Here at Winetraveler, we’re clearly really into wine. But we don’t discriminate when it comes to drinks – we love cocktails, beer, and liquor, too! In fact, we have a number of articles and resources specifically dedicated to all kinds of beverages across the site.
Although wine tasting often gets all the fanfare, heading to distilleries around the world to taste various styles and types of spirits can be a unique cultural experience that’s truly special to your chosen destination. After all, there’s something to be said about sipping a pisco sour in Peru, sampling grappa in Italy, having a dram of Scotch in Scotland, or enjoying a mezcal tasting in Oaxaca. Here are some of the best destinations around the world to sip various forms of hard liquor.
Mezcal in Oaxaca, Mexico
Oaxaca is already one of the most beautiful destinations in Mexico. It’s an underrated alternative to the Riviera Maya that’s home to sandy beaches, delicious cuisine, colorful cultural sites, and of course, mezcal. Mezcal (around 80 US Proof) isn’t just a spirit, it’s a way of life knitting Oaxaca’s community together. Oaxaca families drink at the dinner table, at celebrations, and it’s even used during rituals, ceremonies, and for healing or medicinal purposes.
90% of mezcal comes from Oaxaca, as the distilled liquor is made from several different types of agave plants that are native to the region. Sample it at the yearly Feria de Mezcal, a two-week-long festival where more than 100 vendors bring their distilled delights for tasting, demonstrations, and other mezcal-inspired fun.
Bourbon along Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail
Although Bourbon can be made anywhere in the US, Kentucky is the place to sample it. The state has hard water high in minerals and soft, fertile soil, which aid the fermentation process to create that sweet, flavorful taste of Kentucky Bourbon (80-125 US Proof).
Those wanting to taste it should hit the Bourbon Trail, starting with a stop at the Frazier Kentucky History Museum, the official Welcome Point of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, which includes almost 20 different distilleries. You may have heard of some of the most famous distilleries, like Maker’s Mark and Wild Turkey, but you can also sample lesser-known varieties, such as the full range of whiskies at Lux Row.
If you’re a die-hard Bourbon enthusiast, you should book a private tour with Rison Ready to Launch that includes a difficult-to-acquire visit to Buffalo Trace. More casual Bourbon drinkers should book an excursion with Jennings Bourbon Tours that allows you to choose up to 3 distilleries and private transfer to and from your hotel.
Grappa in Italy
Made from wine leftovers like discarded grape seeds, stalks, and stems, grappa (70-120 US Proof) was typically made and consumed by low-income Italians that couldn’t afford to waste a thing – though it actually dates back hundreds of years.
Today, grappa is a drink enjoyed all over Italy, typically as an after-dinner digestive or even to add a kick to that morning coffee. While there are plenty of distilleries in Italy ideal for tastings (as well as unofficial tastings at many restaurants and bars around the country), consider heading to craft distillery Poli Distillery and Museum, which offers quick tastings or fully threshed-out tours, complete with guided visits of the museum and distillery, plus grappa tastings straight from the barrel.
Ouzo in Lesvos, Greece
Although ouzo (around 80 US Proof) is produced all over Greece, travelers can combine a Greek Island adventure with an ouzo tasting on the island of Lesvos. Producers still adhere to traditional distillation methods like mixing grape alcohol with aromatic aniseed, local spring water, and other Greek herbs in copper stills while heating it, then storing it in massive vats before bottling it.
Besides visiting the interactive Ouzo Museum, make sure to taste ouzo at the Eva Distillery and Museum or the Barbayanni Distillery and Museum, both of which offer ouzo as well as other Greek liquor products for tasting and purchase.
Pisco in Peru
The origins of pisco (80-90 US Proof) date back to the Spanish conquest, when Spaniards realized Peruvian terroir wasn’t suitable for wine production, and instead, used distillation methods to make a grape brandy – pisco. While you’ve likely sipped a pisco sour (made of pisco, lime juice, simple syrup, and egg white) before, you may not know that pisco is actually Peru’s national drink.
If you can’t make it to Peru on the first Saturday of February, deemed “National Pisco Sour Day” to sample the drink during the local festivities, you can still taste it at practically every bar and restaurant in the country on its own, in a Pisco Sour, or mixed into a variety of other cocktails.
