Whether it’s your first time getting up close and personal with a pair of stills – or you’ve already checked off the HQ of your entire drinks trolley – you’ll want to make the most of your distillery visit. From unusual questions to tips and tricks, we tapped three distillers for their esteemed insider knowledge…
Take it from us, there’s never been a better time to be a full-on spirits geek. Whether through distillery tours, blending workshops, tailored tasting experiences or cocktail masterclasses, the masterminds behind our favourite sips have flung open their doors, filling both our minds and our glasses with spirited brilliance.
For most distillers, provenance is a huge part of what makes their liquid so unique. Native botanicals, regional production methods, local water, warehouse climate; whatever it might be, these unique factors form part of its DNA. There’s nothing quite like experiencing that sense-of-place first hand. It’s a lesson in history, science and art, all rolled into one.
To really get the best of this unique experience, we quizzed the people for whom distillery tours are their day-to-day. Heed their do’s and don’ts to make the most of your big day out (and remember to scope out the gift shop’s distillery exclusive bottlings while you’re there! It’s the best place to nab a gem…).
#1 Introduce yourself
Perhaps you’re a huge fan of the distillery and it’s been a lifelong dream to visit? Or maybe the local hotel receptionist recommended you drop by, and this will be your first time tasting neat gin. Whatever the reason you’re there, make it known to your guide. The best tour experiences are always the most interactive ones, says Meeghan Murdoch, operations manager at Glenrinnes Distillery in Speyside, since engaging in visitors’ knowledge helps them tailor the experience to the interests of the group.
#2 Come with the right mindset
For starts, arrive punctual and sober, says Andrew Anderson, head of distillery tours at Balcones Distilling in Texas. For the sake of your tour guide, mainly, but you’ll also enjoy the experience more if both your mind and palate are fresh. By all means, hit the bar up – there’s a certain magic about enjoying a dram on its home turf – but do so on your way out. Remember to turn your phone off (or set it to silent) so your guide has your full attention, and don’t answer it during the tour.
#3 Soak up the atmosphere
Distilleries are often beautiful buildings with hundreds of years’ worth of history, says Greg Hughes, managing director of Jameson Brand Homes and Education at Irish Distillers, and Jameson’s Bow Street and Midleton sites are a fine example. So, give yourself enough time to take in your surroundings. “Make an afternoon of it rather than coming in, having a quick tour and dashing off,” he says. “You lose some of the magic of these historical sites.” And don’t forget, your guide is a local, so make the most of their travel tips. “We’ve a really friendly team and they loved being asked where to go next, whether it’s a hotel, a bar or restaurant or another whiskey attraction.”
#4 Ask *all* of the questions
Any question that pops into your head. Even the one you feel embarrassed about asking. “We are here to interact, engage, and teach you about our craft,” says Anderson, “[your guide] will not think you’re stupid.” ‘Do you own the distillery?’, ‘Can I drink the dump bucket?’, ‘How many miles of pipe is in the distillery?’, and ‘Can we try the wort?’ are all legitimate questions he and the team have received. While some questions are trickier to answer than others, Hughes adds, “we love to see it, there’s a real enthusiasm there. When people are asking questions you can tell they’re really enjoying the experience – you don’t need to be a whiskey expert to have passion.” So, ask away.
#5 Don’t ‘give it the biggen’*
Perhaps your uncle worked at the distillery three decades ago, or your best friend is involved with marketing the distillery. Regardless of what you already know about spirits production, local history, the brand, and so on, be gracious to your guide. “Don’t try to catch out the tour guide on your own knowledge,” says Katrina Stewart, Glenrinnes’ distiller. “Respect their experience and understanding and have an open discussion.” In the same vein, be open to learning about new ways to approach the production process, says Anderson. “Do not answer questions as if you’re the tour guide unless prompted or opened up to contribute – be attentive, and do not speak while the tour guide is speaking”.
* Urban Dictionary defines this as “When someone attempts to make themselves appear tougher or cooler than they really are”. So now you know.