The 8 Best Countries for Booze Tourism
Why enjoying good spirits is a great reason to travel
If you really want to explore another country, get a drink.
By enjoying a local tipple, you’ll learn about the area’s land, traditions and politics. And it’s certainly more fun than visiting a crowded museum.
With that in mind, we present eight great countries for booze-themed tourism. With advice culled from a litany of bar and travel professionals, we pick the best Caribbean island for tasting rum, figure out why the Swiss/French border is great for absinthe fans and take the ideal whisky-themed road trip around Ireland.
Head to the Swiss/French border where the Val-de-Travers in the West of Switzerland meets Eastern France and then Pontarlier, says Alan Moss, the co-owner and Commercial Director of Artemisia Distribution (La Clandestine Absinthe). “Absinthe was born in the Val-de-Travers in the late 18th century, and the first commercial absinthe distillery started in Couvet in 1798. Throughout the 19th century, the Val-de-Travers and Pontarlier were the two global centers of absinthe production with ‘terroir’ an important factor for the famous local wormwood and other plants and for storage and aging.” Hit up the Absinthe Trail — “some walk it, some run it, some drive. It’s about 25- 30 miles long depending on how many side journeys one takes. Don’t drink more than one absinthe before driving.” There are about 14 distilleries in the area; book your visits in advance. While you’re there, check out the Absinthe Festival if it’s June, visit the world’s largest absinthe museum and definitely sneak a bottle up the Creux du Van, a rather stunning natural amphitheater.
Tough life, you’ll need to head to Barbados, says Kevin Beary, the Beverage Director of Chicago’s Three Dots and a Dash and The Bamboo Room. “The rums of Barbados are mainly from fermented molasses and are blends of pot and column still distillates,” says Beary. “The best examples are aged, generally in ex-bourbon casks but use of other interesting oak types such as sherry and port casks is taking place on the island. The rums produced here are balanced, refined and character forward.” Three of the four operating distilleries on the island offer public tours and are close to each other: Mount Gay, Foursquare and St. Nicholas Abbey. Barbados is a coral island with fairly flat terrain that makes car travel much easier than on the volcanic Caribbean islands; you could visit all of them in one day. You can stay somewhere fancy like Sandy Lane, but “there are plenty of hotels and Airbnb options along the white sand beaches.” At night, hit up Le Cabane, a great restaurant set on the sand, where you’ll sip shaken Barbados rum daiquiris and feast on some just-caught seafood.
For this South American brandy, head to Peru and start in Lima. “It’s a booming city, there’s a great cocktail scene and you’re a short drive away from several distilleries and vineyards,” says Lee Zaremba, Beverage Director of Boka Restaurant Group (home to the Peruvian-inspired Cabra). Fly in to the capital, eat at Astrid & Gaston and enjoy a coca sour at Ayahuasca (“it’ll change your life”). Then rent a car and plot out some distilleries and vineyards to experience outside of the city — the drive alone is worth it. “You’ll want to stop along the way to visit Vinas de Oro’s distillery,” says Francine Cohen, the Editor in Chief/Consultant of Inside F&B. “In the town of Pisco you’ll find Pisco 1615’s distillery, and then you should head towards Paracas. Just outside you’ll find the producers of Santiago Queirolo Pisco (and their hotel and winery). Next door be sure to visit Hacienda La Caravedo, producer of super premium Pisco La Caravedo, which is made at the oldest distillery in the Americas.” Once you’re in Ica, at the foothills of the Andes mountains, hit up the Intipalka Vineyard / Distillery … and stay there, too. “You won’t believe how peaceful it is,” says Zaremba. If you need a little more excitement, Cohen suggests sand surfing and dune buggy rides up the sandy slopes of Huacachina.
Lucky for you, the perennial World’s Best Bar has provided a literal road map for your holiday. Co-written by Sean Muldoon and Jack McGarry of New York’s The Dead Rabbit (along with Irish whiskey expert Tim Herlihy), the just-released From Barley to Blarney: A Whiskey Lover’s Guide to Ireland is a detailed tour of the four Irish provinces, 22 distilleries and 50 best bars and restaurants to hit up along the way (along with a few non-drinking sights to add to your itinerary). However, if you’re just looking to get out of Dublin for a bit, you might try Slane Village, located just 45 minutes outside of Dublin, which features glamping, a state-of-the-art distillery, castle dining and occasional rock festivals.
