Skip to main content
Eat and Drink
Arts and Entertainment Thursday, Mar. 29, 2018 3 years ago

Boozed but not Confused: The ultimate Whiskey Obsession Festival guide

We’ve got the tips and tricks you need to make the most of your Whiskey Obsession Festival experience.
by: Niki Kottmann Managing Editor of Arts and Entertainment

There aren’t many people who enjoy beverages with a flavor that can be compared to motor oil.

Turner Moore, founder of Whiskey Obsession Festival, is one of those people. He was recently on a boat with a bottle of marine scotch in which many on board tasted oily notes. But it doesn’t turn him off. He’s obsessed. And he can’t wait to share his obsession for the sixth year in a row.

“It’s one of the biggest markets in the country,” Moore says of Florida’s place in the whiskey business. “I think consumers are more and more educated and want to know more about this stuff ... They’re interested in the whole story.”

Whether it’s your first time at the festival or your sixth, there’s always something new to learn. The following are a series of tips and tricks from Moore on how to enjoy the festival like a pro.


Grand Tasting guests have the opportunity to try dozens of whiskey from not only the U.S. but from Ireland,Japan, India, Canada, Scotland and England. Courtesy photo

The Whiskey Obsession Festival is four days long and includes 10 events, so it would be easy to get overwhelmed with the abundance of ticket choices. Once you decide you want to attend, Moore suggests first taking a look at the schedule, deciding which events fit your budget and interests and prioritizing ticket purchases.

The first event, the Bartender Academy on April 11 at The Aloft Hotel, is for bartenders and whiskey industry employees only, so right off the bat, that narrows most guests’ number of options to nine events.

See sidebar on page 3 for public events.



Moore says one of the most important pieces of advice he can offer is to sip, not shoot, whiskey samples.

“These are not shots,” he says with a laugh, reminiscing on all the times he’s seen guests down their whole sample without actually tasting it (and feel the effects soon after).

Many of the tastings are interactive and guests can learn more about the distillation process. Courtesy photo

He adds that, just like wine, whiskey should be nosed first, then tasted. Aromas often help signify the breadiness and the type of grains used in the distilling process.

“Very often a nice whiskey will taste like a cheese Danish because they’re made out of grains and often have vanilla notes too,” he says.

Some experts recommend chewing each sip for 15-20 seconds before swallowing, he says, so your entire mouth is getting a sense of the taste.

“There are different taste receptors in different parts of the tongue, and whiskies often have a initial taste, a mid palate and a finish,” Moore says. “Some are a crescendo of flavors while others are the opposite, they hit you in the face then trail out to a mild finish.”

The variety of possible flavors is particularly impressive, he says, due to the fact that whiskey is typically only made with three ingredients: barley, water and yeast. That means all the flavors are 100% natural and change only based on the method of distilling, yet they can range from raspberry to bacon.

Moore adds that paying attention to the color of the whiskey also gives you a fair amount of information on how it was matured, and the wood cast in the process of making it.



Moore learned an important lesson when he went to his first whiskey festival: getting drunk takes the fun out of it.

“I left seeing double,” he says. “It was not fun, and that was not my intention, but it was my first time and I was so excited.”

Whiskey Obsession is the largest world whiskey festival in the nation. Courtesy photo

Moore drank quickly on an empty stomach at that tasting, and as most of us who had a little too much fun from time to time in college are well aware, this is a dangerous combination of risk factors that can lead to serious party fouls.

Michael’s On East will have an extensive gourmet buffet at the Grand Tasting (with plenty of bread, ravioli and meat that will absorb alcohol easily, by the way), Moore says, so he encourages guests to nibble on something between sips.

Another clever trick to keep the booze from getting to you is utilizing the rinsing stations at each booth, Moore says. Everyone is encouraged to clean their glasses at each new table they approach, so Moore usually rinses his cup, dumps out the water and fills the glass with water a second time to drink and stay hydrated.

“It’s fun to get a little intoxicated but nobody wants to get sick and have a crappy time,” he says.

Moore adds that another way to set yourself up for public drunkeness is to think you can sample each of the 200 whiskies available. That’s impossible to do safely, he says, so check out the pour list ahead of time and have an idea of what you want to sample before so you can prioritize.



Planning a wish list of whiskies to try is a great idea, but be flexible, he says, because inevitability friends will pull you in different directions than you intended and your must-try list won’t match up perfectly with what you actually sample.

"We’ve got small, craft distillers, a few Florida distillers, one that’s never participated before — a lot of weird and wonderful things you may never see," Moore says. Courtesy photo

He also encourages guests to drink things they wouldn’t normally drink.

“We have other great brands, so why stick with what’s on your shelf back home?” he says.

Moore says he’s particularly excited for the wide range of world whiskies that will be available, including brands from Ireland, Japan, India, Canada, Scotland and England. He hopes people will branch out from just the American whiskies, though he’s also looking forward to a wide selection of craft distillers, some in Florida.



Whiskey Obsession Kickoff Dinner

Visit Sarasota County awarded the festival a marketing grant of $10,000 this year to help bring in eventgoers from out of town. Courtesy photo

When: 6:30 p.m. April 11

Where: Sarasota Yacht Club, 1100 John Ringling Blvd.

Tickets: $125

Info: Call 400-9889.

Grab a glass and toast to six years of whiskey appreciation at this opening night party. The dinner will feature a special menu created by Sarasota Yacht Club Executive Chef Anthony Puccio designed to be paired with the evening’s four featured whiskies. People interested in a more intimate social experience hosted by an expert will enjoy this event. Guests will get a flight of whiskies while learning more about the industry from Nicholas M. Pollacchi, CEO of The Whisky Dog, the largest private whisky tasting company in the USA. But act fast — the cap is at 30 guests.


