Tag Archives: Mac Y

4 Whisky Festival Survival Techniques

You are not a dedicated whisky enthusiast until you have attended a whisky festival. But the many spirited temptations may lead you into an abyss of sensory deprivation, undignified intoxication and starvation. One way to avoid this is moderation. Another is to use our 4 whisky festival survival techniques.

  1. The thinking bourbon
  2. Stints & Meals
  3. Line-ups
  4. Raids

1. The thinking bourbon

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Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve Bourbon at Whiskymessen 2013

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

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Resting the taste buds in the middle of Whiskymessen 2012

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.

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Queue in front of a sold-out hotdog stand at Whiskymessen 2012

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.

3. Line-ups

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.

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Hitting it hard at Mac Y Rum & Whisky Festival 2011

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.

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Martin feeling the burn at Mac Y Rum & Whisky Festival 2011

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.

4. Raids

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Raiding Glendronach at Whiskymessen 2011

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.

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Danny more or less coping with the antics at a master class at Whiskymessen 2011

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.

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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.

Moderation?

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

Jutlandian Whisky Festivals

Whisser at Mac Y Rum & Whisky Festival 2011.
At Mac Y Rum & Whisky Festival 2011.

Whisky festivals are becoming an increasingly popular phenomenon throughout the developed world. Even on the Danish peninsula of Jutland. And deservedly so, as they offer good fun for lovers of the holy water. What greater way to spend a day with your mates, than to stroll from brandstand to brandstand and taste as many whiskies as you can possibly feel like, while finding your way through large sports halls or conference centers with thousands of old drunken men.

But danger lurks ahead: Whisky festivals are highly disorganized events, with many brands and retailers each offering a variety of quality and whisky types. And as the day progresses, the collective intoxication reaches critical levels, which strains the festival infrastructure and decreases the patience and sociability of the crowd. If you merely choose to walk around drinking whatever you stumble upon, you will end up with a very unsatisfying result: Mouth numbed by the spirit of cask strength whiskies, tasting buds scorched by peat and terminal amounts of alcohol in a starving stomach.

Festival backpipers & the occasional cask rollin' at Whiskymessen 2012.
Festival backpipers & the occasional cask rollin’ at Whiskymessen 2012.

For the last couple of years, we’ve been attending both of the two big annual Jutlandian whisky festivals:

  • Mac Y’s Rum & Whisky Festival in Autumn way out west near the military airport in Karup. It offers a bafflingly long list of free whiskies and has an annual appearance of self-proclaimed whisky deity Jim Murray selling and signing the annual gospel of whisky tasting objectivity. This is very much a festival for experienced drinkers.
  • Whiskymessen in Springtime down in the triangular area of Kolding, Vejle and Fredericia. It’s comparatively well organized, has lots of master classes with sturdy brands and the atmosphere is pretty easy going, as 1/3 of the crowd are more or less rookies.
Jim Murray & his bible at MacY Rum & Whisky Festival 2011.
Bible salesman at Mac Y Rum & Whisky Festival 2011.

We’ve been attending these festivals with great thirst for the large selection of whiskies, but increasingly also for the journey itself – from the moment we enter the festival bus till the last drop has been licked from the worn down Glencairn glass. Because of this, the purpose of whisky festivals has shifted for us somewhat over the 3 years. From being a way to taste some specific pre-selected drams into a sort of sporting exercise, where the goal is to taste as much great whisky as possible – within the limits of tasting abilities, dignity and self-preservation.

We get more out of the festival opening hours by making our way through some +30 whiskies rather than trying to savour each dram as a holy experience or – even worse – as a scientific sample in a tasting journal. It is hard work but in the end, we obviously end up in a state of whisky-induced nirvana.

Late afternoon. Whiskymessen 2012.
Very late afternoon. Whiskymessen 2012.

To some, this makes us whisky pigs. But we beg to differ. Tasting notes are a poor and most uninteresting description of a specific tasting experience. A whisky is always a new experience in a different time and setting, and generally speaking tasting journals are for people with no soul. Besides, the bustling setting of a whisky festival does not exactly invite to singling one tasting experience out as something profoundly different from the others.

Berry's Own Selection. Whiskymessen 2012.
Berry’s Own Selection. Whiskymessen 2012.

However, this is probably also the great thing about whisky festivals: You are not bound to some certain order of whiskies and they are not presented to you in the traditionally passive setting of a whiskytasting. Instead it’s up to you to construe your line ups and to design your own tastings amongst the hundreds of different whiskies.

This is quite a challenge and requires a fine-tuned ability to maneuver in an environment of joy, alchohol, bizarre incidents and whole lot of disorganization. Over the years, we have improved our festival experience by adapting a few simple techniques:

  • The Thinking Bourbon is the first drink of the day. It’s the most interesting or expensive bourbon of the festival ordered straight on arrival, and something to enjoy while getting situated at the festival and planing the first line-up of the day.
Palate neutralizing coffee break at Whiskymessen 2012
Palate neutralizing coffee break at Whiskymessen 2012.
  • Line-ups & meals are the main components of the day. A good line-up consists of 7-10 whiskies of increasing spirit and peating levels. The line-ups are divided by a meal and a cup of coffee to neutralize the palate more effectively. It’s important to scout food stands and the general situation about food on the festival. At the 2011 Mac Y festival there was a 1½ hour queue in the small overrun cafeteria. We could only passe the waiting time drinking more whiskies…
Line in front of sold-out hot dog stand. Whiskymessen 2012.
Line in front of sold-out hot dog stand. Whiskymessen 2012.
  • Doing a raid is a good alternative to a festival master class. Choosing the stand of an interesting distillery or bottler and picking out 5-7 of their whiskies under the guidance of a brand representative gets some fast rough insight into their selection. This often beats the time and energy spent with 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 setting the standard for the humor and anecdotes.

If you want to attend a Jutlandian whisky festival, we recommend them both. Whiskymessen for the potentially good master classes and fine infrastructure, Mac Y’s Rum & Whisky Festival for the long list of free whiskies and the atmosphere created by a crowd of a thousand experienced drinkers standing upright till the joyous end.

MacY Rum & Whisky Festival shuttle bus. Silkeborg 2011.
Mac Y Rum & Whisky Festival shuttle bus. Silkeborg 2011.

d & m