Why I Prefer Pay Per Dram Whisky Shows After All

by Oliver Klimek on May 8, 2012

Last year I ran a poll here asking what type of whisky events readers prefer, all inclusive or pay per dram. All inclusive won by a good margin, and I promised to post an in-depth comparison in the future.

I have visited several events of both types in the last few years, so I had enough time to make up my mind about this question. Pay per dram seems to be more prominent on the European mainland (like Limburg or Munich) while all inclusive (for example WhiskyFest or the TWE Whisky Show) is quite popular in the anglo-saxon parts of the world. This discrepancy may also be caused by differences in alcohol related laws, as pouring booze for money at a festival may turn you into a makeshift bar in the eyes of some legislators.

Pros And Cons

The headline already tells you my personal opinion, but this does not mean I regard this as a black or white issue. Both types of event have their advantages and disadvantages, and at the end of of the day it is a matter of how weighting the different points according to your personal preferences. Let’s collect the facts:

All Inclusive

  • Pro: Peace of mind – once you have paid, you don’t have to worry about your budget anymore and you can taste all drams on offer as you please.
  • Pro: No seller/customer relationship – Not having to pay for each dram can make it easier to get in touch with the people running the stand.
  • Con: As entry fees are often pretty steep, you may experience psychological pressure ‘to get your money’s worth’ by drinking as many drams as possible.
  • Con: A flat fee may encourage guests to take an all you can drink approach and drink more than they should.
  • Con: Limited selection of drams – Usually exhibitors will only have a handful of bottles open to pour since they don’t receive a benefit from pouring more.
  • Con: Taking home sample bottles for further examination is a big no-no as flat pricing relies on the fact thay you can only drink a limited number of drams in a session.

Pay Per Dram

  • Pro: Full control of your expenses – You can choose to drink only little without feeling pressure, you can stick to cheaper drams if you are on a budget, or you can play high roller if you can afford it.
  • Pro: Big selection of drams – Exhibitors can afford to open a large number of bottles because they are guaranteed to get paid for the whisky they are pouring.
  • Pro: Exhibitors are usually happy to fill sample bottles.
  • Con: Constantly having to pay for drams may take away some of the fun.
  • Con: Depending on your personality you may choose to not have a tempting dram because you feel it is too expensive even though you could afford it.
  • Con: You may get carried away by spending more money than originally planned.

Evaluation

There may be more points that could be brought up here, but these were my personal critera for making up my mind. The key points which make the difference for me are choice and samples, and they both go hand in hand at a pay per dram event.

The selection of whiskies ready to be poured at all inclusive events just is not comparable to the immense choice you have when you pay for your drams. And being able to take some goodies home with you to where you can taste them at leisure just adds on top of this. After all, it is the whisky that makes us go to whisky events.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Jason B. Standing May 8, 2012 at 1:49 pm

Hi Oliver,

thanks for the post – interesting stuff… however your final statement – “it is the whisky that makes us go to whisky events” – which gave me pause for thought.

I’d disagree. I realise each individual’s experience will differ, however personally my favourite element of visiting whisky shows is the social component. Certainly, having an interesting variety of whisky around is highly desirable, but for where I’m “at” at the minute it’s all about talking with the people I’ve gone along with, seeing who’s found what new favourites (and why), introducing people to new things they might not have seen, meeting new people, and the sharing of memorable moments.

Having access to oddments and ephemera in the tasting selection is magnificent, and highly enjoyable and a great opportunity… but for me whisky is a convivial and sociable drink, and so to be able to pay a flat fee and be able to taste a wide range of whisky among friends (even if I’ve had those whiskies before) is irreplaceable.

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Oliver Klimek May 8, 2012 at 2:01 pm

It may not really shine through in the article, but I take the social aspect of whisky shows for granted because I don’t believe that it is influenced by the question if you pay a flat fee or not. The way you put it here sounds a bit like “you can only have fun with your friends at a flat fee show”. But I think you can enjoy the whisky on offer with the friends you meet regardless of the way you pay.

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Ross Dargan May 8, 2012 at 10:23 pm

For beginners to whisky there is no contest between the two however!

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Keith May 9, 2012 at 12:45 am

Hi Oliver,
I agree with you that FOR ME it’s a no-brainer and has to be the pay per dram every time. There is no other whisky fair which comes close to Limburg, mainly due to the fact that so many old rarities are readily available.

I can understand the comments about not only enjoying the whiskies, but also the company, but this can also be done (as you say) at any type of festival. It’s just a shame that all the festivals in the UK and USA appear to be Fully Inclusive which in turn means “no sample bottles”. This is a crying shame, why? Well, at Limburg this year on the Saturday I don’t think I tried more than 5 or maybe 6 whiskies. On The Sunday it was even fewer, three if I remember correctly, but I had a great time chatting with people, renewing friendships and making new ones and thanks to the festival I now have a massive selection of sample bottles on my desk.

Limburg is more about rarities and independent bottlers and businesses, but imagine this same concept at a more OB level. They exist here in Germany, but sadly not in many other countries.

Finally, it may be worth a wee discussion on pour levels. We have 2cl here in Germany at festivals and although the standard UK ‘measure’ is (I think) 2.5cl, am I not right in thinking that UK festivals often pour 1cl drams? Not really enough for me to write a good tasting note from, especially if I want to add water.

Anyway, thanks for the article and insight.

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