Showing posts with label events. Show all posts
Showing posts with label events. Show all posts

Sunday, May 21, 2023

Distill America XV is in the books. Here's what you missed.


Yesterday, for the first time in its 15-year history, Distill America was held at Breese Stephens Field in downtown Madison. The venue was massive. There was plenty of room to walk around without bumping into other attendees.


May in Wisconsin is iffy weather-wise. It can rain. It can snow. You could be under tornado warnings. It could feel like you’re on the surface of the sun and muggy. Or, it can be downright pleasant. Mother Nature was a kind woman on May 20th. I’m unsure if you could custom-order better weather.


But, in the middle of this professional soccer field, there were six rows of tents filled with folks who distill American spirits. It wasn’t just whiskey, either. Just shy of 80 brands presented their wares, including rum, genever, gin, brandy, poitin, barrel-aged beer, pre-mixed drinks, and cocktails. Those brands included the big boys from Kentucky and Tennessee. Still, most were craft distillers from the Midwest and around the country. It was a real opportunity to #DrinkCurious and explore some (or many) new things.

I ran into friends I’ve known for years and made several new ones. I encountered brands I’d never heard of and was excited to learn everything I could about them.

Things started off for those few who held a VIP+ ticket. They participated in an educational seminar presented by Blade & Bow. They tried whiskey from the last of the Stitzel-Weller stocks, special swag, and glassware beyond what other ticket tiers received.


An hour later, those holding VIP tickets entered the arena. There were special VIP-only pours from Blaum Bros., J. Henry & Sons, Dancing Goat, Heaven Hill, Four Roses, Buffalo Trace, and others. Sixty minutes later, the gates opened for those holding General Admission tickets. Things got busy without becoming crowded.

There were two educational seminars that anyone could attend. The first was An Afternoon of Gin with Travis Tober of Aviation Gin and John Mleziva of State Line Distillery. The second was Going Down the Rabbit Hole with Simon Cicolian of Pernod Ricard.

It is rare for an event to run without a hiccup, and Distill America had a handful of things it could improve upon. First, the caterer this year was… lacking. There was plenty of food; it was just not the right choice to serve for an outdoor event: hummus, falafel, hushpuppies, vegan “pulled pork,” and pulled chicken. Second, the water stations were not refilled as quickly as they should have been. If there were others, they went unnoticed.


In all, Distill America XV was much like Fantasy Island. Spirits flowed freely. People were full of smiles. We found a ton of new things to enjoy. I commend the Madison Malt Society for putting on another very affordable, high-quality event that is a joy to attend year after year.


Distill America XVI is only 12 months away. I can’t wait. Cheers!






Monday, May 1, 2023

Distill America XV is May 20th - Here's What You Need To Know

Distill America XV will be held on Saturday, May 20th, 2023. The event runs from 1-6pm at Breese Stevens Field in Madison, WI. This is a different venue from previous years.


If you’re new to the area or just getting into distilled spirits, you may be curious about what Distill America is about. I’ve attended for the last seven 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 15 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, but growing expenses damaged their enjoyment and took 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.


Rather than simply recreating the typical whiskey event, the founders wanted to create something unique. Star Liquor on Williams (Willy) Street got involved. The group then decided they wanted this to be a big, real event. 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. Boom! Distill America was born.


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 both 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 a step further by offering educational seminars about six 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 for getting to and from the event safely. Bring a designated driver who can attend for a mere $20.00. Your DD will have access to any non-alcoholic beverages and food.


It is very easy to get more than buzzed as the spirits are free-flowing, and there are more exhibitors than you can shake a stick at. Eat a full meal before showing up. Appetizers will be available on the floor, but you shouldn’t show up on an empty stomach.


VIP+ gets you on the floor at 1:00pm before anyone else can look around. Have you ever heard of the Stitzel-Weller Distillery? That’s the holy grail of American whiskeys. It is many years out of production, but Blade & Bow will be there to pour you some of the very last of the original stocks! Diageo, the owner of Blade & Bow, will provide an educational seminar. You’ll also get special glassware beyond the standard that everyone else receives.


VIP gets you through the door at 2:00pm, and you’ll visit booths an hour before General Admission. There are special VIP-only pours that exhibitors offer. Some of the big legacy distilleries previously served up their most sought-after limited-edition distilled spirits.


Both VIP+ and VIP tickets are sold out.


