A Guide to a Whisky Expo
After a terrible year we are starting to see whisky festivals return. Here are my top tips for attending one!
- Check out the festival website before you go. Write a list of the exhibitors you want to go see. When you get in the room there may be so much going on that as you enjoy your day you might forget that whisky you wanted to try. Check off your list as you go.
- Avoid ‘fear of missing out’ (aka ‘FOMO’). Get in early and book those festival special events you’ve been eyeing off. There are a whole bunch of whisky ambassadors and writers who have been sitting on stellar whiskies and stories just waiting to share them with you. Get booking before you go because you’ll regret when your friend tells you how great it was later.
- Have a hearty meal before going, but nothing too spicy, you want your palate in tip-top shape.
- After you’ve scoped out the room, make a plan of what you want to taste. Think about how SMWS tastings are ordered – leave the heavily peated drams to last. Those folks who make a beeline at the start for the heavy hitting Islays are wasting their money and palate. Allow your palate the opportunity to savour the whisky for what it is. Don’t be concerned about saying to the exhibitor that you’ll be back to try their peated whiskies. They’ll appreciate you respecting their whiskies.
- There may be many hundreds of whiskies there. Heighten your enjoyment of the experience by trying new and different whiskies. Save your old favourites for another time.
- Festival tables can be very busy so there may be little chance to engage in an in-depth conversation. Use your questions to show your whisky knowledge, e.g. ask about the cask type. You’re the kind of festival goer exhibitors will want to invest time in engaging. If it’s too busy, come back later.
- The next one is a hard one: Don’t get drunk. Take your time, drink lots of water, eat the food going around, take regular breaks and yes, as wrong as it may seem, use the spittoons.
- Draw on the expertise of the exhibitors. After appreciating their wares ask them whose table they’d recommend. People who work in the industry have a vested interest in making sure you’re experiencing great whisky, not just theirs. They want you to trust their advice. Don’t forget they’re whisky fans too, or at the very least should be!
- Don’t be shy in letting them know you’re a member of the Society. This signals you seek the finest drams and have a sound knowledge of all things whisky.
- Avoid being that person whose first question to the exhibitor is, “What’s the oldest and most expensive whisky you’ve got?”. Exhibitors are friendly folk who will answer in the affirmative but they’re going to be wary of such a punter and they certainly won’t willingly share the topic of the next point.
- Exhibitors really like to show off their wares to those who clearly understand and appreciate the qualities of a great whisky. Often they will have ‘something special’ under the table, reserved for those on the inside, i.e. whisky aficionados and other exhibitors. Show your love and knowledge of whisky and you might be surprised what appears, like the time a 32 year old Laphroaig appeared at Dramfest. Wow!
- Last but not least, enjoy yourself. Savour great whiskies and share good company.
Scott Mansfield. QLD State Manager
This article appeared in our May 2021 Festivals Outturn. Not a member yet and want to make the most of the world’s leading whisky club? Join now.