Detroit Bourbon Fest brings more than 100 whiskeys to Belle Isle Saturday

Erica Hobbs
Special to The Detroit News

It may be October, but bourbon is taking center stage Saturday at the inaugural Detroit Bourbon Fest taking place at the Belle Isle Boat House. The sampling event features more than 100 whiskeys, the majority of which are bourbons, as well as options such as rye whiskey, Tennessee whiskey and Japanese whiskey. 

“There’s probably too many beer festivals to be honest, so I was like, “Why not do a bourbon festival?” said founder and organizer Paul Starr.

Bourbon is the star of the Detroit Bourbon Fest on Saturday at the Belle Isle Boat House.

Starr said bourbon is becoming more and more popular, and he is noticing a crossover from people who enjoy craft beer. For those newer to the whiskey, the festival is an opportunity to sample a variety of options before purchasing, especially high-end bottles, he said. The festival, however, is strictly a tasting event, and the whiskeys will not be for sale. 

“If it’s the general admission ticket or the VIP ticket, somebody can try a half ounce sample of something and decide if they want to spend a lot of money chasing that bottle or maybe that’s not their thing,” he said. “I’m trying to give people so many options that they can find what they like or don’t like.”

General admission is $50 and includes 10 tasting tickets. VIP admission is $100 and includes 20 tasting tickets plus access to the high-end bottle section, including samples of Weller Barrel Proof – Store Pick Red Wagon, Colonel E.H. Taylor Barrel Proof and Woodford Reserve Baccarat Edition, among its bottle list options. 

Most samples – a half ounce – cost one tasting ticket, though more expensive whiskeys may cost two or three each or up to 15 for the VIP samples. VIP ticketholders, however, get access to all general admission whiskeys for one ticket each. General admission tickets also included a souvenir glass, and VIP tickets include a special etched bourbon glass. 

“It’s a good value,” Starr said. 

For those who are not interested in whiskey, the festival will also have beer and wine samples for one tasting ticket each. Designated driver tickets are also available for $10 and include entry into festival and coffee and water. The event will also have a food truck, live music and vendors.

All proceeds of the event support Friends of the Detroit River, an organization that restores and rehabilitates the Detroit River.

Masks are optional and the festival will have hand sanitizer available.

Visitors must adhere to the State of Michigan Recreation Passport Policy to enter Belle Isle, which requires an annual state park pass or $9 for those without the recreation passport. 

Starr said the festival is a unique experience and something rarely found outside of Kentucky. 

“You’re not going to have this type of selection at any event or festival in Michigan,” he said. “If somebody’s into bourbon and they don’t come, they’re really missing out, because it’s going to be a great time.”

Detroit Bourbon Fest

4-7 p.m. or 8-11 p.m. Saturday

Belle Isle Boat House at East Picnic Way, Detroit on Belle Isle

Tickets: $50 general admission; $100 VIP