We visit a lot of distilleries here at Master of Malt, but not as many as Karyn Noble from Lonely Planet. She has put a book together taking in the main spirit-producing countries plus a few places that are a bit more off the beaten track. . .
Whether it’s gin, Tequila, rum or whisky, spirits are booming at the moment, with new distilleries coming on stream the whole time, and old ones opening their doors to visitors. Fine whiskies, are now made in Taiwan, India and Sweden, for example. Distillery tourism is big business, and what better way to get to know a country or a region than by sampling its local spirit and finding out how it is made. But with so many distilleries to choose from, where do you start? Thankfully top Australian travel writer Karyn Noble and the Lonely Planet team have put together Global Distillery Tour, a guide that takes the hard work out of planning a booze-centred trip. From Lebanon to Nicaragua, the book profiles some of the world’s most interesting distilleries as well as containing guides to different spirits, some cocktail recipes and a list of interesting bars to try on your travels. Phew!
We were lucky enough to get some time with Karyn Noble (who wrote most of the entries on Australia, the UK, Ireland and Sweden) to find out a little more about the project…
Master of Malt: Where did the idea for the book come from?
Karyn Noble: Global Distillery Tour is part of a series of books under the Lonely Planet Food sub-brand. It follows on from Global Beer Tour, which we published in 2017 and Global Coffee Tour, released in 2018, which have both been hugely popular. By then the drinkers of spirits and cocktails in the office were getting a little twitchy and so a pretty strong case was made for this book. (We have a separate series about wine called Wine Trails, to preempt that question!)
MoM: What tips would you offer for people visiting a distillery?
KN: Talk to the people who work there. It really would be a wasted trip to walk in and order a drink or buy a bottle to take home and learn nothing about what you’ll be drinking. The distillers and people who work in distilleries are usually extremely passionate and proud about what they’ve painstakingly made and want to help guide you towards enjoying what you might like best or introduce you to a potentially new favourite drink. Don’t feel intimidated or be afraid to ask questions. Quite often, people visit distilleries because they’re dragged along by someone more obsessed about spirits, so say that up front like: ‘I usually don’t like whisky, I prefer rum, but is there something I should try?’. If you’re willing to be open-minded, many distillers will take on the challenge of trying to convert you.
MoM: What was the first distillery you ever visited?
KN: Memories are a little vague but I think it was somewhere near Edinburgh in 1996 and it was the first time I’d tried a dram. I let someone who said he was a descendant of Robert Louis Stevenson drive me there and he told me I’d be killed if I asked for water with my whisky. Whisky has felt somewhat reckless and romantic ever since.
MoM: Do you have a favourite distillery?
KN: Yes! When I went to Four Pillars gin distillery in Australia’s Yarra Valley, I had to remind them (and myself) I was there for research and not for pleasure, as I always visit when I travel to Melbourne. It’s a lovely excuse for a day trip to the country (about 90 minutes’ drive from the city). One of my editors lives nearby and gave me the hot tip when it opened in 2015. It’s well-located in a renowned wine region and you can sit in what feels like a modern interpretation of a barn with a killer cocktail list or a tasting paddle of gins with unique Australian botanicals and a plate of gin cheese and be very happy with life.
MoM: What was the smallest distillery you visited?
KN: It was Hartshorn Distillery in Tasmania in Australia. I got distiller Ryan Hartshorn at a really exciting time. He distils his sheep whey vodka in the basement of his family’s cheese farm (Grandvewe) and it had just won the World’s Best Vodka in 2018 and he was starting to realise he needed to hire people to help him. The winning vodka hadn’t even gone out to subscribers yet, it had only been tasted by Ryan and the judges and had homemade stickers plastered all over it cheekily saying ‘World’s Best, don’t even look at me’. That was one of my favourite interviews.
MoM: Do you think that spirits are going through something of a golden age?
KN: I think spirits are catching up with the food revolution in that drinkers are becoming more interested in the provenance of what they’re drinking. More people are going to bars and asking for brands now rather than generic spirits. Cocktails and (especially Instagrammable) cocktail bars are becoming more popular. I was chatting to a mixologist from the Maldives recently (unfortunately not in the Maldives) and he was saying that he would have liked to offer more whisky cocktails at his bar but women never ordered them, which led him to believe that women don’t like whisky. Maybe this is true for people holidaying in sunny locations, I’m not sure, but I promptly set about educating him about the Old Fashioned renaissance I’ve been seeing in London bars over the last few years.
MoM: Will the gin boom ever end?
KN: I agree the gin market is fairly saturated at the moment, which is why a book like Global Distillery Tour is really handy to help direct people towards craft distillers with compelling stories and unique products. One insightful experience I had when researching this project was at Snowdonia Distillery in North Wales where distiller Chris Marshall got me to blind-taste some mass-market gins (he wouldn’t tell me what they were) before and after trying his small-batch Foragers Gin. They were awful, yet it’s all most people know.
MoM: Do you have a favourite spirit?
KN: I do have a soft spot for gin, especially Four Pillars because it’s so delicious, vibrant and pure, but my head has been turned recently by some complex rums and you can’t peat me too much with whisky: I love a smoky whisky.
MoM: And finally, what’s your favourite cocktail?
KN: Tough question but I’m going to go with what we’ve ranked number one in the book’s World’s Best Cocktails List: I love a Negroni like no-one’s business.
Thank you Karyn! You can buy Global Distillery Tour direct from Lonely Planet.