Since the constraints of the pandemic have been relaxed, travel is now easier for most of us. So this means that spirits tourism – planning a trip to the destinations, brand homes and attractions linked to the production of our favourite tipples – is blossoming. And it is easy to see why.
Whilst sipping a lockdown Negroni in the garden may evoke an element of the romance behind the Aperitivo Hour in Italy, it isn’t going to fully transport you to that bustling piazza in Milan, where this classic cocktail was invented a century ago. There your Negroni will inevitably taste just that bit better, thanks to the magical surroundings.
Whether it’s Milan, Amsterdam or closer to home in the UK, drinks enthusiasts are planning pilgrimages to their favourite destinations. It’s an opportunity to experience the birthplace of many of our favourite drinks brands. And it’s also a chance to get up close and personal with the people who have lovingly crafted them. From whisky distilleries, to gin experiences, here are some of my favourites…
Best destinations for spirits lovers
The allure and romance of Scotland’s remote islands cannot be underestimated. And taking the ferry from Kennacraig to Port Ellen on the island of Islay is about as close to perfection for the whisky connoisseur as it gets. As the white-walled distillery buildings hove into view you know you’re in a very unique place indeed. Ardbeg has been a firm favourite with fans of smoky single malts and a trip to the actual distillery is truly magical. Visitors can take a guided distillery tour, including exploring the full production process, ending in a tasting of the core range of whiskies. Perhaps have a bite to eat in the fabulous Old Kiln Cafe too. For a slightly more immersive experience, the Warehouse 3 tasting takes you into the maturation warehouses where you can try rare cask-drawn samples. You can also book a stay on-site at the three-bed Seaview Cottage.
Prices: tours priced between £12-£90pp. Seasonal restrictions apply.
Ardbeg Distillery, Port Ellen, Islay, Argyll PA42 7EA
Arguably France’s best kept secret, this noble brandy has recently enjoyed a huge surge in popularity thanks to its wonderfully rustic production methods and provenance. So a trip to Gascony, the heartland of Armagnac, is one of the truly great spirits experiences. I recommend taking a bespoke guided tour of the two main regions, Bas Armagnac and Ténarèze, with local expert guide, Amanda Garnham (aka Glamour & Gumboots). It’s a perfect way to explore the numerous award-winning independent distillers and wineries across the region. They include names such as Delord, Laubade, Tariquet and Castarede. At the start of October the region also pays homage to the spirit with a huge festival called La Flamme de l’Armagnac, which includes dining, tasting and music-themed events.
Prices: for pricing on a bespoke tour for individuals or small groups visit glamourandgumboots.com
The rolling countryside of Hampshire may not feel that remote, but once you arrive through the gates of Laverstoke Mill, you’ll be transported to an exotic world of gin botanicals. This former paper mill is now home to the iconic gin Bombay Sapphire. Botanicals are brought to life in the breathtaking glasshouses (see above) – designed by the multi-award winning architects, Heatherwick Studio – which lie at the heart of the distillery. Visitors can take a guided tour of the site, including the stills, and explore the full range of gins produced here. And you can also enjoy a cocktail masterclass and even create a bottle of your favourite gin cocktail at the more immersive Creative Cocktail Experience.
Prices: £20-£65pp depending on the type of experience.
Laverstoke Mill, London Road, Laverstoke, Whitchurch, Hampshire RG28 7NR
Arguably the most famous of all vermouths, a visit to Casa Martini in Turin encapsulates romance, glamour and unique Italian heritage in one location. Visitors will get to explore the story behind its founding fathers, Alessandro Martini and Luigi Rossi. And you can also see firsthand how the different vermouth styles are created at the highly modern production facility. Then take a dive into Italy’s rich cocktail culture by getting to create the perfect Americano and Negroni with a Martini ambassador. For those looking for something more involved, there’s also the opportunity to blend your very own bespoke vermouth, learning the secrets behind Martini’s botanical blend.
Prices: tours from £17-£40, depending on the type of experience.
Piazza Luigi Rossi, 2, 10023 Pessione Turin, Italy
Officially the world’s oldest distilled spirit brand, the history of Bols stretches back nearly 450 years. So there’s a huge richness to discover at the Bols Experience and Museum, which is conveniently situated in Museum Square in Amsterdam. Here you can explore a multi-sensory journey through genever (the very origin of gin). Learn more about the various stages of production including the maceration of botanicals. And then enjoy the Experience’s World Of Cocktails, which showcases the flavours of Bols’ incredible 42 different liqueurs and spirits.
Prices: tours from £14pp.
Paulus Potterstraat 14, Amsterdam
Dublin has been the heartland of Irish whiskey for centuries. It once homed nearly 40 distilleries, with five currently in production and today it remains a hugely vibrant and culturally exciting city for the spirit. Jameson’s Bow Street Distillery experience is one of the most immersive whiskey tours you’ll find. Explore the history of Irish whiskey through cutting edge, interactive exhibits. Discover the maturation process in a micro-warehouse, enjoy a secret tasting in John Jameson’s old office or blend your very own unique version of Jameson Black Barrel. You can also brush up on your cocktail making skills with the in-house bartender, who’ll guide you through three classic whiskey serves.
Prices: £22-£86pp depending on the type of experience.
Bow St, Smithfield, Dublin 7, D07 N9VH, Ireland
Another iconic whisky brand, which leads the way in educational, experiential tours, last year Johnnie Walker unveiled its new major attraction in Edinburgh. And it’s everything you would expect: an immersive ‘sensory’ walk through blended Scotch, based on flavour preferences bespoke to each visitor. Alongside the main tour, guests can do a deep dive into the Scotch whisky regions in the Explorers’ Bothy. There’s also a tasting in the archives for history buffs or a connoisseur-focused tasting of special cask samples in the Whisky Maker’s Cellar. Plus you can even enjoy music pairings and visit the rooftop bar to end your visit with a few whisky cocktails.
Prices: £28-£95pp, depending on the type of experience.
145 Princes Street, Edinburgh, EH2 4BL
As destinations go, the South of France is of course famous for its glorious weather and gourmet cuisine. So adding in a visit to an iconic vermouth house is a no-brainer. Maison Noilly Prat in the beautiful coastal town of Marseillan (about 45 mins from Montpellier airport) is rich in tradition. From the weather-aged casks of wine which sit outside basking in the sun, to the huge oak vats and well curated museum of traditional tools and artefacts from the brand’s history. Visitors can expect a treat for the senses: a guided tour detailing how the vermouth is steeped with botanicals and blended, through to a classic cocktail masterclass in the impressive Basalte bar. And you can then relax outside in the main courtyard and play the odd game of pétanque whilst sipping on a Martini. Très magnifique!
Prices: £8-£22pp depending on the type of experience.
1 Rue Noilly, 34340, Marseillan, France