Or, take the ‘Ruta de Pisco,’ the Pisco Route from Chincha to Ica to taste it. Ica is home to producers like Hacienda Bodega Tacama, where grapevines were first planted in the 1540s by the Spaniards. Tacama remains the oldest active vineyard in Peru is known to be the first vineyard ever planted in all of South America. You can also find Hacienda La Caravedo along the route, one of the oldest continuously operating distilleries in the Americas – among many others.
Absinthe in Switzerland
Both France and Switzerland claim to be the birthplace of absinthe (90-148 US Proof), and while its origins are rather unclear, what is clear is that Switzerland has a unique history with the drink. Made with wormwood, fennel, and anise, absinthe was once used as medicine to treat things like jaundice, anemia, and fevers. The drink was banned in Switzerland for almost 100 years, only legalized in 2005.
Known in Switzerland as ‘the green fairy,’ absinthe is often mixed with sugar and water before drinking it. Sample it along the Absinthe Trail, starting with Môtiers, a village in the Val-de-Travers, home to the Maison de l’Absinthe, a museum and tasting room offering the option to taste more than 30 different kinds of absinthe.
Scotch Whisky in Scotland
Scotch whisky (90-180 US Proof) isn’t as cut and dry as you may think. There are actually five different classifications of the drink, including single malt Scotch, blended malt Scotch, single grain Scotch, blended grain Scotch, and blended Scotch.
While the country features five main Scotch-producing regions, one of the best places to sample it is in Speyside, an area with a large cluster of distilleries, home to some of the most famous ones like Glenlivet, Macallan, and Glenfiddich. But for a boutique tour of a family-owned distillery, consider Glenfarclas, a family-owned distillery in Speyside that dates back five generations.
Gin in England
Although the origins of gin (80 US Proof) are rather hazy, it seems that it was invented in Holland. But when a major gin distillation restriction was lifted in the 1600s, along with reducing tax restrictions, Britain went crazy for the liquor, making and consuming gin at near-alarming rates. As the years went on, production and consumption went up and down for a number of reasons ever since. Nowadays, gin is a bonafide spirit the British still can’t seem to get enough of, making England one of the best places to drink it.
A trip to London makes for plenty of distillery options. From the British capital’s famous Beefeater Gin Distillery to a gin-cocktail-making workshop at boutique brand SipSmith, the options are endless. And sipping gin isn’t just limited to distilleries – head to The Connaught Bar, deemed the number one top bar in the world to taste the Connaught Bar Gin.
Rum in Jamaica
From Cuba to the Canary Islands to Barbados to Puerto Rico, rum is distilled in a number of destinations worldwide, but Jamaica is one of the unique spots to sample it, with just a few rum distilleries still in operation (there were once around 150!). And Jamaican rum (80-126 US Proof) is also revered as being one of the best. This full-bodied sweet liquor is distilled from molasses in pot stills fermented in big casks known as puncheons.
Rum was rumored to have arrived in Jamaica with Christopher Columbus, though the country started producing rum in the 1700s. Nowadays, some of the best places to sample it include the Appleton Estate, one of the first on the island, and the Hampden Estate, which dates back to 1753.
Vodka in Latvia
You may be surprised to know that many vodka brands are not actually Russian and operate out of Latvia, making the country one of the best spots to taste vodka (80 US Proof), especially considering grain grows well in the cold climate.
Moskovskaya, dating back to 1894, is one of the country’s top vodka producers, creating their original Osobaya vodka. You might recognize Stoli, a brand popular in the US that hails from Latvia, which also makes the unique Latvian Elit Vodka. Elit’s elegant taste comes from a four-time filtration process using charcoal for purity, followed by a negative degree filtration process in casks left outdoors during a harsh Latvian winter to remove sharper notes and give the vodka a softer aftertaste. Tour and taste at the Amber LB factory in Riga, where many of these spirits are produced.
From Europe to the Caribbean to Peru and beyond, tasting liquor may be just as fun – if not even more fun – than tasting wine. Whether you’d prefer to stay closer to home in Kentucky or hit up a more exotic destination like Greece or Latvia, there’s a spirit right for you just waiting to be sipped.
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