- The thinking bourbon
- Stints & Meals
1. The thinking bourbon
Despite the efforts of even the most skilled organizers, whisky festivals are highly disorganised events. Hundreds of whiskies on offer from brands and retailers each offering a variety of quality and whisky styles. As the day progresses the festival infrastructure is strained as the collective intoxication increases and food reserves are depleted.
The thinking bourbon is the first drink of the day. It is the most interesting or expensive bourbon of the festival ordered straight on arrival, and something to enjoy while getting situated at the festival, locating interesting whiskies, scouting food stands and the general situation. You want a bourbon for this not because it is easier to think while drinking bourbon rather than whisky, but simply because bourbon will rarely be able to compete with the strong, old and peated single malts you will be spending the rest of the day with. Might as well get the best out of the bourbon selection while you can.
We cannot take full credit for the concept of the thinking bourbon. It has been introduced to us by Peter Votava of the Berlin-based doom metal & whisky tasting concept Taste The Doom, which we interviewed some time ago.
2. Stints & Meals
The main components of your day at a whisky festival should be stints and meals. A stint consists of a number of whiskies no greater than 10. Either in the form of a pre-planned line-up (third technique) or a brand raid (fourth technique). Stints are clearly divided by a meal, which includes a cup of coffee to keep you on the toes and help neutralize your tasting organs.
If you have not had the thinking bourbon (as described above), chances are you have not assessed the food situation correctly. This means you easily risk facing the danger of starvation. Here you will either have to wait in long queues, wasting valuable tasting time, or you risk drinking on an empty stomach and scorching your taste buds because of an un-neutralized tongue and palate.
Making a sensible line-up of different whiskies is a well known activity for any experienced whisky drinker. Start gently and somehow balance between old whiskies, peated whiskies and unpeated cask strength whiskies to end up in the glorious climax of old peated cask strength whiskies. Common sense suggests a good line-up consists of 7-10 whiskies of increasing spirit and peating levels.
While this challenge can be hard enough when spending money in a whisky bar or joining whisky collections with your mates in a private setting, it is made all the more hard by the disorganized nature and vast selection available at a whisky festival.
Having seen a festival program before attending is a good way to point out what you want to taste. However, on the actual festival site the most important question becomes where you want to taste. All this is sorted out by using the techniques above:
Getting situated by the use of the thinking bourbon is essential, as your sense of space and direction will get challenged during the day.
By dividing into stints and meals you should be planning the line-up of your forthcoming stint as the main conversation subject during the meal.
A great alternative to line-ups are to do a raid. This means choosing the stand of an interesting distillery or bottler and picking out 6-8 of their whiskies under the informed guidance of a brand representative. This gets some fast rough insight into their selection and should always be considered when planning a stint.
Raids are also a good alternative to a festival master class, where an official brand representative tries to impress a room of predominantly old tired festival drunks, which potentially results in a slow pace and the lowest common denominator often setting the standard for the humor and anecdotes.
While some master classes offer tasting of exclusive whiskies not available on the regular festival stands, it is always useful to weigh your options by considering a raid given the time and energy spent with a festival master class.
Excellent Mackmyra raid at Whiskymessen 2013. Read about it here.
When doing a raid it is important to step away from the stand in between the whiskies you are trying. It is not only courteous to give space to the thirsty people behind you, but also very useful as you will avoid the pushing, shoving and increasingly distracting sweat stench in front of the more popular stands.
We generally recommend avoiding moderation as much as possible. This includes: Not drinking a whisky you are merely curious about. Spitting perfectly drinkable whisky out to save yourself for later, thus missing out on the aftertaste or throat burn. Watering a whisky down by more than a single drop per centiliter. Wasting time writing useless tasting notes about each and every whisky.
If you are of normal fitness and follow the techniques above, you will find that moderation is not needed to sustain a full day of whisky festival activity.
Danish whisky festivals
We have developed these techniques by attending numerous editions of the two annual Danish whisky festivals on the Jutland peninsula. Namely Mac Y Rom og Whisky Festival and Whiskymessen. You can find our comparison of the two festivals here.
Later this month the 2014 edition of Whiskymessen is taking place and once again we will be there, avoiding moderation and worshipping the dram.
d & m / Whisser – A Danish whisky blog