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New Poll: Whisky Festivals — Dramming

New Poll: Whisky Festivals

by Oliver Klimek on February 7, 2011

Not much suprisingly, the result of last poll about the labelling of coloured or chill-filtered whisky was rather undisputed. Today’s topic is certainly more likely to divide whisky lovers into different camps.

The international whisky calendar is packed with dozens of festivals and events all around the year. There are two basic philosphies of setting up a whisky festival. The first one asks for a moderate entrance fee, usually in conjunction with a small amount of free drams, and then requires you to pay for each additional dram directly at the stand. And then there is the “all inclusive” approach where a high entrance fee is charged allowing you to have as many drams as you wish without additional costs.

I have met fierce supporters of either philosophy but I can’t say if one is more popular than the other across the board. To shed some light on this, I have launched this poll that can be accessed from the right sidebar as ususal. The four possible options are:

  1. Pay per dram
  2. All drams included
  3. I like both types
  4. I don’t like any festivals

The poll will close atd midnight CET on the 28th February.

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Mark Connelly February 7, 2011 at 5:37 pm

I think different events work for different countriesbut I personally prefer number 2.


toshie February 7, 2011 at 5:49 pm

I am used to number 2, but I hear good things from some of the continental festivals who operate pay per dram. I suppose it depends on whether you want a festival attended by the many, or a more exclusive experience where a few pay a lot for older (better?) drams.


Alan Masterson February 8, 2011 at 11:58 am

This years Glasgow Whisky Festival (run by Mark who commented above) was option 2 and it was a great day. I didn’t have to keep checking how much money I had left or try to decide if I should try this whisky or that one, I could try them all!


Marc February 8, 2011 at 12:04 pm

There is a 3rd type, and it is used in SA. You pay a moderate price and get 12 tickets/coupons. Those tickets can then be redeemed for whisky. Different whiskies ‘cost’ different amount of tickets. You can also purchase more tickets if you want.

I prefer this way, it seems to be a good balance between the two options you’ve listed. The cover price then in essence includes several drams, but if you need more you can buy.


toshie February 8, 2011 at 12:06 pm

Alan: I ran the festival with Mark and we both saw some slight … casualties near the end of the day. Three dozen tables of whisky can have that effect if it’s free once you’re in the door. Also some exhibitors prefer the European option 1


don February 8, 2011 at 12:22 pm

Having seen hundreds of whisky festivals in the last few years form the other side of the table (i.e. pouring!) I know that option 1 (Pay per dram) is the best system by a country mile!! I have seen too many ‘casulaties’ due to the 2. (All Inclusive) systems…no matter how expensive and exclusive the entry fee is. Let’s face it, it’s human nature to over-indulge when offered FREE samples of hundreds of drams!! And in my opinion if you are genuinely interested in tasting nice drams you won’t mind paying a small fee to enjoy them!


Keith February 9, 2011 at 9:48 am

Most of you know me and also know that I am a big fan of “pay per dram”.

I want to get as much as possible from a festival, which means that I spend most of my time there talking to people and enjoying just a few drams and maybe a good masterclass or two.

But I want to take my sample bottles along and come away with a good 20-50 drams to try over time in my own comfort. “All inclusive” events just don’t allow this as too many people consider this ‘cheating’, which I also find strange as the drams poured at festivals mostly come out of corporate marketing budgets.

Anyway, pay per dram is a good way to run a festival as people can choose what they ‘sample’ and take away.

sorry but I fail to understand your comment about older and better drams at ‘all inclusive’ events. Have you never heard of Limburg? You obviously haven’t visited it!
Also, here in Germany we have quite a few fetsivals which are attended by independent whisky specialists, like Lothar Langer. His business is in selling very old and very rare bottlings. He sells his wares at festivals and also has many open bottles being sold by the dram. Just try to get him to turn up as an exhibitor at an ‘all inclusive’ event – no chance!

*Controversial mode on*
Just one last word, by definition a “festival” is an event which takes place over more than one day.
An event of just a few hours is normally called a tasting!
Oh and whilst I’m at it, events should also allow people to turn up and pay on the day, not be restricted to a few hundred tickets sold in advance. If an event is sold out like this it’s either too small or too short, or both.
*controversial mode off*


Keith February 9, 2011 at 10:06 am

Sorry to add another comment so soon, but I have just re-read those above and I can’t let Toshie’s comment go without further comment from me:

I’ve already challenged your better and older drams comment as Pay per dram tend to have more older and ‘better’ drams available – see my above comment.

But you also say “whether you want a festival attended by the many, or a more exclusive experience” Well, you really should get out more and see the world from a whisky festival point of view. You are a joint organisor of a whisky event but don’t seem to know your competition very well.
Again I point you to Limburg – probably the most exclusive European whisky festival. It is almost 100% old and rare bottlings from years gone by. It is pay at the door over a whole weekend and is filled with what I can only describe as very knowledgeable whisky anoraks, looking for rare and exclusive and writing serious tasting notes on what they find.
As I said, other festivals here in Gemany, Holland, Belgium …… they also have many independent sellers offering rarities, as opposed to the corporate marketing teams offering their standard wares and if you’re lucky, an odd single cask or limited edition from their current ranges.

your SA system sounds rather like Whisky Live – a voucher concept that angered many when it was introduced.
Why don’t I like this system?
We have similar in Germany and the problem I see is that the “middle man” claims a percentage of all whisky (voucher) ‘sales’.
Just ask the exhibitors how much they get reimbursed per voucher!
Gve me a cash system any day. The exhibitors pay a rather substantial fee for their table or stand, let them decide if or what they charge per dram. The event organisor gets revenue from the stand charges, customer entrance fees and more hefty charges for any exhibitor wishing to run a masterclass!

