A Guide to Good Liquor Around the World
Some people settle for ordinary, while others set their sights on something a little different, a little beyond the experiences that the majority of travelers want. For those vacationers who are seeking something extraordinary in the beverages they drink, this guide can take you beyond the ordinary wine tasting tours, brewery visits or Belgian Beer Tour. There’s nothing wrong with wine or beer, but when what you want is the hard stuff, you can find a great local concoction just about anywhere in the world.
You can learn how your favorite spirit is born and enjoy some tasty samples on a formal tour of these famous distilleries. You could also just head to the nearest tavern and ask the bartender what’s good. We’ll tell you what’s to expect wherever you go with our guide to good liquor around the world.
Good old Kentucky Bourbon has been produced in the United States for over 200 years, and is the only native beverage of the country. Eight of the best distilleries in the state of Kentucky have joined together to form a pleasant tour route called The Bourbon Trail. This enjoyable tour will include visits to Louisville, Lexington, Bardstown and Frankfort, with most of the distilleries offering free tours and tasty free samples.
On a tour that lasts about an hour, you get the chance to learn all about the history of Bourbon, how the distillery developed over the years and everything that goes into the making of Kentucky Bourbon.
The highlight of the Bourbon Trail is the Maker’s Mark tour. You’ll have the opportunity to see the bottles of premium hand-made Bourbon get their distinctive, patented dripping-wax seal. Visitors enjoy wandering through the Maker’s Mark Wax Museum, and getting a taste of the fermenting mash in the production facilities.
Kentucky has plenty of other things to enjoy besides sipping their marvelous bourbon. The area is also horse country, where you might take in a thoroughbred horse show at the Kentucky Horse Park, or take a gamble on the races at Churchill Downs. Surprisingly enough, Kentucky is also wine country, with over twenty wineries offering wine tasting tours. Bourbon, however, is still the pride and joy of the Bluegrass State.
Whether you’re going to watch the cliff divers in Acapulco, lay on the beaches in Cancun or take part in a Dias des los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebration in Oaxaca, you are will definitely work up a thirst under the scorching Mexican sun. Many people will choose a cold Corona or Tecate, traditional Mexican beers, but to find the true “spirit of Mexico” you need to drink tequila.
Tequila is distilled from the heart of the blue agave plant that is only grown naturally in the state of Jalisco in Mexico. There are strict laws governing what can be called true tequila, such as it can only be produced in Jalisco, and it has to be at least 51% blue agave (although the really good stuff is 100%).
Mexicans are proud of their tequila, and they’ve been distilling this succulent, flavorful spirit since the 1600’s, giving them plenty of time to perfect the process. You can have your tequila in a shot glass, with a little salt and some lime, or you can enjoy a cool, frosty margarita. If you try the Mezcal you can even have your tequila with a worm! This tasty treat lives on the blue agave plant and after soaking in Mezcal tequila for a few years it is considered a desirable alcoholic delicacy. Sharing a bottle of Mezcal often leads to an argument over who gets the worm.
You can learn all about tequila with a visit to The National Museum of Tequila in the town that gives the drink its name. Visit the Cuervo distillery and taste the distinctive spirits brewed by very first producer of tequila. For a guided experience in tequila touring (and a designated driver), private guides such as Tequila Tours will take you around on a tasting tour of the local distilleries.
Just a 3 hour drive from Paris, the province of Cognac is a wonderful place to enjoy the fragrant, delightful flavors of the spirit named for the region. Cognac tours throughout this area provide an excellent way to enjoy a summer day. You may begin your tour with a visit to the Hennessy Museum, an interesting structure built solely from the materials used in making Cognac: copper, wood, limestone and glass. You can also take a tram ride through the Remy Martin vineyards and the largest cooperage in Europe. A visit to the Martell distilleries is a journey back in time, with a traditional “gabare” boat like the ones used in the 18th century to transport cognac to the sea.
Of course, the most pleasurable experience of your cognac tour in France or wine tasting tours in France is the opportunity to taste some of the incredibly delicious varieties produced in this region. There is a strict ritual for the tasting of cognac: first, tilt the tulip-shaped glass and visually observe the color; second, swirl the liquid in the glass before raising it to your nose and enjoying the aromas; lastly, take a small sip and hold it in your mouth a moment to savor the rich flavor.
