How to make the best out of the FNB Whisky Live Festival ‘09 – a layperson’s guide
So having spent the last two nights at the FNB Whisky Live, running around ‘like a blue arsed chicken’ (as my boss The Irishman would say) with film crews and photographers, I’ve picked up a good couple of tips for people who want to get the most out of their festival experience, so if you’re heading through there, or know people who are, read on! Could change your life… ;)
TIP #1 Be cool Daddy-o
I know it goes without saying, but for the less intellectually inept out there, I’ll put this as simply as possible: it’s not beer and it’s not wine, it’s whisky. Sip it slowly.
The festival is big on responsible drinking, so I really can’t stress this point enough, when you taste the different whiskies on offer at the festival, unless you’re a veteran whisky drinker, don’t try and be a hero and slam it down neat to impress the gorgeous booth ladies. They’ve seen it a million times and all you’re likely to elicit is a stifled yawn.
Add a dash of water to the whiskies you’re tasting. Not only will this prevent you from getting drunker quicker, but it will also open up the flavour of the whisky you’re tasting, thus making it far more accessible whilst ensuring that your palette doesn’t become anaesthetised by the high alcohol content of the whisky.
It’s difficult to really appreciate a complex 18 year old whisky when you can’t really taste anything. If you’re a novice taster, after 4 neat whiskies you might as well be drinking brandy – you wouldn’t be able to taste a difference.
Whisky is about sophistication and class, so be sophisticated and classy, if it’s a drunken of lecherous debauchery you’re looking for, rather drink a bottle of Johnny Blue at Teasers with your pals.
TIP #2 Get the lay of the land
More often than not, I’ve watched crowds of visitors at the festival wandering around aimlessly, tasting random whiskies until their tickets run out and then leaving, feeling like they’ve missed out in some way.
Before you taste any of the whiskies or participate in any of the activities on offer, get the lay of the land. It’s better to arrive at the festival as close to 6pm as possible so you can beat the crowds and get a good idea of what’s where.
Once you have an idea of where everything is, jump in with both feet. The idea behind the festival is to have fun, learn about whisky and interact with the industries top gurus from all over the world.
If nothing else, by the time you leave the festival you should at least be able to hold your own the next time you’re at a swanky cocktail party and Mr Slick Willy with his snooty attitude starts trying to wax lyrical about what he thinks he knows about whisky.
Take him down. The festival will give you the knowledge to do so.
TIP #3 Become acquainted with your palette
You’d be surprised how little you know about your palette when it comes down to it. People who don’t know whisky will say one of two things when you broach the topic of whisky – they’ll either be honest and admit that they don’t like it, or they’ll try and pretend that they do to seem cool and sophisticated, but when you ask them a simple question like which flavours they enjoy in a whisky they’ll feed you a load of utter tripe.
The simple cure in both situations here is education. To the people who say, flat out, that they don’t like whisky, I’ll say this: the range of different flavours that can be found in whisky is so broad and varied that you can bet your bottom dollar there is a whisky out there for you that will suit your palette, and thus your individual flavour profile so perfectly, you’ll swear it was the best drink you ever tasted.
I have experienced this personally. A year ago I was a Bells Man – I drank it on the rocks because it looked cool and I found the flavour tolerable. If you had asked me the difference between a blend and a single malt back then I would have admitted complete ignorance.
With a little education, what I realised was that I didn’t even like Bells. In fact, for my palette, which is still young, I much prefer a clean, sweet single malt – the fewer citrusy and spicey notes, the better.
For this reason I far prefer Irish whiskeys to Scottish whiskies, they’re smoother, easier on the palette and have less character, so you won’t recoil like you’ve just been shot after you take a sip.
But the golden rule is that everyone’s palette, like your fingerprints, are different. For this reason, do yourself a favour and taste an Irish whiskey, a Scottish whisky, a bourbon and a liqueur.
This simple exercise will help you a lot when it comes to discerning what flavours you enjoy and will make future tasting experiences a lot more rewarding.
