Whisky making is as cerebral a science as is putting a man on the moon. It demands as much precision and practice to master, as is required in any art form. Water, soil, air, fire, sunlight and time all join hands to create this amber coloured elixir, which is so splendid that even angels can’t help but steal their share while the whisky is gestating in oak wood casks.
Whisky has helped boost morales during revolutions and assisted in nursing broken hearts. Throughout the years it has remained the primary poison of choice for poets and writer deserted by inspiration. Money can’t buy happiness, but it can procure whisky, which is pretty much the same. Here is our guide to dream destinations for whisky connoisseurs across the globe, along with other exciting experiences around the distilleries.
If you throw a stone anywhere in Scotland, chances are it might land in one of the approximately 120 distilleries, or hit someone talking about the “water of life”. Whisky is what unites this nation and exploring this aspect with a local Scotland guide is an amazing experience.
Distilleries span across five whisky-producing regions of Speyside, Islay, Highland, Campbell town and Lowland. Grains of malt imbue the characters of the soil to the whisky. By organising in advance, you will be able to extract the most juice from the myriad of distilleries around.
Start from a place which suits your palate the most as opposed to the closest to your accommodation mantra of travelling. You will find a plethora of full-bodied, feisty, sweet or rich, smoky or peaty scotches in the untamed Highland area. Glenturit and Balbair are two of the oldest distilleries in the Highlands. Hot-sellers and local favourites like Glenfiddich and Macallan come from the Speyside region. These have very little peat presence or none at all.
There are yet more memorable experiences to be had at the ‘Pearl of the North’. Visit the Ballindalloch Castle when in Speyside and drift along the Spey River on a canoeing trip with a river guide as they take you through the legends of the lochs. Scurry through forests to behold vistas embellished by lochs and mountains of the northern Highlands. Trace the compelling history of Scotland on visits to battlefields, fortresses, and ancient tombs by tagging along with a seasoned Scottish tour guide who will take you through each phase, page by page.
Everything in Ireland is a must-see and must-do, and the same applies to its ‘whiskeys’ as well. Just like its people, Irish whiskies are elegant and blossom with fruitiness. They are produced with the utmost care at every stage of the process. Tag along with a local Irish guide to sample this elixir.
Decorating the streets of the capital city of Dublin is Jameson Distillery, where you can pour down from a history of over 230 years of whiskey heritage and experience first-hand why Jameson emerges above and beyond everything else. While in Dublin you should also check out the ‘Whiskey Museum’ at Wharton Street and see if you can find why ‘e’ is the key to Irish whiskey.
Tullamore D.E.W Distilleries is an hours’ drive from Dublin. The ‘Curious Tasters Journey’ lets you sample 3 whiskies along with a guided tour of the facility. The ‘Whiskey Wise Masterclass’ tour enables you to taste 6 whiskies. But the greatest among them all is the ‘Ultimate Distillery Experience’ on which you can create your blend of whiskey in their blending room.
Bushmills Distillery functions from the north coast of Northern Ireland in County Antrim and is probably the most iconic of all the Irish distilleries as it is featured on the Bank of Ireland £5 note. A tour here caters to all the senses right from the moment you take your first step inside the premises. When in County Antrim shunt away on the narrow-gauge of the Giant Causeway & Bushmills Railway route. Relive the scenes of the epic Game of Thrones; apart from the drinks, there could be few more commonalities between you and Tyrian Lannister. Buddy up with a local Irish tour guide who might be privy to some on-set gossip to find out for yourselves.
Kentucky Bourbon Trail
If you’ve never had thought of planning an Ocean’s 11 style heist wait till you step foot on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.
Kentucky monopolises Bourbon distilling by producing 95% of the global Bourbon consumed, just like it champions hosting the coveted title of ‘Kentucky Derby’ held on the first Sunday of every May.
Go behind the scenes at 17 state-of-the-art distilleries on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, including Jim Beam, Woodford Reserve and Lux Row. You will need a long weekend for the complete tour but if you are running against the clock, heading straight to Maker’s Mark is the best option. The distillery offers an in-depth look into the distillation process and also offers a masterclass on mixing Bourbon.
Pick up a Kentucky Bourbon Trail passport at your first distillery which has all details of the distilleries on the trail. Upon making purchases at any of the listed distilleries, you earn a stamp. Collect six stamps, and you become an official Bourbon Country citizen; exercise your vote responsibly!
A cottage industry of small craft distilleries has mushroomed and is knocking hard on the global bourbon scene. You can have a taste of that during the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour. For one of a kind experiences, head to the Buffalo Trace Distillery located in Frankfurt. The distillery decided against being a part of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and makes an offer you can’t refuse – an insight into its bottling plant and free tour & tasting - to their visitors.
Kentucky’s soil not only gives birth to priceless corn used in its bourbons but has also nurtured the baseball prodigy Babe Ruth, knock-out king Mohamad Ali and the man who lead America through the Civil War - Abraham Lincoln. The city celebrates these individuals and has dedicated museums and memorials as a tribute which are best explored with a guide.
