Whiskey festivals are amazing. A whole room full of every kind of whiskey under the sun along with whiskey lovers to talk about it, mixologists mixing cocktails with it, and food made with it. I am sure you don’t need any more convincing that this is a great idea. Before November 23, 2013 I’d never been to a whiskey festival and I was dancing with anticipation of the event. And as it turned out, I ended up making every embarrassing rookie mistake that can be made. But I am here to tell you about them so that you don’t have to make those same mistakes.
I had been looking forward to Whiskey in the Winter 2013 ever since I realized that it fell on my birthday weekend. What better way to celebrate the gift of life than with over 200 whiskeys, cocktails, food, and seminars? I’d been to beer festivals before but never a whiskey festival. I wasn’t sure what to expect but I knew it was going to be good. And it was really, really good. But it could have been epic if I had just avoided a few of these simple mistakes.
Five Things Not to Do at a Whiskey Festival
1 Hey, you are on vacation. Why not hit the bars hard the night before the festival? And while you are at it spend the day running around the city and hit a brewery or two?
The day before Whiskey in the Winter was my birthday. I was in a new city with three of the most fun people I know. I had to celebrate. So after the nice lady at the club level of the Hilton got me started out with a complementary tumbler full of Jack Daniels we hit a few bars pretty hard. Then we woke up the next morning early for bloody marys and a trip to the City Museum. Then a stop at Alpha Brewing Company followed by alcoholic milkshakes at Bailey’s Range. Then a nice manhattan with Pops before hitting Blood and Sand for cocktails there before the festival. The moral of this story is that St. Louis is an amazingly fun city but next year I will get a good night’s sleep the night before and save my heavy drinking for the festival.
2 Don’t have a plan. Just randomly sample which every booth has the shortest line.
Once I got to Whiskey in the Winter, I think the phrase “kid in a candy shop” is really the only way to describe my feelings and my behavior. We couldn’t even make it into the main room of the festival without picking up some of the full sized cocktails that were being offered by the different bartenders set up outside. Once I made it in the number of booths, most of which had four or five whiskeys available for sampling just blew my mind away. Any thought I’d had of saving myself for only the really good stuff went out of my mind and was replaced by a more primal urge to try all of these “free” things that were being given to me. I did get to try some 18 year old scotch and barrel strength bourbon from Four Roses, two treats I can’t afford to drink very often. But next year I will plan out which whiskeys I want to try, maybe even write myself up a check list, and work my way slowly through the really exciting things before I start to hit 2nd and 3rd tier bottles.
3 Sure the food looks good but who has time to sit down and eat a full meal? Just grab a few desserts on your way back to more bourbon.
The food really did look great and what I tried of it was delicious. Frankly considering everything that was included, a ticket for $90 was a steal. But I was too excited to eat! And I’d already had a burger for lunch and appetizers at Blood and Sand so that was plenty of food in my stomach for a night of whiskey drinking right? Wrong. This is not a night to skimp on the food. A layer of something a bit heavier between my stomach and several glasses of whiskey would have made the night a lot better for me.
4 Dump buckets are for wimps. If you don’t drink the full sample you are given you are disrespecting the whiskey.
As I mentioned before, high quality whiskey is a treat for me. Many nights you can find me drinking Kentucky Tavern at my local dive bar or prudently nursing a single glass of Booker’s from the bottle I got for my birthday to try to make it last. This has left me with a combination of hardened taste buds and hatred of wasting good whiskey and so I ended up shooting back many a glass in order to empty it when I would have been much better served in the long run by sipping to taste and only finishing things that I really enjoyed. That John B. Stetson Bourbon, for example, was one I should have dumped after a few sips.
5 Don’t worry about spending time talking to people, get out there and drink those whiskeys.
The culmination of mistakes 1-4 was the biggest mistake of all. I spent a few great hours tasting wonderful whiskey, chatting with reps, and sampling cocktails before the whole weekend hit me at once and I had to make a shamefaced retreat to my hotel room. I barely made it to the end of the event and because of that I didn’t get a chance to really get to know some of the people I had come to St. Louis to meet. I very much enjoyed talking with Pops over the manhattans, and I did get to have a nice chat with Dan Gardner from Four Roses. But sadly I missed out on the post-festival drink I had promised Pops earlier in the evening, I barely got to do more than say hello to Andrea Holak and I really regret not doing more to meet fellow bourbon lovers and whiskey reps while there.
So there you have, five major mistakes that I made so you don’t have to. Now that I have gained some insight to a better way to approach a whiskey festival I will just have to plot out my next one to see what new mistakes I can make.