The best whisky experiences
From distillery tours via canoe in Speyside to blending masterclasses that end with the chance to construct your perfect tipple, read on to raise a glass to our favourite whisky experiences across the world
Looking for the best distillery tours? Read our guide to the best whisky experiences across the world, and read our whisky guide here…
Tasmanian Whisky Trail, Tasmania
Tasmania’s lush landscapes and burgeoning foodie scene is fast making it a must-visit destination and now you can add whisky to the list of gourmet attractions. The island’s small but thriving whisky industry was all but non-existent until a couple of decades ago, thanks to a 150-year-old distilling ban that was only lifted in the early 1990s. Since then, however, the scene has flourished, with some 13 distilleries now producing award-winning spirits, and many of them offering tours, tastings and other events. Happily, several distilleries lie within driving distance of the capital, Hobart, so you can combine tastings with sampling the capital’s buzzing restaurant scene – or use them as a jumping-off point for heading further afield and exploring the island’s white sand beaches, lush valleys and snow-dusted mountains. Time your visit with Tasmania Whisky Week (12-18 August 2019) and, as well as day trips to distilleries across the island, you can enjoy a raft of specialist tastings and even a whisky auction.
Arctic Whisky Festival, Norway
Scandinavia is famously home to some of the planet’s most dedicated whisky fans so it’s little wonder the Arctic Whisky Festival is held in Norway’s Tromsø, 400km north of the Arctic Circle. The next event – supposedly the world’s most northerly whisky festival – is scheduled for 11 January 2020, a day-long celebration offering the chance to taste hundreds of whiskies and drill down on your whisky knowledge at seminars. Once the event comes to a close, there’s chance to admire the northern lights (Tromsø is one of the best places to see them), plus icy fjords, glaciers, craggy mountains and the university city’s lively pub scene.
Blend your own whiskey, Ireland
Explore the subtle art of whiskey blending in a 90-minute masterclass at Jameson’s Distillery in Dublin. During each session you’ll learn how to taste and deconstruct the flavour notes in different Jameson blends, before being taught how to blend your own bottle of the fiery stuff to take home with you. The masterclass also includes a visit to the distillery’s maturation warehouse, where you’ll get to sample whiskey straight from the cask.
Whisky and food pairing, UK
The Scotch Malt Whisky Society runs regular food and whisky pairing events at its Edinburgh and London membership clubs, as well as a wide range of other venues, matching the spirit with anything from cheese to steaks and chocolate. Many of these events are open to non-members. It also offers supper club-style feasts – current events in the pipeline include a dinner at Café Spice Namaste in Whitechapel, London, which sees Saturday Morning Kitchen’s Cyrus Todiwala pair an Indian feast with matching whiskies. Or the Wanderlust Supper Club, a four-course dinner showcasing dishes from countries as diverse as France and Malaysia, with paired drams. Visit the website to book, and keep updated on future events.
Whisky canoe cruise, Scotland
Speyside, in Scotland, is home to around half of the country’s distilleries, making it ripe for a whisky-themed road trip. A more unusual way to see (or should that be sip?) the sights, however, is offered by Spirit of the Spey: a seven-day, 50-mile canoe cruise down the River Spey with visits to several distilleries on the way (including Dalwhinnie, Cragganmore, Aberlour and The Macallan). When you’re not exploring the region’s elegant and fruity whiskies, the trip (which includes four-star accommodation and all food) also features visits to historic sites like 16th-century Ballindalloch Castle, as well as the chance to immerse yourself in the surrounding landscapes as you paddle downstream.
Alpine whisky trek, Switzerland
Switzerland is another country with a small but lively whisky industry, one that has developed into the Appenzell Whisky Trek. Home to Säntis Malt whisky, the town of Appenzell lies at the foot of the Alpstein mountain range, across which are scattered a series of picturesque mountain inns. When word began to spread that the local distillery was producing one-off editions of its award-winning spirit, inn owners started asking for bespoke barrels that they could serve to their guests.
Today, each of the 26 inns in the Alpstein range has its own Säntis malt (each maturing in barrels at different altitudes and in varying conditions, so that each whisky develops its own unique character) and it’s now possible to purchase whisky vouchers (available at the distillery’s visitor centre in Appenzell, and at each inn) that you can then exchange for a sample at each inn before trekking on to the next. Nine- or eight-whisky voucher booklets are available, but those with extra time (and plenty of stamina) can attempt to reach all 26 inns - and receive a trophy upon completion.
Whisky-tasting weekends, Scotland
For an old-school, traditional whisky experience it’s hard to beat the immersive weekends put on at Glenmorangie House – two-night stays that include tours of the distillery, guided tastings of Glenmorangie blends and malts, afternoon tea, three-course dinners (complete with whisky aperitifs), visits to local landmarks, clay pigeon shoots and even a ceilidh. If you want to extend your trip, drive on for 30 minutes to Dornoch Castle for a drink at the hotel’s acclaimed whisky bar, or an extra night or two away. The castle also has its own distillery in the grounds.
Japanese whisky library, Japan
Japan’s carefully crafted distilleries are legendary, many of their whiskies regularly beating Scottish malts in international competitions. If you want to find out what the fuss is about, the Suntory Yamazaki Distillery is a good place to start. As well as regular tours you can also visit the on-site whisky museum. It’s an in-depth dive into the history and pedigree of the first and oldest malt distillery in Japan, with plenty to learn about the various processes that go into making its acclaimed whiskies. There’s also a whisky library containing thousands of different varieties, and a special tasting counter where you can try out different limited edition rare Yamazaki whiskies, as well as other labels from around the world.
Whiskey and music, Nashville
Those with a taste for sweeter, caramel-toned bourbon and Tennessee whiskies (both bourbon and Tennessee whiskey must be made with 51% corn, which accounts for their sweeter flavours than scotch whiskies) should head to Nashville. When you’re not feasting on the city’s famous spicy fried chicken, or listening to country music, visit Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery.
It may be less famous than Jack Daniel’s but, before Prohibition, Green Brier Distillery sold more of the hard stuff than Jack. Brothers Charles and Andy Nelson revived the family business in 2009 and now recount their family’s American Dream story over tastings on the Green Brier’s distillery tours.
Words by Hannah Guinness
Photographs by Getty and Carol Sachs