You might not think India as a dream whisky destination, and you really couldn’t have been far from reality on this. All you need to do is attend an Indian wedding to know how crazy Indians are about their alcohol. It was in the late 19th century when India had its ‘spiritual’ awakening. Neelakanta Jagdale of Amrut Distilleries spearheaded the production of malted grain whisky and put India on the map as a whisky destination. The distillery is located 20 km from India’s own Silicon Valley – Bengaluru. Further exploring the city with an Indian guide, you can pause at any of its Victorian-era monuments or promenade at Tipu Sultan’s Summer Palace and witness, first-hand, the cocktail of imperial charm and new age hyperactivity which the city has concocted.
About 600 km north-west of Amrut is the primary facility of John Distilleries in Goa. Within two decades of its inception, this distillery has become a prized possession of whisky connoisseurs and won many accolades around the globe. Their blends range from non-peated to hardcore peat presence, perfumed with toasted honeycomb. Brilliance’, ‘Bold’ and ‘Edited’ are its most notable bottles.
Should you still be able to walk a straight line, do the blocks of this charmingly hip party hub. Look closely and see if you can find Portuguese influences on buildings and basilicas, nose around the spice farms and while away wayfaring at its aureate beaches.
When a third of your country lies in the Arctic circle, there are things one tries to keep warm, and distilling spirits was one of those things. With significant help from the Scottish and Irish folks who migrated from their homeland, the Canadians cracked the code to making twenty-four-carat gold which one could drink.
Hiram Walker & Sons in Windsor, Ontario, is Canada’s largest distiller and blender with bottles like Lot 40 and Gibson’s Finest. Scouting through the plant, you get to learn about the vibrant history of craftsmanship and witness various stages of production from malting, distilling to maturation. The tour concludes with a sampling session of a curated collection of their award-winning blends, overlooking the Detroit River.
Post the tour you can try your luck at one of the four casinos in the Windsor-Detroit area. Take a step back in time as you head out for a walking tour across the town to historic sites or art galleries, which Windsor has plenty, with a local guide. You can indulge in some soft-adventure by canoeing, kayaking or paddle-boarding, and halt at ‘Stop 26’, Ontario’s favourite beach, for a sun-filled day.
The sudden boom in the popularity of Japanese whisky has seen distilleries unable to keep up with the demand, which has lead to a serious shortage of Japanese whiskies these days. Top of the line bottles are being sold at three or four times the original price, but there is no denying the fact that every drop is worth the price.
If God ever designed a whisky distillery, it will most definitely be Suntory’s Yamazaki Distillery. This distillery is nestled in a misty valley near the confluence of three rivers which aids in brewing its award-winning blend.
Recent years have seen the Kirin Fuji-Gotemba Distillery make a mark on the global scene with their top-notch grain whiskies. A tour here takes you through the history before introducing you to the aromas, ingredients and manufacturing process, and ultimately ending with a tasting session.
Still, in its nascent years, Chichibu Distillery is the first among equals when it comes to the small-batch producers and has made a firm footing globally in a short period. Its inception is an inspiring story which is evident in the process of its making. At the tasting, you can sample from their ‘Ichiro’, ‘Kawasaki’ and ‘Chichibu New Make’ collection.
Head to Hamarikyu Onshi Teien to savour the other drink mastered by the Japanese, ‘tea’. At Ueno Park and National Museum marvel at Japan’s rich cultural heritage. Embrace the warmth at the Meiji Shrine and pause for a breather at the Imperial Palace.
Mighty mountains, rolling hills and roaring rivers come together to create the perfect conditions to craft the best ‘whiskey’ on either side of the Mississippi. Tennessee has been the undisputed champion of making distilled spirits, and the Tennessee Whisky Trail offers a rewarding look into this very subtle alchemy. You will need ten days and a very brave liver to complete the trail comprising over thirty distilleries. These distilleries range from, small-batch, boutique-style operations to the grand-old dads of distilleries.
If you plan to visit all the distilleries, make sure to get your Tennessee Whisky Trail passport or their mobile app. Collecting stamps at all the destinations will earn life-long bragging rights and a T-shirt testifying your claim.
Middle Tennessee offers an all-encompassing experience to its visitors. It is home to the planets most recognisable alcohol brands like George Dickel and Jack Daniel and “small-craft” distilleries like the Nashville Craft Distillery and Ole Smokey Distillery.
Leaving Nashville after a whisky tour is a crime in all courts of law. It is called ‘Music City’ for a reason; melody and harmony resonate in unison with whiskey at Nashville. Music buffs can head to The Country Music Hall of Fame and Johnny Cash Museum and take a tour of the studio where music maestros like Elvis recorded their chartbusters.
Not to be missed at any cost is the grandstand of Nashville - the Parthenon. It is a replica of the one in Greece with a 42-foot statue of Athena which explains why Nashville is also called the ‘The Athens of the South’.
Whether you are someone who has recently found love in whiskies or someone whose hair has turned grey swilling and swirling amber gold, a whisky tour is the perfect opportunity to feel grateful and pay your respects.
Jim Beam – Anthony - https://flic.kr/p/gvVbo8
Cover Image – Pete Favelle - https://flic.kr/p/rvVabo
Yamazaki Distillery – Yuya Tamai - https://flic.kr/p/a5d6JY