So here at whisky HQ, we’ve wanted to write something like this for ages… Luckily, the wonderful Gentleman Grimm must have heard our silent plea and went ahead and did it. Whether you’re a Whisky Birmingham regular or a newcomer – check out his tips (original post here) on how to make the best of your day at the festival!
If you were lucky enough to bag a ticket to this years Whisky Birmingham then congratulations! Whisky Birmingham 2015 was what really launched me head first into whisky tasting, despite having drunk whisky for years before, and hopefully this year’s event will help start swathe of new whisky enthusiasts. If you are new to Whisky Birmingham then firstly here is my review of the last two year’s event: Whisky Birmingham 2015 and Whisky Birmingham 2016.
After attending the festival for the last two years I wanted to make a short list of hints and tips for anyone attending this year, so here goes!
Bring water with you:
Last year we were given a bottle of water on arrival but even so it’s worth bringing more if you plan on tasting a good selection of whiskies. Partly to help cleanse your palate a little between tastings but also to stop the whisky from affecting you too much!
Attend at least one Masterclass:
The Masterclasses at Whisky Birmingham are excellent value for money. Last year I attended 3 Masterclasses and enjoyed each and every one of them. Yes you may get some slight duplication to start with on the basics of whisky and whisky tasting but it’s only minor and just enough to make sure everyone in a Masterclass has the same basic grounding before they start.
In particular the “Beginners Guide to Whisky” Masterclass is particularly worth going to. Even if you’re an expert and already have a vast knowledge of whisky and how to taste whisky you may still find you learn something new. If you only have a General Admission ticket then I would recommend this even more to you as it gets you into the event half an hour earlier than the general opening time. You get to try two whiskies and then go straight into the main event when it opens. Last year this meant we got to skip a (very) long queue that had formed in the half hour we were in the Masterclass.
Note: If you’d like to peruse and purchase masterclasses – you can do so here.
Look through the list of Exhibitors and make a note of any you particularly want to go to. The event will get busy very quickly and if you just work your way through everyone you may find you miss out on something you particularly wanted to try. This is especially true if you are attending lots of Masterclasses!
For those of you who don’t know what this is yet the Dream Dram token allows you to try one “Dream Dram”. Dream Drams are whiskies not on offer without the use of a token. There will be a selection of stands offering Dream Drams on the day (last year they had a red marker on them). Last year my friend and I tried a Bruichladdich Single Cask 2004 and a Balblair 1983 (which retails at around £190 – £200).
I recommend getting yours as soon as possible – partly so you can make the most of tasting it before being 10+ whiskies in, but also because they go quick and if you don’t get yours near the end of the event you might miss out. Keep an eye on the Whisky Birmingham Facebook Page and on these Twitter accounts: @WhiskyMrsJnr, @WhiskyBrum and @TheWhiskyMiss for any possible recommendations (that’s how I heard about the Bruichladdich Single Cask 2004).
I know this one may seem obvious but please don’t forget to eat! Not only to help soak up the alcohol but also because the food on offer at Whisky Birmingham 2015 was excellent and I expect nothing less for this year. You can keep an eye on what food will be on offer this year here.
Again another obvious one but still very important. The temptation at an event like this is to try and cram as much whisky in as possible to make the most of your ticket price. While this is an admirable pursuit it’s not that sensible. You won’t get the most from the whiskies you do taste if you rush yourself and you’ll get drunk – quickly! It’s not a race or a competition so just take your time and enjoy yourself and the wide selection of whiskies on offer.
Those are just a few basic tips for the day and hopefully if it’s your first time at a whisky festival it will make things a bit easier for you on the day. On a lighter note check out this guide by The Whisky Lady – “A Non-Exhaustive Typology of People You’ll Meet At Whisky Events”.
I do have a couple of last things to add, specifically for any of you who are more experienced at whisky tasting:
If you want to make notes on what you taste. During the Masterclass you’ll find it easy to scribble down in a notebook, but during the festival itself you’ll find it crowded and difficult to find space as it is, let alone if you’re juggling a glass of whisky, a notebook and a pen. I’d recommend a Dictaphone or even just using your phone to record your thoughts ready to be written up at a later date. That or just be prepared to have incomplete notes by the end of the day.
Be friendly and offer help to anyone who doesn’t seem to know what they’re doing. I found last year’s event to be very friendly and that’s the sort of response everyone should receive. If you are new to whisky tasting the last thing you want it is someone being condescending towards you because you don’t know the difference between a single malt and a blend for example. The onus is on you to help newbies feel welcome and make them want to continue on their whisky tasting journey.