Just minutes into last Friday’s WhiskyFest I was waiting in line next to a man who’d just poured some water in his tasting glass to rinse it out and was looking for a place to dump it. I suggested that he just drink the water, and he declined in no uncertain terms, pointing out that “It’s a whiskey tasting, not a water tasting.”

It was only a few minutes later that I caught a whiff of wood smoke wafting off of someone walking by, which normally would make me think that the person had been near a campfire recently. Here, it seemed more likely that he’d just tasted an extremely peaty whiskey* and exhaled while walking by. (The malt for many Scotch whiskeys is dried over burning peat, which imparts a strong smoky flavor and aroma.)

*It’s spelled “whisky” in the UK; “whiskey” in the U.S.—hence the various spellings here.

Malt Advocate magazine’s annual WhiskyFest, which is also held in New York and San Francisco, is now in its 14th year in Chicago. It’s gotten increasingly popular over the years, and this time around VIP tickets, at $200 apiece, sold out in just a few hours; regular-admission tickets, $155, lasted less than a week (those are early-bird specials; if tickets had lasted longer they would have increased in price by about $25).