The Whiskey Festival Experience: A First-Timer’s Guide

The shared experience that comes from sharing a glass of whiskey is one of its greatest benefits.  Sitting down with a group of friends (or strangers!) for a tasting is an experience like no other, and discussions on whiskey’s flavor profiles and rankings are quickly becoming popular activities.

The Top Whiskey Festivals Are Among the Few Places Where You Can Get This Kind of Experience

As your knowledge of whiskey grows, you may feel ready to attend some of the world’s finest whiskey celebrations.  You may celebrate distilleries, master distillers, and whiskies all over the world at one of the many annual festivals dedicated to the spirit. To help you get started at your first whiskey festival, we have provided some of the best tips and tricks you should know. So, shall we?

Try Some of the Uncommon Whiskey Varieties

More than a hundred different kinds of whiskey, from bourbons to single malts, are usually available at these gatherings. You can drink your favorite whiskies and try those you may not have heard of before, regardless of your level of whiskey expertise, at this event. For instance, the event has become known for a selection of rare Japanese whiskies that can only be found there.

You Should Sample Some Local Products

Many people associate whiskey (or whiskey, depending on the country of origin) with Scotland and Ireland, but the New York City area produces a wide range of its whiskey. In contrast to Misunderstood Whiskey, which was founded and is distilled in Jersey City, Slow & Low Rock & Rye is produced in Philadelphia. Here’s our rundown of whiskey festivals to help you make the most of your trip.

The Do’s and Don’s of Whiskey Festivals


Take It Easy

This is to help you stay away from the major no-no. (Spoiler: don’t imbibe.) Enjoy each whiskey slowly. Whiskey is a potent liquor, and it’s not unusual to feel utterly out of it after just a few sips. If that’s the case, you’re missing out on the festival’s full potential. Whiskey, like wine, is a drink that improves with age because of the incredible complexity it possesses.

Stay Calm and Hold Your Drink

A Glencairn glass, a small hurricane glass-shaped tumbler ideal for nosing and sipping whiskey, is typically provided (or lent) at festivals. You can smell, taste, swirl, and (if you’re smart) spit out each sample. Water pitchers are provided at each table; use them to dilute stronger samples and to clean your glass every so often so that your entire meal doesn’t end up tasting like peat smoke or sherry fruit.

Document Your Findings Using Pictures or Notes

That’s a brilliant strategy. You’ll have a stronger memory for each whiskey, and you’ll be able to pace yourself much more effectively. For myself, taking notes is essential. Writing down your thoughts on the whiskey you’re sipping is a great way to enjoy it more slowly. The next day, it’s entertaining to read (or attempt to comprehend) your notes.

Drink A lot of Water

This is so clear it’s easy to overlook until you’ve had a headache all day and realize you haven’t had anything but alcohol and caffeine. There’s a solid reason why water is always available during gatherings. Alcohol is a dehydrator, so make sure you drink enough water. After every shot of whiskey, you should drink some water.

Use Palate Cleansers

Bread is great and will help your body cope with the booze, but any palate cleanser will help you forget the last few whiskies you had and be ready for the next. Dark chocolate is my go-to because it removes any residual sweetness from the whiskey and the added bitterness complements the sweetness.

Speak With Others

The people you meet at whiskey festivals, whether they be producers, ambassadors, or fellow attendees, are always extremely welcoming and happy to share information about the whiskies they’re enjoying and their expectations for the future. To find the best whiskies, it’s a good idea to ask others for their recommendations. This helps you pace yourself and prevents you from drinking continuously.

Start the Day With Some Fine Whiskey

You can try whiskies you wouldn’t have access to outside of these festivals, which is one of the best parts. At some events, you can exchange tokens for expensive whiskey. In my opinion, the best time to try these is before the effects of the alcohol kick in. To prepare your taste buds for Port Ellen, you should start with a lighter whiskey or two.

Eat Breakfast

It may seem obvious, but it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of the festival day and forget to eat breakfast, only to discover that there is nothing to eat there. A huge blunder. Even though most festivals offer at least one meal, anyone planning on enjoying a few whiskies later in the day should eat a hearty breakfast first.

Have a Good Time!

Amazing times can be had at whiskey festivals. As long as no one gets too inebriated, wonderful whiskey is flowing, pleasant people are everywhere, and a good time is being had by all. Relax and have fun!


Don’t Get Drunk

Only one major drawback exists to whiskey festivals. But it occurs in every single one. If you aren’t careful, you can end up realizing that you’ve had a few too many. Every show, around an hour before it’s over, I notice that the audience starts to get restless. At this time, everyone usually rushes to finish their drinks before the party ends. Most people who drink whiskey just want to get it down their throats, so they don’t appreciate it. The producers and ambassadors are left to deal with the inebriated misbehavior after the program has ended. It’s usually not harmful, but sometimes it can be hostile or even harmful.

Don’t Have a Plan

Guess which booths you think will have the shortest lines.  The expression “kid in a candy shop” best describes how I felt and acted when I first stepped foot inside Whiskey in the Winter. Before entering the event proper, we stopped to get a few of the full-sized cocktails being sold by the many bartenders stationed outside. The sheer volume of booths, each offering samples of four or five different whiskies, just blew me away once I finally gained inside.

A more primitive need to try everything that was being offered to me for “free” overtook any previous considerations I had given to saving myself for only the best of the offerings. Even though I can’t afford expensive spirits very often, I did manage to sample some 18-year-old scotch and Four Roses barrel-strength bourbon. Next year, though, I intend to make a list of the whiskies I want to taste, tick them off as I go, and take my time getting through the best of the best before moving on to the second and third-best bottles.

One of the best ways to learn more about whiskey is to visit a festival dedicated to the spirit. Having such a wide selection allows for the exploration of lesser-known brands and local specialties. If you want to get the most out of the festival, though, it’s vital to remember a few guidelines. Relax, keep your cool, hold off on the booze, write down your observations, drink some water, gargle with mouthwash, engage in conversation, kick off the day with a fine dram of scotch, load up on the calories, and, above all, don’t get wasted. If you follow these suggestions, you will have a fantastic time at your first whiskey festival.