I feel I need to add my thoughts to this ongoing debate.
I have to agree whole heartedly with susyong on this matter! I have experienced both sides of the counter as I have attended many festivals as an exhibitor and as a whisky enthusiast and am continually frustrated by the number of people who see these events a means to a free bar! and as much as I can see the opinions of the true whisky enthusiasts, such as all of you, I have to say that until you have appreciated the hassle and the genuine lack of interest as to: 'where the whisky is from''what background it has, 'what finish it is in' (a debate for another day before you all start!! ) you honestly cannot comment on the views that susywong and fachan have placed so far! An example of these are this year at WL I watched a guy steal a bottle of W&M from their stand and proceed to pour half pint drams for himself and his friends and the year before I poured a guy who I had refused a dram to, a glass of water and he had no idea to what he was drinking!! By no means am I trying to say that everyone who attends festivals is there for the proverbial 'free meal' as the majority of people genuinely want to appreciate the whiskies on offer!!
one more quick point, some of you were reacting to the fact that you were being 'priced' out of enjoying the rarer and older whiskies........ these suppliers or producers too only have a limited stock of such fantastic whisky!! Say an independant bottler does 35 shows in a calender year and takes 4 bottle of xxxxxxxx 29y/o, of which they have 300 bottles, to each show among other things. That equalls 140 bottles of free stock given away which would leave 160 bottles for general release! seriously, but the basis for all these distileries and bottlers is business and companies cannot afford to just give away their best stock. So the fairest way is to create a tier system so that those who genuinely want to appreciate the finer whiskies can do so!
From what I can tell there seem to be 3 main issues with WL that cause problems for the stallholders:
1) The poor behaviour of some visitors:
This seems almost irrelevant to the voucher debate and is more to do with any public gathering particularly where there is alcohol. There needs to be *much* better and more visible security in the main hall. A zero tollerance attitude so that anyone who is abusive, aggressive or steals products gets expelled instantly. I have no desire for these types of people to be part of WL as it ruins it for the stallholders and for the rest of us. From past shows visible security appeared to be mostly limited to the entrance foyer and stallholders were isolated without obvious means of flaggnig problems without leaving their stalls.
2) Irresponsible drinking:
The cost of vouchers isn't prohibitive enough to stop this. For just £15 someone could get pretty mashed on younger whiskies. Yet in attempting to do this you are changing the whole atmosphere. And as I've said in another post if people are "paying" for samples, they'll want a full dram and will be more inclined to drink it rather than taste. You only need to look at events such as Ascot where people are knocking back £75+ bottles of champagne that money isn't an effective way of controlling alcohol consumption. If this was a serious consideration then people should be allowed a finite number of drams and not be able to purchase more (like a ration book).
3) Economics / Finer whiskies not being appreciated:
TBH elbowing your way to the front of a crowded stall, having just sampled 3 young islays is not the way to then appreciate the subtle complexities in a 35 YO lowland! Particularly if you don't get to talk to the stallholder because of others tugging his/her elbow. After sampling 7 or 8 whiskies over the course of a afternoon I defy anyone to pick up the subtle strawberry or cinamon notes in the nose. Some of these whiskies are best talked about, discussed, savoured, a noisy exhibition hall isn't the venue for this!
What about having a ticket or invitation only formalised tastings for better whiskies. Not a full on masterclass, but a series of simple 5 minute presentation limited to a max of 30, in a quiet area where the whisky can be discussed, tried, enjoyed. That way exhibitors would only have to supply 1 bottle and have an opportunity to only "sell" the whisky to those that they know will enjoy/appreciate it!
1) Perhaps we can learn from shows that do not use the voucher system. Spirit of Toronto, and The Victoria Whisky Festival did not use vouchers (please correct me if the VWF did). At SOT, we were encouraged to wear semi-casual dress attire, and I think that made some difference (I think).
2) At the first SOT show, I got pissed drunk, and had to be asked to leave. I did. The second time around I drank alot less, and had alot more fun! Lesson learned!!!
3) Congrats to Suzywong and The Fachan for informing us about what it feels like to be on the other side of the kiosks. I really appretiate your candor regarding what happens at these events. Dealing with abusive drunks should not be part of your job description!
But don't penalise the many for the misbehaviour of the minority.
Rather, employ good security and make it clear to everyone entering that such behaviour will not be tolerated - a "one strike and you're out" (literally onto the street) policy.
I'm out for 2007, if I'll potentially just get a couple of drams and 'gimmicks' for £25 (plus travel). Sorry !
For me, the Whisky Live entrance fee plus my rail fare is £45 - the cost of a year's membership of the SMWS
I do feel aggrieved by some of the things I am reading on this forum.
* susywong - excellent points and thank you for raising the other side, but, two things - security is always at the front, why are they not supporting the stall holders? and... whilst I have a passion for whisky, I do not have the confidence to talk at length with stall holders, why should my confidence prevent me from sampling the 'under counter' whiskies, that is blatantly unfair. hence when such a whisky comes out, of course my glass will appear, out of curiosity not greed.
* the currency of the vouchers is not a policing action (guarding against alcohol abuse) it is clearly a money making project. Why else should it be graded, and... is the money going back to the stall holders in the form of reimbursement and as adogranonthepitch say in the posting on the whisky live page says “ How can it be a policing system, when the older the whisky, the more vouchers are required.”
If it is not about the money but it is about the alcohol then the vouchers should be graded differently. I.e. , 40% alcohol = 1 voucher, 50% alcohol = 2 vouchers and 60% = 3 vouchers.
* And finally, whilst I understand there is an undesirable element to alcohol, please Whisky live do not tar us all with the same brush.
I go to whisky live as someone passionate about whisky, but at these prices I might as well go to a bar! By selling vouchers whiskylive has become just that ---- a bar.
There is a sales element to this. At Whiskt Fringe (voucherless) I was charmed by the magnificent DL whisky stand with its superb whiskies (and generous measures) into buying full bottles of the Bunna 17 and a Port Ellen afterwards in RMW. I also watched a couple at WL Glaschu spend more than they'd ever done before on a full bottle of OB Bunna 25 - because they had tasted it first. They were ever so excited and it was lovely to watch.
The Bunna stall was interesting - with only a couple of the older bottles at WL Glaschu and people spent large amounts of the festival anticipating their opening. Maybe others might learn from that.
Personally, I don't like the under the counter whisky concept. They seem to go to people in the retail trade rather than to real consumers - however appreciative they might be. Samples to retailers might be better done elsewhere. I feel that the whiskies at festivals should be available to anyone or noone. But it is nice to be able to get drams of something unusual (unbottled?) at Masterclasses.
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