Cognac tours also provide glimpses of history as you explore beautiful medieval cathedrals and castles in the area. You can enjoy a relaxing boat cruise along the Charente River, dine on mouthwatering traditional French cuisine, and enjoy cognac picnics in the countryside.
Portuguese Port Wine
Anyone with a secret sweet tooth will enjoy the pleasurable experience of savoring a glass of Portugal’s drink specialty: Port. This delicious fortified wine is commonly served with dessert and is a sweet treat by itself. The beautiful Portuguese countryside makes a marvelous backdrop for Port tours through some of the most prestigious wine cellars in the country.
You can enjoy train and tram tours of some of the distilleries along the Port Wine Route, which is a well-established tour through several Portuguese towns in the Duoro Valley. You may wish to visit the Calem Lodge and Cellars, or the Ferreira Cellars established in 1751. You can visit the Port Wine Institute (45 Rua de Sao Pedro de Alcantara, Lisbon, Portugal - 21/347-57-07) in the city of Porto, as well as enjoy some truly delightful gourmet food and explore some 12th century cathedrals and homes.
Although native Russians may be able to consume their national beverage like it’s water, visitors are advised to take it easy when they are sampling premium Russian vodka. You may think you’re already familiar with the potency of vodka, but if you drink it like the locals you may find yourself a little more intoxicated than you might have planned. Traditionally vodka is serve ice cold in a chilled shot glass, and you throw it back in one gulp. If you need a chaser, Russians just swig their beer and then pour another shot of vodka. It might help if you line your stomach first with some “zakuski”, which is a platter of rye bread with cheese and pickles.
Russians are quite proud of their vodka production, with over 180 vodka distilleries spread throughout the country. Vodka tours are popular with visitors, who enjoy wandering through the Vodka Museum in Moscow (especially the tasting room.) Vodka Train is a popular tour, taking you along the Trans Mongolian Railway to visit various cities and vodka distilleries along the way.
You get your own “honcho”, which is a private guide who will take you places like the Cristall Vodka Distillery, or to the Liviz distillery in St. Petersburg where the Smirnoff brand is produced.
The most popular alcoholic beverage in Japan is sake, which has been brewed in this country since the 3rd century. In recent years sake breweries have been established all over the world, including North America, but true sake is a significant part of Japanese heritage and culture.
Far stronger than wine or beer, sake is made of boiled and fermented rice. Visitors to Japan can enjoy the bite of sake in restaurants and bars throughout the country, and some of the most popular producers offer free tours of their breweries with tastings of various varieties of sake. Sake tours are offered at the Tamanohikari sake brewery as well as the Gekkeikan brewery, two of the most famous sake brands in Japan.
The drink can be served either chilled, warmed or at room temperature solely based on preference. (Hot sake is a comforting drink in the wintertime.) Small cups called “choko” are commonly used to serve sake, except for weddings and other ceremonial occasions when saucer-like cups called “sakazuki” are used. Normally served by itself, sake can also be used in cocktails like the “saketini” and “sake bombs.”
Sherry is the national drink of Spain, named for an English version of the name of the town in Andalusia, Spain where the local white grapes are grown and the dry, fortified wine is produced- “Jerez” de la Frontera. Sherry is usually enjoyed prior to a meal as an aperitif, but it can also be consumed as a cocktail with lemonade soft-drink and ice, called “Rebujito.”
There are lots of sherry bodegas you can tour in the Jerez area, where you can learn the process of making Sherry and some of the history of the wine and the area where it is produced. Pedro Domecq is the oldest sherry bodega housed in an 18th century structure featuring lavish gardens and lovely patios where you can relax and enjoy sipping a “copita” of Sherry. At the Villa del Duque of the Valdiva Bodegas, guests can not only enjoy a sherry tour and tasting but can luxuriate over-night in elaborate accommodations including 10 guest rooms and a swimming pool.
Wherever your travels take you there will always be something delightful and intoxicating to taste and enjoy.