Touring Distilleries

At this point, I’ve been in close to two dozen distilleries, and have seen both large and small, corporate owned and independently run. Setting aside the quality of the whiskys at the moment, it has been interesting seeing how each place deals with customers and tourists.

Some tours are well thought out and informative (Glenfiddich), others are downright hokey (Jameson – Dublin). Some have spent a lot of money on setting up their Visitor’s Center (Heaven Hill), others seem tacked on (Jim Beam). Some are purposefully intimate (Glenfarclas), others have so many people that it can detract from any information that can be heard (Jack Daniels).

From my perspective, here’s what makes for a good tour.

  • A good tour guide – Some places clearly hired some folks off of the street, who showed little interest in imparting any information, let alone passion into the tour. Typically, the best tours were done by older people who now only knew the product, but had a passion for it.
  • Have a sense of cynicism to what is said – Jameson folks clearly misrepresented bourbon. George Dickel wants to impart a deep oak flavor, but Jack Daniels wants to remove the oak flavor. Oban disparaged non-Scotches. None of these positions are correct or incorrect. Your preference is all that truly matters.
  • Don’t drink before entering the Gift Shop – They want you to. But avoid this as much as you can.
  • Do Research before going to the distillery – Do you really want to spend $120 on a bottle of whisky without knowing what it is?
  • Videos are often simply a tool to extend a tour to an hour in length. Most are silly, some are poorly done.
  • Touring a distillery is better than being told what a distillery tour consists of – There were some places that do not allow visitors into the distiller, and instead have set up displays and models. But I’ve learned far more about the company in places that guided us through their actual plants.
  • The aroma around the still safe is possibly the best aroma on this planet.
  • The aroma in the barrel houses (or maturization building according to some folks) is the second best.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions