There’s a buzz in the air around 701 Whaley, where the Great American Whiskey Fair is happening. It’s something like Christmas, but better, because inside the doors of this venue on a side street in Columbia, South Carolina, is something even Santa couldn’t pull out of his bag. Inside is the Southeast’s largest whiskey festival, with over 100 distilleries and 500 bottles of whiskey, scotch, and bourbon. And we went so we could tell you why you need to find a way to Columbia for next year’s festival, which, at the rate it’s growing, will be bigger and better.
For whiskey lovers, the joy is immediate. Whether you’re into checking out the local distilleries like hometown favorites Crouch Distilling or Copper Horse Distilling, or nearby friends in Palmetto Distillery, Yesternight Distilling, or distilleries from places across the country and the world, chances are you’ll find it at the GAWF.
In its third year, the GAWF is the brainchild of Kristian Niemi, owner of Bourbon, a whiskey bar and Cajun-Creole restaurant in downtown Columbia. (Which, if you’re ever in Columbia, you need to check out for what is possibly the best deal in town: at select times, a beer, bourbon, and burger for $10.)
There’s whiskey for every palate at GAWF. We were able to try everything from High West’s delectable spirit Bourye, which combines bourbon and rye, Wild Turkey Master’s Keep, and two of my new favorites from the night—Chattanooga Whiskey’s 1816 Reserve and Thirteenth Colony Distillery’s Southern Rye Whiskey.
By the end of the night, one thing was clear, aside from the need to hitch an Über home: you need to come to this festival. Next year, you need to be hopping in a car or on a plane and getting to Columbia to taste your way around the whiskey world, one sip at a time.