Kyoto has the highest concentration of sake producers in Japan, according to travel expert Ian Ropke of Your Japan Private Tours. Today, there are over 40 breweries still active in the area — including Japan’s largest producer, Gekkeikan, which was established in 1637. Bonus: The area is home to the oldest and biggest whisky distillery in the country (Suntory Yamazaki), which uses water drawn from mountain streams near the distiller. Tours of the distillery can easily be “paired” with whisky bars in the exotic Gion geisha district. Before you sip too much, take a look around — Kyoto is home to 17 UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Head to Oaxaca, Mexico, says Justin Lane Briggs, a spirits consultant to New York’s new mezcal/rye/tequila haven The Cabinet. “Mezcal hails from all over Mexico, but Oaxaca is the heart of mezcal production,” says Briggs. “The state is so large, with such diverse microclimates, that you can experience a deep dive into a mind-boggling array of terroir variables within just a few days of exploring. Plus, Oaxaca also has some of the best food in the world.” Definitely hook up with a reputable tour guide — Briggs suggests Experience Tequila (yes, they also work with mezcal) or Puro Burro (based out of Oaxaca City’s agave-centric hostel Ofrenda). You’ll want to stop at Santiago Matatlan (about 60% of Oaxacan mezcal is distilled in this one community) and Santa Catarina Minas (visit the Real Minero Mezcal palenque and tour the nursery to get educated on agave, its history and botany). In the city, there are two critical mezcaleria tasting rooms: Mezcaloteca and In Situ, but also check out Mezcalogia (cocktails), Sabina Sabe (mezcal-focused cocktail bar / restaurant) and El Destilado (mezcal-focused tasting menu restaurant). When you’re tired of drinking, don’t miss the Tlacolula city market, Hierve El Agua (a massive petrified waterfall just outside of town) and, no joke, a nearby jaguar preserve.
This one’s fairly obvious — you want to hit up Louisville, where 95 percent of the world’s bourbon is produced. Three new bourbon distilleries opened just recently – Michter’s, Old Forester, and Rabbit Hole —which means there’s now a total to 10 distilleries downtown. There are a number of ways to enjoy the city’s tipple, including the Urban Bourbon Trail bar experience, Bourbon City Cruisers (a new fleet of three-wheeled, electric-powered cruisers that’ll connect you with distillery, culinary and entertainment destinations with a guide in tow) and the well-known Kentucky Bourbon Trail®, which (if you need some culture) starts at the Frazier History Museum. Hey, you can even take a boat cruise to your favorite distilleries. When you’re not drinking, hit up the soon-to-open Logan Street Market (a hub of 30 independent-owned shops, restaurants, breweries and galleries) and head to one of many, many upcoming music fests, including Forecastle Festival (July 12-14) and Bourbon & Beyond Festival (Sept. 20-22). (Thanks to Chiara Peretti of the travel PR firm Development Counsellors International for many of these highlights).
“Porto is the home of Port wine and where you’ll find the best examples of the drink,” explains James Cave, a travel writer and founder of Portugalist. There’s a lot to choose from, so you’ll certainly want to take a guided tour of the Port cellars — Kopke is the oldest Port house in the world and a good one to start with. “But to really appreciate Port, it’s better to head to a bar and spend some time savoring a glass or two,” says Cave, who recommends Capela Incomum, located in a former 16th century chapel. Start your port experience with an LBV (Late Bottled Vintage). “It has the characteristics of Vintage Port but at a fraction of the price, and it’s much more likely to win you over than a standard tawny or ruby.” From there, move to a Vintage Port, which is something you won’t easily find by the glass outside of Portugal. When you’re tired, crash at House of Sandeman, one of the main Port houses in Porto, which offers boutique accommodation along the riverfront and dorm beds inspired by Port barrels.
The Secret to Great Cocktails? Find Out in The Spill.
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