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Thursday, 21 August 2014

How to survive (and enjoy) a whisky show!

One of the best ways to get into tasting an enjoying whisky, is to get to a whisky show / festival / expo / tasting. And with 'Whisky Live' in Brisbane tomorrow night (pumped!), I decided to do a quick article on what these shows are about, and how to approach them.


Generally there is a reasonable entry fee / ticket price,and there is a host of distilleries, brands and brand ambassadors in attendance, offering you a taste of their wares. The price often includes a tasting glass and finger food as well. The advantage of these events is that they allow you to try a multitude of different whiskies, including multiple bottlings / versions from the same distillery, giving you a good idea of what you like, and what you don't. Some of the larger shows have over a hundred different whiskies / bourbons out for tasting, so there is no lack of variety!

A bonus is because you have paid that entry fee / purchased that ticket already, the wallet generally doesn't need to enter in to the equation. You can therefore try some high quality whiskies (and other spirits usually) which you would not buy, due to the relatively high price, without tasting them first. Understandably, we don't want to spend $100+ on a bottle of spirits we don't like or haven't heard of.

These shows can be quite daunting for an amateur as well, they may not know what to expect, or if they are "going to get their money's worth". Likewise for the experienced whisky 'enthusiast' they can be a little off-putting, but more on that later. With these things in mind, here are a few tips to help you get the most out of an event like this. Let's call them the 'three BP's' because that kind of happened anyway.

Be prepared
Most of these events will have a list of which whiskies, or at least which distilleries, will be presenting on the night / day, so peruse the list, and make our own list of which whiskies you have been wanting to try, any you are unsure of or are not aware of, and any you're not particularly interested in, for one reason or another (while trying to keep an open mind). Armed with this mental or physical list, you can plan which tables to visit straight away, which to visit if they catch your eye or if you have extra time, and which not to bother with. Also, have a good meal before attending, drink plenty of water (a black coffee is also great for cleansing the palate too) and dress comfortably, you'll be standing around for at least a few hours.

Be patient
With the growing popularity of whisky, shows and tasting events like these can be very busy, even over-crowded. Be prepared to have 10+ people gathered around a particular brand's table, with everyone reaching over each other with their hands or tasting glasses thrust towards the ambassador/representative. This is why the previous rule is the most important, as you can spend a good deal of time tasting and enjoying the whiskies you were most looking forward to, without needing to rush and hustle through them.

Be polite:
Spare a few thoughts for the attendants, brand ambassadors, distillery managers or owners who are standing behind a table for a few hours, repeating themselves many times, and unfortunately dealing with those who have had too much, too quickly. Engage them in conversation, and talk to them about their products, but also let them do their job, don't crowd the table and talk for 20 minutes about that time you went to Scotland. On the same note, spare a few thoughts for the people waiting patiently behind you, and let them have their turn!



Based on those three golden nuggets (Yeah OK, they're just common sense), here are a few other points to consider (they don't start with B or P, so I'm afraid they don't belong) :

  • Don't get plastered (intoxicated)! Take your time, and have some food & water between tastings. Obviously everyone is drinking spirits, you will get a buzz going, but don't let it go too far. If you can't tell the difference between the whiskies, it's time to take a break, or stop! 
  • Taste the best first! By this I mean, the whiskies you are most looking forward to. Make a bee-line straight for them, early in the night, to make sure you don't miss out on something you really don't want to miss out on. The older and more expensive whiskies are usually the first to go. 
  • Keep an open mind! You may think that you don't like peated whiskies, or that you don't like a certain distillery, but you may be pleasantly surprised. What do you have to lose? Don't turn your nose up based solely on a style or brand of whisky. 
  • Have a whisky conversation! There is perhaps no better place to meet your fellow enthusiasts, and have a good discussion about this fantastic drink. Don't be afraid to ask for advice and / or share some knowledge either. 
  • Remember to enjoy yourself! Don't take it too seriously, you're there to try some new whiskies, broaden your horizons and have a good time. Take notes to help your memory if you like, and don't be afraid to go back to a table for seconds later on. 
There are many different whisky events all over the world all the time, and there is no better way to further your whisky experience in one go, so have a look online, or ask your local whisky clubs / bars, to find out when the whisky train is coming to your town!

See you there!