Distill America XVI is Next Week: Here’s What To Know


Can you believe it? Distill America XVI is happening on Saturday, May 18th, 2024. The event runs from 1-6pm at Breese Stevens Field in Madison, WI. This is the same venue as last year.


Maybe you’re new to Wisconsin, or perhaps you’re just getting into distilled spirits. You may be curious about what Distill America is about. I’ve attended for the last eight years and am friends with the folks who make this event come to life. As such, I’ve got the rundown for everything you need to know.


Distill America was founded 16 years ago by a small group of spirits enthusiasts in Madison known as the Madison Malt Society. They often traveled to Chicago for whiskey events. However, ever-increasing expenses damaged their enjoyment and took away from the excitement of attending year after year. Aside from travel costs, they contended with pricey entry fees for the distillers and attendees. They were struck with the notion that they could create an event locally that anyone could attend every year, whether they were an exhibitor or a fan of distilled spirits. The goal was to attract bartenders, retailers, and the general public to learn about what is on the market and available to enjoy.


The founders wanted to create something unique rather than simply recreating the typical whiskey event. Star Liquor on Williams (Willy) Street got involved. The group then decided they wanted this event to be unlike most others. They also wanted to introduce visitors to exclusively American-made spirits, not just Bourbon, Rye, and other American whiskeys. That opened the door for rum, brandy, gin, vodka, and other brown or clear spirits.


Behind the scenes, there was much volunteer work to get the process going. The crazy thing is nobody involved took a salary. All proceeds benefit the non-profit Wisconsin Distillers Guild. The Guild’s mission is to promote Wisconsin-made spirits, agriculture, tourism, small-batch distillation, and the safe enjoyment of alcoholic beverages. Distill America also creates scholarships for people to take coursework and learn about the distilling industry.


From the smallest craft distillery to the largest, established distilleries, they all travel to Madison to entertain and educate true spirits enthusiasts and people new to everything. There is something for everyone to enjoy.


The Madison Malt Society's desire is and always has been for Distill America to grow and remain sustainable for the future without losing what makes Distill America unique. But that means change will happen. Distill America went further by offering educational seminars about seven years ago.


Now that you know the background of Distill America, I have a few tips and tricks for attending. First and foremost, enjoy this event responsibly. Make arrangements in advance to get to and from the event safely. Bring a designated driver who can attend for a mere $23.00. Your DD will have access to any non-alcoholic beverages and food.


If this is your first time attending a spirits festival, please know that it is easy to get schnockered before you even realize it. Eat a full meal before showing up. Appetizers will be available on the floor, but you shouldn’t show up on an empty stomach. Also, it is perfectly acceptable to not finish what’s in your glass. Most people don’t. Sip, dump the rest and move to the next table.


Last year, a friend who was inexperienced with these events came with me. Let’s just say he didn’t remember the ride home, didn’t remember having dinner at a restaurant, and was extremely… happy.


VIP+ gets you on the floor at 1:00pm before anyone else can look around. There are special seminars to attend, and you’ll also get special glassware beyond the standard that everyone else receives. Nicole Austin from George Dickel promises something extraordinary (and yet undisclosed).


VIP gets you through the door at 2:00pm, and you’ll visit booths an hour before General Admission. Exhibitors offer special VIP-only pours. Some big legacy distilleries served up their most sought-after limited-edition distilled spirits in previous years. I would expect the same this year.


Now, if you don’t have your tickets yet, you should know that both VIP+ and VIP tickets are sold out. However, General Admission and Designated Driver tickets are still available on the venue’s website.


General Admission gains entry at 3:00pm, and there’s still plenty of opportunity to taste awesome things that American-only distilleries have to offer. There are over 80 vendors from across the United States, and there are between 10 and 15 more tables this year than last.


No matter which ticket you possess, you’ll get a complimentary Glencairn nosing glass from the event’s sponsor, Bulleit Bourbon, and food throughout the evening. Attend the educational seminars – one is a cocktail class presented by Dancing Goat and J. Henry & Sons. Distill America is an outdoor event under tents. If you’ve never been to Madison in mid-May, you know we can have all four seasons on parade in a single day, so dress appropriately.


Finally, I’ll be walking around doing meet-and-greets with various distillers. As always, Mrs. Whiskeyfellow will attend, as will a very special guest this year: Mama Whiskeyfellow.


If you see me, stop me and say hello. I’m always happy to chat and make new friends. Together, we will #DrinkCurious. Cheers!



Whiskeyfellow encourages you to enjoy your whiskey as you see fit but begs you do so responsibly.