For many beach towns, the winter brings a lull in activity, with vacant shorelines and empty hotels. That’s not true of the Golden Isles.
While there is, naturally, a dip in tourism during the colder months, area beaches still see a healthy stream of visitors. One reason may be the mostly mild winters. And another draw is likely the delightful events.
There are more than a few fun things that take place over the course of the season. And without a doubt, one of those is Whiskey Wine and Wildlife. Slated for Feb. 7 to 10, the Jekyll Island-based event celebrates both critters and culinary.
Now in its fourth year, the food and spirits festival began as a collaboration between the newly opened Westin on Jekyll Island and organizers of the Savannah Food and Wine Festival.
“Kevin Baker at the Westin and I had known each other a long time. He knew that we did the Savannah Food and Wine Festival, and that it was a great culinary event,” Jan Gourley, a partner with AdFish and event organizer, said.
“He wanted to bring a big culinary event to the island, of course, for The Westin during the off season but it so happened that the Jekyll Island Authority was also very much interested in doing the same thing. So we all partnered together.”
As the name implies, the multi-day event focuses on bringing together the various elements to inspire chefs and beverage enthusiasts while educating the public about the coast’s delicate ecosystem. From DNR lectures complete with turtles, birds and even snakes to cooking seminars, there is something for all areas of interest.
The main event, however, known as W3, will be held from 1 to 4 p.m. Feb. 9 on the Beach Village Green on Jekyll Island. There, admission will allow adults to sample various wine and spirits while nibbling on tasty treats. Live music will be provided as will those various wildlife demonstrations.
Gourley notes attendees will also be able to cast their vote for their favorite creation in a bartenders’ challenge.
“Cooper’s Craft is our official whiskey, and we will have five or six bartenders competing. We will hand out yellow and red tickets along with the souvenir tasting glass when guests arrive,” she said.
“The yellow tickets are for the cocktail competition where the guests can vote after a taste of the various signature recipes. And the bartenders really go all out for this. Then the red tickets are for our best barbecue. It’s a lot of fun.”
This year, Gourley notes, there will be a record number of vendors, sharing more than 250 varieties of wine, whiskey, beer and other spirits. More tasting options will not be the only new feature this year. “We are doing ‘Uncaged at the Westin’ Saturday morning which will include a falconry display. The Uncaged is Zach Brown (musician), his wines so it will give people something to do Saturday morning,” she said.
“They can get on the island early and take full advantage.”
Gourley adds that arriving early is a good idea, as there are already other events planned at the conference center which will ensure a busy weekend for the island as a whole.
“There is a gynastics competition that weekend so we are encouraging attendees to arrive early,” she said.
In addition to Uncaged, there will also be a Bubble Lounge, which will feature sparkling wines, as well as a Creature Feature Cafe.
“It is similar to those ‘cat cafes’ you see in Japan. But here, you might get to pet a snake while you have some coffee. Starbucks will be sponsoring this,” she said.
Some events have already sold out but tickets are available for the following:
• W3 Master Class Pours — 1 to 5 p.m. Feb. 8 at The Westin Jekyll Island. Tickets are $50 per person, per class. A $140 “Master Class Pours Pass,” includes one ticket to each of the four classes. Attendees must be 21 or older.
• Whiskey Inspired — 6:30 to 9 p.m. Feb. 8 on the oceanfront lawn of The Westin Jekyll Island. Tickets are $90 per person. The dress is business casual. Attendees must be 21 years and over.
• Uncaged at The Westin — 10 a.m. to noon Feb. 9 at The Westin Courtyard. Tickets are $45 per person. Casual dress is encouraged. Attendees must be over 21.
• Whiskey, Wine & Wildlife – W3 — 1 to 4 p.m. on the Jekyll Island Beach Village and Village Green. General admission are $75 per person. It is $70 per person in advance for a limited time and based on availability. The VIP Lounge admission is $150 per person, $140 per person in advance for a limited time.
• W3 Sunday Brunch — 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Feb. 10 at The Reserve at The Westin Jekyll Island. Brunch will include unlimited tastings of champagne, classic cocktails, a Bloody Mary bar and more.