Take Your Love Of Booze On A Trip
A whisky Warehouse at Bruichladdich | Courtesy of Joshua London
As regular readers know, I am a fan of booze tourism—a big fan of it. I recognize that there is something weird about this since most people express no desire to see where their toaster, canned soups, or shirts are made, or where the grains in their favorite breakfast cereal are grown. Paying good money to visit drink production facilities and farms, not to mention the associated costs of time, travel, and accommodations, makes such outings even more bizarre. 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 also purchase a wide variety of branded tchotchkes and souvenirs—shirts, hats, sweaters, jackets, pens, glasses, jams, candies, bumper stickers, decals, and the like. When distilleries are clustered close to each other there are sometimes “Whiskey Trails” such as whiskey-themed hotels and restaurants.
Such tourism is big business with tens of millions of travelers shuttling across the globe to this or that boozy destination. According to a California Department of Food and Agriculture report, over 20 million tourists visit the state’s wineries annually (spending over $2 billion each year in the process). A representative of the Scotch Whisky Association, the industry’s 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. Indeed, the Jack Daniels Distillery receives around 250,000 visitors annually. From September 7-9, the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) will be hosting its first Global Conference on Wine Tourism in the Kakheti Wine Region in the Republic of Georgia, itself an emerging “Eno-tourism” destination.
The whys and wherefores of alcohol-centered tourism are hard to ascertain with precision or rigor. Suffice it to say that it is fun. Personally, it renews my more romantic notions about my preferred grain or fruit-based tipple. I love traipsing through the vineyards and distilleries listening to tour guides or even the winemaker, distillery manager, maltman, cooper, or some other process technician discuss aspects of production. The sights, the smells, the atmosphere…and yes, there is a willful and self-induced go-on-and-hit-me-with-your-best-sales-pitch credulity about it all. Even in those instances, thankfully mostly few and far between, where I’m fairly certain that the polite hospitality-focused tour guide knows less about the end-product than I do, I still can’t help but enjoy myself. The tasting session at the tour’s end is icing on the cake—especially in those instances where a visit is more about fandom than discovery.
It should be noted that some tour experiences are geared towards aficionados, some towards the neophyte, and some towards those who simply enjoy the good life. It is not so uncommon these days to see children, from babies to teenagers, folks too young by any stretch to legally purchase or imbibe the product trailing along their parents at these tours. The kiddies are not permitted to participate in tastings, obviously, and some facilities don’t allow children below a certain age in some of their production areas, but otherwise families are generally welcome on such tours. Make sure to check with the company and to ask your kids if they’re game, as there isn’t usually a huge amount for them to see or do to hold their interests.