These adventures are so much more than a visit to the tasting room.
Swirl, sniff and sip? That doesn’t cut it anymore for spirits aficionados and cocktail enthusiasts looking to whet their whistle with a hands-on experience. These distilleries up the booze game with bottling workshops, mixology classes, and more.
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Mix up classic and contemporary Irish whiskey cocktails using your own set of tools and a little help from a private bartender during the 90-minute Whiskey Shakers class at Dublin’s Jameson Distillery. Your bar pro will fill you in on the history, ingredients, and recipes of the drinks, then turn you loose to shake up your own concoctions. Or, take part in The Whiskey Makers, a 90-minute in-depth master class where a Jameson Ambassador will walk you through a tasting to deconstruct aromas and flavors of Jameson Original, Distiller’s Safe, Cooper’s Croze, and Blender’s Dog before you blend your own whiskey for sipping neat or on the rocks. Both experiences end with a visit to the Maturation House to sample offerings right from the barrel.
Get schooled in juniper during The Experience at The Ginstitute, a three-hour gin-stravaganza that ends with a session where you’ll craft your own bespoke gin. The experience takes place (where else?) inside the world’s first hotel dedicated to gin, The Distillery on Portobello Road in London. The day begins with a welcome cocktail followed by a lesson about the complex history of gin, from its use as medicine, to the role it played as Mother’s Ruin in Britain’s gin craze in the first half of the eighteenth century, to its current status as a cocktail base beloved by craft bartenders the world over. Grab a gin & tonic and head to the Still Room to glean details about how it’s made, then sniff and taste the various botanicals before using them to blend your own gin. (Your recipe is recorded on their website, so reordering a bottle–or a case–is a breeze.) Finally, toast your fabulous new spirited creation over an icy cold well-stirred martini.
The signature bright red dripping wax found on every bottle of Maker’s Mark Bourbon dates back to the 1950s, when Marge Samuels, the wife of founder Bill Samuels, Sr., sought a way to make the bottle stand out from all the other Bourbons on the back bar. It’s been the brand’s signature design element ever since, and dipping your own bottle at the distillery in Loretto is a memorable part of a tour and tasting. Options for dipping include White Whiskey, Original Bourbon, Maker’s 46, and Private Select. After donning an apron, safety goggles, and gloves, invert your bottle into the hot wax (with a little help from a master dipper), and it’ll be ready for you to carry home a few minutes later.
Bombay Sapphire Distillery
Bombay Sapphire, the gin brand launched in 1987 and named for the popularity of gin in India during the British Raj, offers a Gin Cocktail Masterclass at its production facility in England. Held at Laverstoke Mill, the historic distillery and former paper mill in rural Hampshire, the three-hour session features a class where you’ll learn about cocktail culture and mix up gin-based libations alongside gin experts. Afterwards, use the provided interactive map to do a self-guided tour through the Still House before sipping a complimentary drink in the Mill Bar.
The small, traditionally-minded Ballindalloch Distillery in Banffshire, Speyside is located adjacent to the Ballindalloch Castle, built in 1546. The Art of Whisky Making Day experience here lets you get a peek into Scotch production during a full day that runs from 8:00am to 4:00pm and includes lunch. During the day, a maximum of two would-be distillers work with the team of three to take part in and fully understand all aspects of whisky making. From milling and mashing to fermenting, distilling, and filling casks, this hands-on experience is a chance to learn manual production in a way that’s miles above a mere tour and tasting.
Catoctin Creek Distillery
Fill, seal, cap, and label spirits during monthly bottling workshops at Catoctin Creek Distillery, a Virginia craft producer which makes award-winning spirits in Purcellville, including Roundstone Rye Whiskey and Watershed Gin. Held on a Saturday morning from 10am to noon, the workshops are free, and also start with complementary coffee and doughnuts. After a brief lesson from co-owners Scott and Becky Harris, the volunteer workforce heads to the station of their choosing (not surprisingly, filling the bottles with the “whiskey cow” is always the most popular.) If you want to, follow an empty bottle through all the stations until you’ve capped and sealed it, then sign it and purchase it for yourself or as a gift.
The five-hour Masterclass at Glengoyne Distillery in Glasgow is touted to be the most in-depth whisky experience in all of Scotland. Budding blenders start by undergoing a test developed by the Scotch Whisky Association; by sniffing the twenty tiny bottles of unique scents in front of you, you’ll extract a vocabulary that will come in handy as you taste their twelve-year and eighteen-year single malts, single casks, and sherry samples. After a light lunch and a detailed tour, try your hand at making your own Highland single malt using samples drawn from five Glengoyne single casks; your dram-to-go will be poured into a 200ml bottle, packaged, and labeled.
Wiggly Bridge Distillery
The small batch Wiggly Bridge Distillery’s popular Distiller for a Day program held four times per year is limited to four participants and always sells out quickly. Working alongside the father and son team of David and Dave Woods, attendees spend a full day (9am to 5pm) in all aspects of production. Learn the mash bill that goes into their Bourbon, cook the grains and transfer them to the cypress fermenters, measure the fermenting mash, and do all sorts of technical stuff. Then it’s off to the spirit still, where you can taste the just-distilled spirits from the heads, hearts, and tails of production, and finally, fill and sign a barrel and enjoy a cocktail. The day doesn’t end there, as you’ll be able to return on future dates to taste the contents of “your” barrel as it ages.
Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse
What’s shaking at the famed American distillery’s urban location in the heart of Louisville? Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse’s thirty-minute Tableside Cocktail Experience lets you play mixologist and learn how to properly wield bar tools, mixers, and garnishes to create traditional and modern bourbon beverages. Recipes rotate, and may include anything from an old fashioned to a manhattan to a whiskey sour–meaning that you can return to add a completely different set of drinks to your home cocktailing arsenal.
Take a Cocktail Class at KOVAL Distillery, Chicago’s first distillery since the 1800s, which was established in 2008 and brings the distilling traditions of co-founder Robert Birnecker’s Austrian family to the Windy City. The ongoing series covers topics including Prohibition-Era sips from Chicago’s most notorious era, Bartending Basics, where you’ll learn where to shake or stir a drink, and Turn of the Century Cocktails, when gin and rye sips reigned supreme. Drinks sampled during the class feature KOVAL’s organic spirits, and everyone leaves with informational material in both hardcopy and digital download to continue your “studies.”
INSIDER TIPHave a big group of libation-loving friends? Book a private class for ten to thirty people.
Do you have what it takes to be a Master Blender of the iconic Scotch brand The Famous Grouse, which blends single malt whiskies from Highland Park and The Macallan? Find out during the two-and-a-half hour Whisky Blending Experience in Perthshire, which starts with an in-depth tour of the traditional Scottish distillery, followed by an expert-led guided tasting in a sample room within the warehouse. Finally, use any combination of four premium Glenturret single malts to create an original blend, which you’ll take home in a 100ml bottle, along with a certificate of completion.