Sip, sample, savour and learn at Whisky Festival

Long-time festival volunteer offers his tips to enjoy the festival

Dave McMillan

A taste of the old world and the new comes to town this week with the annual Victoria Whisky Festival, Thursday to Saturday (Jan. 14 to 16).

Now in its 11th year, the festival attracts enthusiasts from around the world. In addition to tasting both newly released drams and old favourites, attendees can learn about each distiller’s process and what creates striking and subtle differences between whiskies.

That education aspect is a key component to the festival, says Dave McMillan.

The 19-year veteran of Oak Bay Police retired last year and made one of his first post-retirement vacations a working holiday in Scotland at the Springbank Whiskey Academy.

There he joined aficionados from Denmark, Italy, France and elsewhere to work and learn in the distillery.

McMillan has volunteered with the festival for eight years. His appreciation for the amber nectar began after receiving some whiskey as a gift. He began learning more, and that led him to the festival.

“I got more involved, and started tasting more and learning more about it,” he says, noting he appreciates the cultural aspects that tie into his Scottish heritage. “I also enjoy learning and getting educated. Each distillery has its own story and its own kind of whisky.”

Growing from that first festival, which  featured 100 whiskies at the grand tasting and four masterclasses, the festival now presents eight consumer tastings on Thursday and Friday, the Canadian Whisky Awards dinner, and 36 masterclasses on Saturday.

Held at the Hotel Grand Pacific, the event concludes with the Grand Tasting Saturday evening. Festival proceeds are donated to charitable organizations.

While whisky appreciation used to be seen as an older person’s activity, more enthusiasts are in their 20s and 30s today, says McMillan. People are also becoming more confident in their tastings. “It’s an experience that really elicits memories,” he says.

“It’s not about the drinking, it’s about the flavours,” he adds, advising festival-goers to focus on the taste, and make use of the spittoons available. “My motto is you don’t drink whisky, you taste it.”

Lawrence Graham, Victoria Whisky Festival president, says with so many new whiskies, people are looking to build their knowledge.

“Rather than buying their same favourite whiskies they are becoming more adventurous, armed with a knowledge of the process and the results that creates,” he says. “People are more and more curious about whiskies from Canada, the United States, Japan, India as well as from Scotland.”

This year’s festival will showcase more than 250 whiskies crafted in 50 distilleries from Scotland, Ireland, England, Canada, United States, Japan, Taiwan, India and France.

Thursday also brings the sixth annual Canadian Whisky Awards, celebrating the best Canadian whisky from across the country, selected. Winners will be posted at

Rides home are also available for attendees.

For additional information and a schedule of festival activities, see



Just Posted

Student group seeks cap on international tuition fees

UVic increased international fees 20 per cent for 2018-19

West Shore firefighters answer call to battle fires in north-central B.C.

Crews to help with structural fire protection in Fort St. James

Esquimalt man faces four charges of sexual assault, investigators suspect more victims

71-year old Kit Wong practiced acupuncture from his home during the time of the assaults

Heat and smoke raises health risks

Rick Stiebel - Sooke News Mirror Health risks arising from heat and… Continue reading

Victoria’s Global Village Store celebrates 30 years in business

The City’s first free-trade store sells products from 28 countries around the world

Interim GoFundMe payments approved in Humboldt Broncos crash

$50,000 to be given to each of the 13 survivors and each family of the 16 people who died

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Aug. 14

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

Altidore nets 3 as Toronto drubs Whitecaps 5-2

Vancouver falls 7-4 on aggregate in Canadian Championship final

Ottawa intervenes to get B.C. ball player, 13, to Little League World Series

Before immigration issue was resolved, Dio Gama was out practicing the game he loves Wednesday

Pet goldfish invades small B.C. lake

Pinecrest Lake is located between Whistler and Squamish

Mounties deployed to help B.C. communities affected by wildfires

RCMP officers heading to places particularly within central, northern and southern B.C.

Quebec sets aside $900 million for companies hurt by U.S. tariffs

Premier Philippe Couillard says his government will make $863 million available over five years

Most Read