Whisky Festivals and how to survive them!

As DuncanTaylor's Whisky Ambassador, I attend many Festivals and Events. As we enter the new year and the number of events keeps increasing, here are some of my tips for getting the best out of them.

The two main types of event, can be classed as either "free pour" or "token purchase". The first is where after paying for entry, all the whisky is free. This is obviously a type of event that can be abused by the visitors, as the temptation will be to drink as much whisky as possible.

This type of event is not well looked at in the trade, as they have to pour a lot of whisky while getting nothing in return. It tends to favour the larger companies, who have larger budgets, and the chances of getting to taste something rare or exceptional are correspondingly slim. This type of show can often lead to overconsumption and nothing is more likely to turn off a stallholder than having someone come around for the third time asking for more!

The Token system. Is where you buy tokens from the organiser, which you can exchange for whiskies. Although the organiser takes a cut, usually of about one third, this means that there is usually a wider range available to sample from. With more interesting whiskies available, it will usually lead to a better experience.

A more recent innovation are shows that combine both types. Where some whiskies are free and others can be bought with tokens. An example of this was The Whisky Weekend in Amsterdam a couple of weeks ago. I attended to support our Dutch distributor, Bresser and Timmer. On our stand, we had our flagship blend, Black Bull Kyloe and Black Bull 8yo available for free, while there was a range of our "Octave" bottlings available to purchase for tokens. On other stands, you could sample the likes of the Glenfiddich IPA and Glenfiddich Project XX, Springbank 10yo, Nikka Black, and Nikka Red for free, giving great value to the visitors.

So much for the type of event, now here are my tips for getting the best from any event.

  • Take your time. The stallholders come prepared. They are very unlikely to run out of that special whisky in the first half hour. Look around, see who is exhibiting, and take the time to think about what you would like to taste.
  • Be courteous. Telling an exhibitor that you think that his "standard" whisky is "rubbish", doesn't get him reaching under the table for the single cask limited edition that you really want to taste. Saying politely that you are aware of virtues of a whisky and would like to try something different is more likely to get the result you want.
  • Don't try to show off. You might be able to impress your friends with your knowledge, but the Brand Ambassadors do this for a living and will know more about their products than you. The minority will just give you marketing spiel, most have an in-depth knowledge of their products and are well worth listening to.
  • Try to taste some of the standard whiskies on offer. This gives you a base to compare some of the other whiskies to. If the last time you tasted a standard was 10 years ago, are you sure you know what it is like today?
  • Take some risks. Don't just aim to play safe and taste whiskies that you think that you will like. There will be a huge range on offer, and you might be pleasantly surprised by something. If you don't like something, say so, and also say why you don't like it. Nobody will be upset if you do not finish a whisky.
  • Don't try to do it all at once. Most shows will have some sort of catering available. Take a break, have some food, drink a coffee and come back refreshed for more.


I hope that this is useful to you all, show novice or seasoned campaigner. If there are any particular issues you would like me to cover in the future, please let me know. Get in touch via info@thespiritsembassy.com


Slainte Mhath

Fergus Simpson

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