Should a tasting be in your near future, here are a few tips from my own experience to help yours be as effortless and gusto-full as possible.
By the way — bartenders and industry professionals can often get free tickets to these events by joining your local US Bartender’s Guild. So definitely keep an eye out!
1. Get a Ride
Even if you are taking the tiniest of sips, it’s hard to keep track of how much you are drinking. So plan ahead: take an uber, get a friend to pick you up — whatever you need to do to ensure that you can have fun and stay safe.
2. Bring a Purse (or a Murse)
Wallet, phone, keys — you can’t leave the house without them. But if you are headed to a tasting, find a place to put them that leaves you hands-free.
Otherwise you’ll find yourself in front of the Crown Royal table holding your personal belongings, a program, a tasting glass, and the last shred of your dignity in one hand while grabbing for an iconic purple bag (a.k.a. catch-all) with the other.
3. Start with a Lay of the Land
There were 41 booths at Whisky Live, over 150 different whiskeys, scotches, and bourbons, and 3.5 hours in which to sample them all — which is to say, you probably couldn’t (unless you were very, very determined).
When I arrived, I did a cursory circuit and picked out the tables I wanted to visit most. Usquaebach, for the name; Beam Suntory’s Japanese Whiskies, for the tall, animated Scotsman around whom suited men clustered like enthralled schoolchildren; Do Good Distillery, because it’s local (ish) — from Modesto, California.
After you find your favorites (or the spirits you are most curious about) — visit them! The foot traffic is lighter (and more even-keeled) earlier in the evening, and the patter of the brand ambassadors is fresher the first time they explain that usquaebach is pronounced oos-ke-bah and is a Gaelic word meaning water of life.
4. Ask Questions
Seriously. Ask them.
The first question I asked was whether I was allowed to dump the remainder of a pour after tasting a hundred-year-old whisky (really, the delicious Tamdhu 10 year). The answer: yes.
In my defense, after trying the most “Scottish” expression of the Japanese Whiskies, I asked Johnnie the Scot which was the most “Japanese.” (“Good question,” said Aaron of Booze Dancing — It’s just the booze dancing, in case you wanted to know.) The answer: Hibiki.
What is cask strength? What is peat? How can whisky be made from rice? No matter what the question, this is the place to find your answer.
Well, not literally. Part of the whisky tasting experience is the feel of spirit as it goes down — and there are buckets into which you can dump the contents of your glass.
And dump you should. If I had swallowed every sip of whisky poured into my glass, I would have been wobbling around the room by seven-thirty and asleep behind a booth by eight. So I’d take a taste and dump the rest.
It still felt wrong.
But it kept me upright.
6. Then Rinse
There are tables of free water all over the place. Grab a glass, rinse your palate, and (very important) stay hydrated.
Then maybe scope out the nearest restroom.
7. Keep a Record
Jot down tasting notes in your handy program. Take photos of the bottles you really like. Grab literature from the tables you visit. Whatever you do, keep a record — because the more exhibits you hit and the more whisky you sip, the harder it’s going to be to remember later.
After visiting the Heaven Hill table, I paused to take a note on my phone about how Elijah Craig has dropped the 12-year-old age label. Now they bottle anywhere from 8-12 years in an effort to keep up with demand. (It was either that, or jack up the price and start allocating.) Interestingly, they only made this change in January.
Would I have remembered all of that, sans note, today?
I won’t answer that.
(PS: Heaven Hill is releasing a bottled-in-bond brandy under the moniker Christian Brothers Sacred Bond Brandy. What is bottled in bond? See point 3.)
8. Get Swag
Bottle openers. Pens. Tank tops. The last thing the folks at the booths want to do at the end of the night is pack up a whole bunch of un-claimed swag. It’s there for you, and you are there for the taking of it! Be polite — but don’t be shy.
9. Have a Business Card
You are going to meet a lot of cool people. And if you are at a whisky tasting, you are probably pretty cool yourself. You are going to want to stay in touch, but you only have three seconds before the next master class starts and the fire alarm is going off (true story) and your glass is being filled with Kilbeggan Single Grain Irish Whiskey.
Business cards are a quick and efficient means of exchanging information, and can absolutely be traded during the rush down the fire escape.
Hypothetically. (We all stayed inside the extremely flammable room.)
10. Say Thank You.
It’s just manners. So:
A huge shout-out to Crabbie’s Alcoholic Ginger Beer, a hidden gem and dangerously delicious. (Try the raspberry. Before I drink it all.)
Finally, Dave: thank you for putting on such a deliciously enjoyable event!