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Whiskyfest This Week: More than a Wee Dram

It's October, it's cool and wet. No better time for a wee nip of whisky—or maybe 200 nips of whisky, if you're planning to attend Whiskyfest this Friday. It's the biggest blow-out whisky tasting in the US, and it only happens in three cities: New York, Chicago, and SF.

Why go? If you're a whisky geek, there's all the reason in world, namely more than 200 of the finest whiskys in the world (Scotch, Irish, American, and Japanese), including some expensive rareties. And if you're not a whisky aficionado but want to be, the tasting's especially worthwhile. For one thing, there will be experts to take your questions at each of the tables. Also, there are a bunch of seminars (seating is first-come, first-served, so get there early), offering comprehensive tasting and discussion of specific brands (like the ethereal scotches Highland Park, Glenrothes, and Laphroaig) or general topics (how long can a bourbon age?, with legendary distiller Parker Beam). For the price of admission ($110 or $150 VIP tickets ) you also get your own tasting glass, a year subscription to Malt Advocate, and a giant buffet. It's not cheap to go, but it pays for itself in terms of the tasting and learning opportunities.

But be warned: some people really get into this. You'll see more than your fair share of men in kilts. It also gets crowded. My suggestion for those going: look at the whisky list ahead of time and make a plan of attack. You can't taste everything (believe me), so find the things you do want to taste and hit those first. Also, drink a lot of water and have something in your stomach when you go. It's easy to get wasted in the first 45 minutes and then the best parts of it are a blur. Finally, be on the lookout for special pours--a lot of the purveyors will be pouring something under the table, something interesting that's not on their official list, usually a new product that they're getting ready to release or an old treasure. Also, make sure to hit a couple of the seminars—at 30 minutes or so in length, they are often more enlightening than a whole hour on the festival floor. And, finally, at the end of it when your palate has been pummeled in a beautiful whisky-tinged numbness, a nice, creamy beer never tastes better. Cheers.