented young chef named Otello Calvert, who has been nominated for the highly competitive Best Street Food Award category.  

The Herald:
Despite never having worked in a professional kitchen, Otello made the bold move to invest in and painstakingly refurbish a trailer in 2021 with a view to selling freshly made pasta inspired by his family’s Italian heritage.  Little more than two years later, he has already bagged multiple awards, along with an incredible following of close to 100,000 on TikTok thanks to his videos which document daily life as a one-man street food operation.  

This week, there’s a second tale from a nominee as we share the story of The Original Islay Rum, a pioneering spirit which has been shortlisted for Best Drink.  

A joint venture from a Glasgow-based bottling company and distiller Ben Inglis, the Islay Spirits Company has made waves by setting up shop on an island that is synonymous with whisky.  

Read more:

Food Matters | Sarah Campbell: The tide is finally turning on gruelling, all-or-nothing kitchen work

In conversation with Andrew Crook, managing director of the Vintage Malt Whisky Company, I learned of the impressive vision behind their inaugural release. 

The result of years of planning from Ben, Geal is a single white rum produced at a former lemonade factory in Port Ellen which has now been kitted out with bespoke equipment inspired by the distilleries of the Caribbean.  

When talk turns to Scotland’s food and drink scene, the spotlight is too often reserved for the country’s largest cities, and it’s a joy to see stories like those of Otello or Ben brought to our attention during awards season.  

The next time I receive an invite, I’ll be sure to lend a friend my emergency flat keys.