Words: Shamim de Brún
Images: Whiskey Live
Whiskey Live is the annual pinnacle of the whiskey industry. This year it’s on in the RDS, a mighty change from its days at The Printworks in Dublin Castle. If this is your first go at Whiskey Live, or you failed miserably at the last one, here are some quick tips to help you survive and thrive at it.
This seems basic, but you will be surprised by how many whiskey aficionados and connoisseurs simply forget to get tickets or assume there will be some left on the door. This is a rookie mistake. Whiskey is more popular every single year, and no matter how big the venue is, the fans will fill it. People ply in from across Europe and the States for Ireland’s Whiskey Live because it’s where you find the good stuff. The really good stuff. So get tickets now, and get one more than you think you need because you know a friend will forget, and the hassle it will cause if they don’t have one will not be worth it.
Tickets are less than fifty euros which is what one 35ml pour of Redbreast 21 would cost you at a well-priced whiskey bar. For that price at Whiskey Live, you will have the chance to taste not only the Redbreast 21 but also literally every 21-year-old whiskey made on the Island of Ireland today. The value is actually next-level good if you measure it by the pour.
A master class is the kind of experience you don’t get often. It’s the kind of thing that is generally kept for the industry heads and press. Sure, there are whiskey tastings every other week at some bars but the masters don’t generally work Thursday nights in Dublin. They are back in Midleton with their families, living their lives. But those lives get somewhat suspended when Whiskey Live rolls around. It is a focal point for masters in their years. So if you’ve ever wanted to meet the man behind Dingle’s Wheel of the Year Series, or the team that resurrected Poitin and put it back on the menu of the greats, then this is your time.
Also, booking a masterclass guarantees you get to taste some high-end fancy stuff. So when you compare the price to the cost of the whiskey you’re tasting, you’re going to feel like you’ve gotten the deal of the actual century.
My top tip when it comes to master classes is to go for the more unusual ones. IDL will do a Green Spot, Redbreast, Powers, Midleton etc., masterclass every year. This might be your only shot at catching the up-and-comers before they go mainstream. Like hitting the midsized tents earlier in the day at a festival. My top picks for this year are Powerscourt, Micil, Dingle, Keepers Heart and West Cork. They’ve all got a bit of buzz going for them while being very different from each other. Plus, all their whiskeys are tasty and really that’s what it’s about.
Not all sessions are created equal. Each offering comes with its own subgenre of whiskey customers. Friday Afternoon will be predominantly press, industry, and holidaymakers who aren’t working. As someone who has worked a Whiskey Live or two in the past, this is my favourite session. Everyone is fresh, the whiskeys are free-flowing, and the vibes are generally chill. If you can nab the afternoon off work and rally a mate to do the same, this is the one I would recommend to a friend.
Friday night is the one for larger groups. If there are ten of you mad for a whiskey then this is the session for you. Straight after work, beeline to the RDS. It serves after-work pints vibes but with a whiskey edge to it. Usually, someone will be singing by the end of it. It’s a great time all around. And none of the table stuff is sold out yet.
Saturday afternoon is slightly more casual. Some of the beautiful whiskey heads will be hungover. The Friday night lure can be too strong for many, but especially new-to-the-scene-ers. Luckily for them, this is the one people usually come to with their spouse or parent who also likes whiskey. It tends to be a bit more chill and there is a little less frenzy around the big names than at the same time on a Friday. This is the perfect one to go to if you want to test the waters and just see what Whiskey Live is all about.
Saturday night is for the seasoned. I wouldn’t recommend it for your first Whiskey Live. Though I will say it’s boisterous, fun, and full of people just having a lovely time. Though sometimes that lovely time is a lot louder than you’d expect. The biggest downside about Saturday night though is that some of the ‘off menu’ specialities are all gone. So if you’re in it for trying the stuff you have to ask for with a little knowing nod, then this is not the one for you. If you’re looking to have a raucous time with the entire whiskey industry however, it’s perfect. The level of Craic can not be underestimated.
You will not be able to try everything. Try as you might, it is fundamentally impossible. So make a list of what you want most. Personally, I like to pick a theme and lean into it. If you’re a #CaskStrengthCrusader then make a list of all the cask strength options and zip, zap, boing from one to the other. When you have your list ticked off, you’ll be flooded with a sense of relief and can just cruise around tasting specials. Maybe even treat yourself to an Irish Coffee. Paddy usually fire out good ones to the willing.
Do a lap, and mark on your map the location of the best bits. Some stands will be slinging cocktails, others high-end hooch. There will also be a few bits ‘under the table’ that are not advertised. In my experience, the best way to find out about them is to ask a person working at not a distillery stand. Either ticket people, people selling magazines, food, glassware, that sort of thing. In all likelihood, they will have done the rounds to find this out for themselves. They also don’t have a specific loyalty to their own whiskey so they’ll be the most honest with you about what’s worth your time.
We’ve all survived nights out that were about who could drink the most in the shortest amount of time, and we all regret them. Don’t let this kind of mindset ruin a wonderful Whiskey Live experience. Learn to love and savour the small pour. If you want to taste as much as possible, then tiny pours are the way to do that. And remember, you’re supposed to hold whiskey on your tongue one second for every year it’s been aged. So don’t just neck it.
Make sure you eat before you get to the RDS or shortly after you arrive. Eating is not cheating. It’s clever gameplay. You wouldn’t wade into war-zone unarmed, so why would you dive into the breach of Whiskey Live without the protection of a well-lined stomach? Whiskey on an empty stomach is a Russian roulette you don’t want to lose.
Drink enough water. Like a tonne. Drink it before you arrive, drink it between pours, drink it when you’re finished. Water is your friend. Sounds basic, but if you forget, you probably won’t remember the rest of the day, and sure then, what’s the point?
The human mouth can only taste so much. Even after years of refining my pallet (and sounding like a snob while doing so) it gives out on me, and things just start to taste good or less good. If we’re being candid, every drink tastes better and better the more whiskey you have, even if the quality worsens.
So make a beeline for the producers you’ve never gotten to try or the Very Rares you’ll never get your hands on. Starting high means you’ll remember the once-in-a-lifetime drams for what they actually are, and not what they tasted like after a few.
You learn more about whiskey by chatting to and listening to people who are also enthusiasts. Meeting people who have only been user names is one of the great joys of Whiskey Live. So don’t be afraid to reach out to one another, hang out, and exchange favourites.
Don’t get caught up in taking photos for the gram or making TikToks; enjoy the event itself. It might be about the whiskey, but whiskey is nothing without the people that make it, sling it, and taste it.
There are a few tickets left if you haven’t gone and paid the price yet. Go forth, whiskey lovers and prosper at the most live whiskey event of the season.
Please drink responsibly.
Visit www.drinkaware.ie for more information.
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