I am a fan of booze tourism — a big fan of it.
I fully recognize that there is something weird about this on multiple levels. For one thing, most people express no desire to see where their toaster or canned soups or shirts are made, or where the grains in their favorite breakfast cereal are grown. Yet tours of wineries, breweries and distilleries are popular all over the world and typically amount to rather significant tourism revenue.
Indeed, at many of the larger breweries and distilleries and even at some of the wineries, visitors can buy a wide variety of whiskey, branded tchotchkes and souvenirs. Some distilleries, especially those clustered reasonably close to each other, have engendered whiskey-trail tourist amenities — like themed hotels and restaurants.
Such booze tourism is big-business.
According to a California Department of Food and Agriculture report, more than 20 million tourists visit the state’s wineries annually, spending more than $2 billion each year. A representative of the Scotch Whisky Association, the umbrella trade organization, once told me that “1.1 million visits were recorded to distilleries in Scotland during 2013” and I’ve been told that Kentucky and Tennessee have also enjoyed annual increases in their respective whiskey tourism. The United Nations World Tourism Organization will hold its first Global Conference on Wine Tourism from Sept. 7 through Sept. 9 in the Kakheti wine region in the Republic of Georgia, itself an emerging enotourism destination.
Booze tourism is fun. Personally, it renews my more romantic notions about my preferred grain or fruit based tipple. I love traipsing through the vineyards, wineries and distilleries listening to guides — or the winemaker, vineyard or distillery manager, maltman, cooper, or other process technician — discuss this or that aspect of production. Sure, there is a willful and self-induced hit-me-with-your-best-sales-pitch credulity about it all, but those instances, thankfully, are mostly few and far between.
The tasting at the tour’s end is but icing on the cake. Obviously, some tour experiences are greater than others. There are a handful of lackluster tours to be found that are comparatively anemic exercises in corporate hospitality rounded out by a small shot or glug of the product. But these are increasingly rare, and even then the atmosphere, environment and product samples usually make it all at least more fun than not.
Children are not permitted to participate in tastings; some facilities don’t allow children under a certain age in some of their production areas, but otherwise families are generally welcome on such tours. Obviously, check in advance before finalizing your vacation plans and consider that there isn’t usually a huge amount for children to see or do to hold their interests.
As I ponder future booze-tour vacations, I’m doing so with a glass of Tomatin 18 and recalling a really delightful, if heavily snow-covered, distillery visit from a few years back.
Tomatin 18 Year Old, Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky (46 percent abv; $85; finished for 2.5 years in Oloroso sherry casks; the bottle had a recent redesign so don’t be surprised if you see two version of it on the shelf; it’s the same whisky inside, regardless): This lush, bold, lovely whisky offers aromas of honey, malted barley, vanilla oak and spiced fruit, with sweet and full flavors of toffee apple, chocolate, nut, raison, prune and sugared ginger. The finish is long and robust, with a touch of black pepper, dried cherries, and dry, tannic oak. Solid, delicious whisky — and a wonderful distillery visit. L’chaim!