In the heady world of booze-themed festivals, WhiskyFest stands tall. As the leading whiskey (we Kentuckians spell it with an “e”) festival in North America, it’s a go-to event for enthusiasts to talk, sip, and savor. Hosted by Whisky Advocate magazine, WhiskyFest tours annually in a handful of cities, including San Francisco on October 4 and New York City on December 3.
For three hours (four for VIPs), you get to sample from more than 350 spirits including bourbon, rye, and single malt and blended whiskies — Scotch, Japanese, Canadian, Kentucky, and Tennessee — from small craft makers and big legacy labels. Of course Lux Row will be there. If you love whiskey like we do, it’s kind of a must.
That’s a lot to take in. Here’s our 10-point guide to navigating the fest:
1. Grab the discount.
Early-bird pricing gets you $50 off both regular admission price and VIP tickets. So for regular admission, it’s $275 (instead of $325) or $345 for VIP tickets (instead of $395). Might as well save yourself some dough.
2. Lock in your mission.
Are you there to try new whiskies — or is your goal to try as many whiskies as you can? Do you like seminars from the experts on hot new trends — or socializing with newly made friends? WhiskyFest accommodates all, but it’s up to you to decide, and then put it into action.
3. Lay out a plan.
Ahead of time, the festival publishes a list of all whiskies being poured, so you can study up and narrow down your top picks. When you arrive, you’ll get a program listing all the whiskies alphabetized by brand name and booth number. The program also has a diagram of the floor plan. Get there on time so you can plot out your map.
4. Lux Row, baby.
Naturally, you’ll want to sample all of the products in the Lux Row family, especially because all of the prestigious picks will be on offer, including David Nicholson Reserve, Ezra Brooks Old Ezra 7 Year, Rebel Yell 10-Year Single Barrel, and the prized Blood Oath Pact No. 5.
Sip a pre-game water before you start. Then have a bottle with you at all times, aiming for a 1:1 ratio, i.e., a sip of water for every sip of spirit. Not only will it help keep a hangover at bay, but it will also create a clean slate for each new whiskey you try.
6. Savor the flavor.
Put yourself in the mindset of a wine connoisseur, discerning the complexities of each whiskey you try. To prevent your palate from getting overwhelmed, take a few sips and savor, then dump the remainder in the bucket, just as you might do with wine. If you really love it, then go ahead and drain the glass, enjoying every last drop.
Tasting a variety of whiskies is an educational journey unto itself. But the lasting value lies in what you take away. Create a mini-diary, snapping pictures of bottles you liked, so you’ll have a record of your favorites.
Along with staying hydrated, eating is your second-best way to preempt a not-so-pleasant morning after. WhiskyFest goes all out with a gourmet buffet — carving station, whole roasted fish, fruit display, cheese table, chocolate truffles, hot coffee — from which you can graze all night.
9. Bring a partner in crime.
Aside from the automatic camaraderie an event like this creates, having a friend along will help share the load. You can tag team your way through samples, sharing sips and comparing notes.
10. Have a blast.
Whiskey people are fun. Regardless of what you end up taking away for the long haul, you’re going to be hanging out with a big gathering of folks who enjoy and understand whiskey and like to have a good time. How can you go wrong?