Whisky festivals have seen a boom in the last five years with most major cities playing host to at least one, if not more. The rise has been driven with more organisers coming to the market from other areas of the whisky world, and sheer consumer demand for the joyful day out tasting whiskies and chatting to brands brings. If you wanted to, and I’m sure some do, you could spend every weekend at a festival. So, for the punter, how is it best to choose which festival to go to in this crowded market.
Having been in the festival organising market myself for many years, and also a regular attendee at festivals around the UK, I’m in a fairly good position to advise on what makes a good one.
The main reason my festivals grow is because core groups of people invite more and more each year to join them. It becomes a proper annual outing with many knowing this is the time to be in the company of their mates with interesting libations at hand to help the day progress. It’s been lovely to have people come up half way through a festival to introduce me to their mate from xxx place who’s been able to make it to Birmingham or Bristol. That feedback really makes the day for me and the team, as the whole idea of these events is bringing people together. You’ll have a great day all together.
My mantra for my own festivals is to pick a more unusual venue. This attracts people for different reasons and I think people behave differently. I’m sure there’s some psychological reason behind it as if the venue itself plays a character during the day. There’s more to see, more for people to do and chat about. Brands and reps tend to feel happier as well and overall punters seem to enjoy their day being able to have more space and areas to go to. Location is important for when the day is at an end and you need to get back to the train station. Being close to town has worked well for people only having a short walk to get transport home.
Food & Drink:
Find one that has a good food offering as you’ll need to stock up during the day. As I make sure my venues have an outside space, I always bring in street food vendors to add an interesting dimension. People want big, stodgy burgers or pizzas, something to fill them up and help take care of all the whisky swilling around inside them. I usually bring in local cheese and chocolate makers as well. Offering a little bit more to eat and think about during the festival helps people to pace themselves. Look for one that has a good food offering, or is near somewhere that offers easy food to eat quickly as you’ll want to be back tasting whisky before too long.
You will get tired. Drinking all that whisky takes its toll on a person, so look for one in a venue that has good seating. Maybe a basic premise but one of the most important things and not all venues will offer this.
Organising Team & Security:
People who will look after you should things get a bit messy. We’ve all been there at an event (yes, even us!) and it’s expected that there will be a few casualties. Security should be present but not forceful, and should be first aid trained. The festival team are available and obvious who they are.
This one goes without saying but with so many festivals to choose from, make sure the festival you’re going to has a really good selection of whisky from brands and independent bottlers, and represent whisky from some interesting producing countries, as well as the big five. Some festivals combine other drinks as well which is great and what some festival goers are looking for, but does mean there’s less room for the whisky. Some have tickets that include all the whisky and others have a token system. Others include cocktail bars, beer sampling and food stalls showcasing cheese, chocolate and other things. Just check the format before going if you have a preference on this.
I always enjoy a festival that has good music, a range of interesting masterclasses – including, cocktails, food matchings and cigars, and has brought in local professionals to help with the day. The brands are always fab to have but local producers and experts add an additional connection for people. Our cheese and whisky matching class is always a top seller at our festivals.
Festivals On My Radar:
Obviously, other than the two I run, I am looking at these festivals for late 2018/early 2019 as my top picks:
1.) The Whisky Exchange Show:
The Whisky Exchange Show is (in my opinion) the best show in the UK, if not the world. Run by the company of the same name, it has the best whiskies on offer to try bar none. The price tag is higher for your session at £110 but for that you’ll be able to try whiskies you wouldn’t ordinarily. The venue is fantastic – very spacious and well laid out and you get a really good crowd. You also get fed, which is very nice of them. Masterclasses are extra but the show pulls in some of the top industry people from around the world. Bearing all that in mind, it’s a show not to miss. I’ll be there on the Sunday and Monday for the trade day this year.
The Whisky Exchange Show – 29th– 30thSeptember – www.whiskyshow.com – £110 a ticket
2.) Leicester Whisky Festival:
Yes, you heard right, Leicester has joined the ranks of other regional cities with its own show. Run with the excellent 23 Wine & Whisky I am looking forward to this one as it’s in Leicester’s Space Centre. Yup. Whisky and space. I couldn’t think of a more perfect combination and bought my ticket with gusto. Some excellent masterclasses and a very reasonable entry ticket of £15. A little too cheap would be my only concern. It will be interesting to see how an unusual venue like this works for a whisky festival. I for one am looking forward to sipping whisky while watching a Planetarium show.
Leicester Whisky Show – 17thNovember – Leicester Space Centre– £15 a ticket
3.) The Whisky Exchange Show – Fine & Rare
Again, another show by The Whisky Exchange, this is more unusual as it showcases brands but also individuals with collections are able to come and sell their wares. Tickets are £75 which includes entry and some whisky. There is a token system in operation as well.
Whisky Exchange Fine & Rare – 24th– 25thFebruary 2019 – https://whiskyshow.com–
A finally a blog about festivals wouldn’t be complete without mentioning ours. Both Whisky Birmingham, going into its seventh year, and Whisky Bristol, going into its third year, are back in 2019 at our usual venues.