At the beginning of the year, after we drag our weary bones through what always seems the longest month of the year (January, just in case you didn't realize!), we receive our first paycheck since what seems like months ago. We congratulate ourselves on several trips to the gym and maybe even completing dry January (Dry January... - Barrel Global ). But as we rub our tired eyes and eye the horizon of the coming year, something that makes us look forward to the coming months is whiskey and bourbon festivals.
If your happy place is whisky, whiskey, and bourbon, then a festival is something you look forward to attending at some point in the year. However, regardless of how long they have been drinking our favorite grain-based spirits, many people have never been to one. So, we will give you a quick Whiskey Festival #101.
What IS a whiskey or bourbon festival?
It's an event where a number of producers/distilleries come together in one space for anything from a few hours to a few days to bring their product to the consumer for them to try.
Where can I find a whiskey or bourbon festival?
Well, if a country produces it and/or drinks it, you can be sure that a festival will be taking place somewhere at some time. If you enter "whiskey festivals 2024 US" into a search engine, you will get several returns; hopefully, some will be near you.
How big is a whiskey or bourbon festival?
Whiskey festivals can range from a small town hall for an afternoon to large conference centers or similar for a few days. The larger the event, the wider the range of distilleries in attendance, which will impact ticket pricing.
Who goes to a whiskey or bourbon festival?
Anyone with an interest in the drams and the industry. Some festivals may have different “days.” For example, a large event over three days may have one day for trade and press and the other days for everyone.
People go in groups of friends, a whiskey club may use it as a trip for the club, and many will attend solo. The only people who don't go are under the legal drinking age in their country or don't like bourbon or whiskey.
How much does it cost, and what do I get for my money?
This depends entirely on the festival organizers. There are a couple of standard formats:
Read the ticket conditions closely so you know what to expect.
Whiskey and Bourbon Festival etiquette
You will note that some festivals now state the expectations of behavior at a festival on their websites. Of course, people are likely to become inebriated; alcohol is involved. But there is a big difference between being a little tipsy and unable to stand up.
The organizers and the producers want you to have a brilliant time, talk to their ambassadors, learn about the industry, the whiskey, the bourbon, and go away having had a great time, bought their whiskey, and want to return next year.
DON’T BE A ROOKIE!!
You may have been drinking bourbon or whiskey for decades but have never been to a festival, or you have just started your foray into this brilliant drink. But what both these people have in common is that they are confronted with a room full of bourbon and no cap on how much they are allowed to drink; it's like Willy Wonka's chocolate factory. The urge to try everything is strong, and even with small pours, after a couple of hours, you are drunk and being escorted out. Don’t be this person*.
(*we’ve all been this person, and after the first time, it’s doubtful we will do it again)
The most sensible approach to a festival is planning, even if it's just a little bit. Check the list of distilleries in attendance and what expressions they will be bringing (not all shows provide the latter information, but some do), and note those you have yet to try or expressions from a distillery you want to try. If you think about it, you may love a particular dram and have a bottle at home, so why would you drink it at a festival?
Next is the order of drams*; the best way is to work from low abv to high abv and non-peated to peated. In general, high abv and/or peated will affect your taste buds to the extent that you may not taste too much afterward.
(*some events may have very high-end whiskies available on a token. We'd recommend having this early in a session so you can appreciate what makes it premium. If you have already blasted your tastebuds, it would be a waste, which would be a great shame.)
Always drink more than you think you need. Trust us, you will feel better for it the next day.
EAT. EAT. EAT.
Have a decent meal before the event. A lined stomach will be better for drinking on. If the event provides food, take advantage part of the way through and have a rest.
Watch how much you are drinking. After 6 or 7 pours, your tastebuds will be overloaded, and everything starts to taste a little samey. Have a break. Have a coffee (great for resetting the nose and the tastebuds), drink water, and get fresh air.
Remember, everyone has a right to be at the event. Some stands may be more popular than others; be patient or visit a less busy stand. Be polite to brand ambassadors. They are there to help you enjoy your day, and DON'T ask them if there is anything "special" under the counter.
Another reason for visiting a whiskey or bourbon festival, of course, is research. If you are reading this article, you are likely interested in buying a cask through us or may even have some already. By attending these events, you may meet producers we work with, and there is nothing better than talking to the distillery team about the product while trying it.
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