Exclusive Focus Lunch Master Class: Breckenridge Bourbon

Moore says cocktails and blended whiskies are a great way to introduce people to the beverage. Courtesy photo

When: Noon April 12

Where: The Francis, 1289 N. Palm Ave.

Tickets: $35

Info: Call 400-9889.

This lunch whiskey pairing with Jenny Bartels of Breckenridge Bourbon was added primarily for out-of-town guests, but Moore says it’s for anyone interested in learning about a unique whiskey manufacturer based outside of the beverage’s traditional home of Kentucky. Breckenridge Bourbon is a product of Breckenridge Distillery, which was started in 2007 in Colorado by physician Bryan Nolt after cashing out his life savings, kids’ college fund, and eventually selling his house.


Panelist Small Group Dinner with Raj Sabharwal

Intimate dinner tastings will give guests an up close and personal educational experience. Courtesy photo

When: 5 p.m. April 12

Where: The Francis, 1289 N. Palm Ave.

Tickets: $125

Info: Call 400-9889.

This second intimate dinner event of the festival is even smaller than Wednesday’s — Moore says he plans to cap it at 16 — and will serve as a pre-panel dinner with Raj Sabharwal of Glass Revolution Imports. This event is for those interested in tasting a wide range of world whiskies.


The Panel of Whiskey Experts Interactive Tasting and Discussion

The 2016 Panel of Whiskey Experts discuss the beverage at Whiskey Obsession Festival. Courtesy photo

When: 7 p.m. April 12

Where: The Francis, 1289 N. Palm Ave.

Tickets: $75

Info: Call 400-9889.

This educational event featuring eight expert panelists is ideal for guests who want to learn about whiskey in a conversational environment. Moore’s new format with no intermission and a more in-depth tasting will entice anyone looking for an interactive opportunity to learn and, of course, sample eight world whiskies (accompanied by light bites). Moore says this is his favorite event because the audience can ask questions and truly engage with the panelists, who in turn tell fascinating stories from their time in the industry.


Brand Showcase

Several tastings and master classes give new whiskey drinkers the chance to understand the beverage more. Courtesy photo

When: 10 p.m. April 12

Where: Gator Club, 1490 Main St.

Tickets: $10 or free admission with the purchase of the Sarasota Whiskey Society’s new Elijah Craig Single Barrel bottling ($35)

Info: Call 400-9889

Night owls who want to throw back some whiskey while listening to music should stay out for this showcase of “Bourbon Through Bluegrass” with Bernie Lubbers, whiskey professor from Heaven Hill Distillery.


Pre-show Aberlour Premium Master Class

Cigars are also a popular item sold at the festival. Courtesy photo

When: 5 p.m. April 13

Where: Michael’s Wine Cellar, 1283 S. Tamiami Trail

Tickets: $60

Info: Call 400-9889.

This exclusive tasting prior to the Grand Tasting features whiskies from Aberlour Single Malt Scotch. Again, fans of intimate, educational tastings will thrive in this environment. Moore says he added this pre-show last year because he heard both guests and industry professionals wanted more classroom settings where the audience could engage with one brand at a time.


Grand Tasting and Master Classes

Moore says he "drank a lot of cheap bourbon" while attending college in Virginia, but it wasn't until a sailing trip with his parents in 1994 that he got truly interested in whiskey. Courtesy photo

When: 7:30 p.m. April 13 (VIPs can enter at 6:30 p.m.)

Where: Michael’s On East, 1212 S. East Ave.

Tickets: $10 to $20

Info: Call 400-9889.

This is the main event, folks. Moore says the Grand Tasting is essentially a large party featuring dozens of the world’s premium global brands as well as emerging craft distillers in a casual, laid-back environment. Along with walking from booth to booth tasting “as much as your good judgment will let you sample,” as he puts it, guests can attend six seminar-style master classes by industry professionals. Moore says this event is best for groups of friends looking for a fun night out involving a wide range of samples. And don’t forget the free Angel’s Envy After Party at Made Restaurant at 10:30 p.m.


Women of Whiskey Brunch

Moore says men between age 35 and 50 are the peak demographic of the festival but 40% are now women. Courtesy photo

When: 11:30 a.m. April 14

Where: Sarasota Yacht Club, 1100 John Ringling Blvd.

Tickets: $35

Info: Call 400-9889.

New this year, Moore is excited for this completely female produced and led event. This panel features three prominent women in the whiskey industry — a market that seems to have more and more women involved, he says. Two whiskies from each panelist will be paired with a special menu created by Anthony Puccio.


Whiskey Rocks Live Music Street Party

When: 6:30 p.m. April 14

Where: Downtown Sarasota — Intersection of Lemon and Main

Tickets: Free

Info: Call 400-9889.

The festival concludes with its most accessible event yet. Moore says this block-party style concert is meant to be for guests of all backgrounds to enjoy beer, liquor and music from local and national acts as a final hurrah of the festival.

Join the Neighborhood! Our 100% local content helps strengthen our communities by delivering news and information that is relevant to our readers. Support independent local journalism by joining the Observer's new membership program — The Newsies — a group of like-minded community citizens, like you. Be a Newsie.

I'm the Managing Editor of Arts & Entertainment here, which means I write, edit and share stories about our multifaceted A&E scene in Sarasota. I graduated from the University of Missouri with a Bachelor of Journalism and a French minor. Reach me at 941-366-3468 ext. 356

See All Articles by Niki

Related Stories