TIP #4 Learn to make whisky cocktails
New to this year’s festival is the Schweppes Art of Whisky Cocktail Making Zone, which is being hosted by Kevin, master mixologist from Liquid Chefs who is not only the raddest guy I’ve met so far at the festival, but is also pretty easy on the eyes for the ladies, so guys, make sure you book early cause his cocktail making sessions fill up fast!
The sessions are free and run at 6:30, 7:45 and 9:00.
Once Kevin’s done with you, you’ll be the envy of all your friends as you mix up killer whisky cocktails that will ensure that for the rest of your life you’ll be the life of EVERY party, ALL the time.
You can thank me later.
TIP #5 The sensory zone is a must
At first I thought this sounded a little gimmicky, the idea here is to engage all your senses in a whisky tasting experience in order to help you learn about whisky in general. Sounds like a load of hippy let’s-hold-hand-and-sing-kumbaya bullshit, but it’s actually possibly the best way to learn about whisky at the festival.
Divided into a number of plain white rooms, each with a bar inside serving a different whisky, The Sensory Zone is at the far end of the hall and is well worth visiting.
Each room has a wall on one side, some are velvety to the touch, some are smooth and some are rough. On the opposite wall is a giant image, in one room it’s honey, in another it’s dark chocolate and so on. Near the bar, smelling salts exude different aromas in each room and a different style of music plays in each room.
All of these elements come together as you taste the whisky in order to illustrate the character of the whisky you’re tasting by engaging all your senses.
It leaves a lasting impression and is a great way to learn about the ‘water of life’
TIP #6 EAT
This is when you put food in your mouth, chew 32 times and swallow. Do this at some stage during the night because, like I said, after four or five whiskies, you’re gonna need it.
Word Of Mouth do all the catering for the festival, and in one simple word, their food is delicious – tuck in there!
TIP #7 Check out the Macallan Maturation Zone
This is probably something for the more mature patrons of the festival to check out, but could prove interesting to anyone wanting to know the secrets of how whisky get’s it’s flavour and colour.
The workshops are free and there are two per night. The whisky expert who takes the workshops explains the crucial influence that wood has on whisky, which can go a long way to helping you find your perfect whisky.
For example, I tend to find whiskies that are matured in sherry casks too spicey for my palette, I know this because I have a rudimentary knowledge of the effect wood has on whisky.
And people love me for it.
TIP #8 I love chocolate, you love chocolate, eat the chocolate!
Von Geusau Chocolates have a stand at the festival where they pair whisky with chocolate and I can vouch from personal experience that the combination of the two, when done right, it like nothing you’ve ever tasted before.
You take a bite of chocolate, a sip of whisky, swill it around a little and swallow and I shit you not, you’re still tasting different flavours in your mouth nearly a full minute later.
It’s a must. Guys – learn the whiskies and the chocolates and the next time you throw a party, invite the ladies to have a taste.
Use it / don’t use it ;)
TIP #9 If you like one of the whiskies you taste, buy it
Picardi Rebel have a stall at the festival where they’re selling whiskies at discounted prices, it’s the perfect place to pick up a Christmas prezzy or two, then head over to the Classic Malts stand and get it engraved with a personal message – it’s free and adds a really nice personal touch.
TIP #10 If you’ve had too much, stay the hell off the roads
There are roadblocks tonight by Cornerhouse Pub, on William Nicol, by the Baron on Main, and on Witkoppen all the way up to Sunninghill.
Don’t drive drunk, both Corporate Cabs and Roadtrip are at the festival for a reason. USE THEM! Spending two days in jail, or worse, is no way to spend a weekend.
Lastly, please come on Saturday, come on Saturday, come on Saturday, comeonsaturdaycomeonsaturdaycomeonsaturdaycomeonsaturdaycomeonsaturdaycomeonsaturday!
Friday is gonna be packed to the rafters and so Saturday has been added this year and will be a much better night to go through to get the most out of the festival.
So there you have it, any questions, come see me after class, otherwise I’ll see you at the festival :)