Yes, I dearly want to run my own festival, but my personal situation and resources don’t afford me the start-up oppoprtunity and thankfully I didn’t go ahead for 2012 based on ‘an offer of support’ I had last year, as this came to nothing as I originally suspected.

One day ………


toshie February 9, 2011 at 10:10 am

Keith: You need to read my post again. I was suggesting pay per dram might afford the whisky fan an opportunity to taste older (better?). You also need to get off your high horse, fella. You’re not the only whisky fan in the world! 8-))


Marc February 9, 2011 at 10:42 am

Keith, great that you know exactly what you want and aren’t willing to settle for less. For the rest of us, I’m not as particular and enjoy the variety. Also keep in mind that most whisky festival goers aren’t bloggers and don’t need to take 100 samples home for later review. They want to talk to whisky people while sipping the fruit of their labour.

One day I hope to attend Limburg, as by your opinion it sounds as if is the only one in the world that meets your standards. Until then I can’t wait until the 6 day, 18000+ attendees, across two cities, South African voucher festival/expo/event/gala/carnival/fair/celebration/whisky-event-thing. (Where tickets are usually not available at the door as it is sold out in advance due to its popularity and the restraints exhibitors have.)

I would be very interested to hear what the exhibitors have to say, and if they enjoy collecting cash at pay per dram events (aka festivals), as I would think that an administration pain and distraction from the whisky and guests.


Keith February 9, 2011 at 11:00 am

sorry if I mis-read your original comment.
I understood that you were suggesting my kind of event was for the many, whilst yours was more exclusive.

However, even if this is taken the other way around, the event I’m suggesting is indeed for more people, albeit in not a specifically exclusive way, just more choice of current portfolios and rarer, expensive offerings for those who want them.


Rob Borghmans February 9, 2011 at 11:19 am

I also like/prefer the pay per dram festival, but in this case you need to make sure the entry price is acceptable. I’ve attended some festivals where you need to pay a rather high entry price (30 €) and pay per dram. Some of the standard expressions were free, but this was a minority. There is one festival in Belgium were you only need to pay 15 euros (5 drams + glass included). Other festivals could take an example of this one :-))


Nathan February 9, 2011 at 6:45 pm

I’ve never been to a festival or public event, but I’ve been put off by what I’ve read about the “value” you get for your money. If I want to taste 5 average drams, I can do that in one of the bars I frequent that has a good selection, for about $50 US. If I go to a festival/event, whether it’s pay-per-dram or free-for-all, I really can only expect to “taste” between 5-10 drams before they all blur together (or I get drunk). If the entry fee is $100+ US, that just doesn’t seem worth it to me, especially factoring in travel and hotel costs. I’m sure when I’m a more experienced taster, and looking for rare pours my tune will change.

I am very interested in what Keith said, above. If I could (without getting the evil eye from exhibitors) bring 30 sample bottles and bring home a good selection, then I could spread out my tastings over several weeks, getting the optimal pleasure from each, as well as coherent, non-rushed tasting notes. I would gladly pay for the dram for this privilege, whether I was writing blog entries about those drams or not. I had never thought of doing that before – maybe because the US events are almost all pay-at-the-door.


Nathan February 9, 2011 at 7:06 pm

To add to the above, it just occurred to me that I would DIE to go to an event where I could taste for free, and take away a 50ml sample bottle (if I liked it) at around cost (none of this $10 for a 50ml sample of something 12 years old, thank you very much), for home revisiting. That would be ideal, and fully worth the $100+ entry, even if the sample bottles were plain and not true miniatures.


Oliver Klimek February 9, 2011 at 8:19 pm

Two add my own two cents on this, I am rather in favour of the pay-per-dram scheme with the advantages outlined by Keith. But I also see that an all inclusive event can have a certain appeal. But it demands of you that you plan your visit carfully. Otherwise you may risk either becoming a “casualty” or leaving the event with the feeling of not having got your money’s worth. I will visit WhiskyFest NYC later this year, so I will then have the direct comparison of these two approaches.


Steffen Bräuner February 9, 2011 at 11:21 pm

I’ve been to quite a lot of festivals and I do believe that people seem to enjoy themself a bit more on the GWF/Fringe festivals than Limburg, where there is a minority of too serious guests being a pain

End of the day I like both kinds, I go for the fun and to meet people, whisky is secondary..or I always get good whiskies so no complaints there 🙂

GWF/Fringe allows me to try some stuff I otherwise would have avoided and always let me go home with some surprising drams in my head

About samples : I don’t think sampling is the thing to do at festivals. If a festival ended up as a sampling shopping event I would never attend. I can get my samples outside fairs and festivals, which are simply not about that



Tom February 9, 2011 at 11:31 pm

Although we mostly have ‘mixed’ festivals overhere in the Netherlands (mixed = basic entrance fee of about €25 to €40 which includes most basic OB drams + pay extra for more special/exclusive/older/expensive drams), I prefer the pay per dram concept.
At most of these ‘mixed’ festivals I spend a lot on the more special drams while I’m mostly not even taste ‘included’ drams, while I still have to pay the basic entrance fee. I would like to spend that money on drams I choose myself…


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