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Sarasota Whiskey Obsession Festival at Michael’s on East features local distilleries

Whiskey enthusiasts in southwest Florida have a reason to raise their glasses -- snifters, for those in the know -- as the date approaches for the fourth annual Whiskey Obsession Festival, taking place March 30 - April 1 in Sarasota, FL. 

Held at the Michael’s on East Restaurant and Wine Cellar, the Whiskey Obsession Festival is one of the largest whiskey festivals in the United States. Dozens of master distillers and professional ambassadors descend on Sarasota to share their knowledge and to sample and sell their finest whiskeys at the annual festival. The main tasting event on April 1 will feature master classes, cigar pairing, exclusive on-site package sales and VIP pours.

The Whiskey Obsession Festival features more than 250 whiskies from around the world, including fine spirits from Scotland, Ireland, France, Japan, Canada and the United States. This year, the festival will also feature several independent distillers representing the growing craft spirits scene in the greater Tampa Bay area. 

The makers of Wild Buck American Rye Whiskey, husband and wife distilling duo Kevin and Natalie Goff, are based out of Weeki Wachee. Wild Buck Rye is made using only local, non-GMO 401 black rye -- a grain varietal specially adapted for the Florida climate. The Goffs grow 401 black rye on their own farm in the Chassahowitzka Wildlife Reserve and receive harvests from the Melton Family farms in Dade City.

“There’s such a big movement for crafts spirits right now -- but it has to be quality… Most people get rye out of places like Minnesota or Colorado, but the problem is that when you grind it, it can smell stale or moldy. That wasn’t acceptable to us. We wanted it as fresh as possible,” says Natalie Goff. 

Natalie adds that she and her husband distill their whiskey, and sanitize, polish, fill and cork each bottle by hand.

“We don’t have any automation. … It’s really a quality measure. It’s a labor of love,” she says.

The Goffs will return to the Whiskey Obsession Festival for the second year following a successful, sold-out launch of their Wild Buck Rye at last year’s festival.

Also in attendance at this year’s festival will be the St. Petersburg Distillery, founded in 2014 in the midtown area of St. Pete, just south of Central Avenue and west of downtown. St. Petersburg Distillery’s “Old St. Pete” line features locally inspired spirits including Sweet Corn Whiskey, locally sourced from Okeechobee and distilled in vintage copper pots from the 1930s, and Tippler’s Orange Liqueur, made from natural Florida Temple oranges -- peels and all.

St. Petersburg Distillery PR Manager Hanna Marcus says that the distillery is excited to serve its WSWA award-winning “St. Pete Sour” cocktail at the Whiskey Obsession Festival, featuring the distillery’s Sweet Corn Whiskey, Tippler’s Orange Liqueur and American Royal Mead. 

Although the Whiskey Obsession Festival focuses primarily on whiskeys -- including scotch, bourbon, rye, single malt, blend, Irish and Japanese whiskeys -- the festival will also feature a selection of cocktails, rums, cognacs, and even barrel-aged beer. Tampa’s own Coppertail Brewing will feature a barrel-aged brew at this year’s festival. 

The Whiskey Obsession Festival kicks off on March 30 with the “Dram Dance” party at downtown Sarasota’s historic Gator Club, featuring Brooklyn-based electronic music artist, Brothertiger. The festival’s Panel of Whiskey Experts Interactive Tasting and Discussion takes place on Thursday, March 31. The main event’s Grand Tasting and Master Classes start at 6:30 p.m. for VIP ticketholders and at 7:30 p.m. for general admission on April 1 at Michael’s on East. 

For a full event schedule and to purchase tickets, visit the Whiskey Obsession website.

Read more articles by Jessi Smith.

 Jessi Smith is a feature writer for 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.
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