General Admission comes in at 3:00pm, and there’s still plenty of opportunity to taste awesome things that American-only distilleries have to offer. In all, there are over 80 vendors from across the United States. General Admission tickets are still available for $70.00 and can be purchased at  


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. Distill America is an outdoor event under tents. Whatever crazy weather Madison has to offer that day, you’ll have a great time!


Finally, I’ll be walking around doing meet-and-greets with various distillers. I hope to see you there. This is your perfect opportunity to #DrinkCurious. Cheers!

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

Saturday, September 17, 2022

The First Ever Wisconsin Whiskey Fest Recap and Review


Everything has to start somewhere, and last night was the inaugural year of Wisconsin Whiskey Fest in Milwaukee. In full disclosure, I was comped a VIP ticket.


When founder Zack Farrar first announced the festival, I was publicly skeptical. Tickets were sold when it was still just an idea in Zack’s head, and no venue had been secured. As far as I knew, there weren’t any distilleries lined up. Finally, there was less than a year between that announcement and the actual event.


Some doubters felt Wisconsin Whiskey Fest would be a duplication of Distill America, which has been held in Madison for the last 14 years. Distill America is a wildly successful event that fans look forward to again and again. Yet, Distill America is not a whiskey event; it is a celebration of the American distilling industry that includes whiskey as a significant component. On the other hand, Wisconsin Whiskey Fest was centered solely around whiskey, both American and otherwise.


The Hilton City Center was eventually selected as the venue. Many Wisconsin distilleries, including Dancing Goat, J. Henry & Sons, Driftless Glen, and Great Lakes Distilling, supported the event. Heaven Hill, Bardstown Bourbon Company, Buffalo Trace, Luxco, and other big names also poured their whiskeys.

I went to the Wisconsin Whiskey Fest with an open mind and an almost #DrinkCurious mood. I was willing to give Zack the benefit of the doubt and take a look-and-see attitude.


I drank hardly anything, but I planned my evening that way. Aside from having a long drive home afterward, I wanted to keep a clear head during the festival.


I spent my evening talking to distillers, friends, and reps I knew. I met new-to-me distillers and reps (even at least two brands I'd never heard of before) and talked to random folks in the crowd. I did four Facebook Live sessions. People were smiling, laughing, drinking, and seemed to be having a good time.  I ran into many guests I knew (including a trio from the Janesville Bottle Club), and they told me they were enjoying themselves.


Plenty of food was available between the appetizers, carving station, and desserts. I didn’t engage in much eating because I hate standing in lines. But, I did sample some of the tasty appetizers.

Mistakes were certainly made, the biggest being the event’s timing. Wisconsin Whiskey Fest competed against the Kentucky Bourbon Festival and Bourbon and Beyond. Several brands did not put on their A-game as resources were likely directed to those events. But, it showed. The brands might have approached things differently if the festival had been scheduled differently in either direction for a few weeks. Zack must be more mindful of long-standing, competing events to limit the cannibalization of distillery resources.


In visiting with some of the reps there, I learned a few things that should be changed. I won't go into details because they were said to me in confidence. But I'm sure they'll give their bosses or Zack feedback.


Another issue was the VIP access. Special bottles were supposed to be poured for those who purchased VIP tickets. What was poured wasn’t what many expected or hoped for. If you were looking for Blanton’s, that was there. Other near-impossible-to-find whiskeys were missing, and that’s something that people who pay for VIP access to whiskey events not only expect but demand.


The Wisconsin Whiskey Fest must grow into something bigger for 2023 than last night to justify the price of admission at $150 for general admission and $200 for VIP access. In Wisconsin, we’re a little spoiled by what Distill America has to offer for half the price (to be fair, Distill America is a not-for-profit event).


The Wisconsin Whiskey Fest also needs a different venue for 2023, even if it does not grow in size. Once the general admission guests came in, there was hardly room to walk around. I felt bad for the brands blocked from view by the line of people getting food. I also don’t believe The Hilton City Center’s ballroom was set up for as many people that were there. I’m not talking about fire code issues; instead, it was uncomfortably warm inside.


Wisconsin Whiskey Fest was not a bad event. I had fun and I enjoyed myself. It just needs further work per my suggestions above. And, especially considering the fact that for whatever reason, people in Milwaukee will not travel to Madison, a big whiskey event (this or something else), Wisconsin Whiskey Fest is something whiskey fans in Milwaukee desperately need.