Spirited away

A surge in micro-distilleries and craft spirit making is giving tipplers a new reason to travel


The Wynand Fockink distillery in Amsterdam offers tours on weekend evenings.
The Wynand Fockink distillery in Amsterdam offers tours on weekend evenings.

Move over, craft beer. The next time you travel, instead of a vineyard tour or a beer crawl, you will more likely be sipping on a small-batch gin or an experimental liqueur at a regional micro-distillery. The hipsters have moved on to producing high-quality spirits from locally sourced ingredients, and “botanicals” is the new buzzword everywhere, from small-town Nevada to the heart of Amsterdam. We have rounded up destinations that are guaranteed to give your vacation a happy high.

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

In the bustling Dam Square area, in an alley behind the National Monument, the Wynand Fockink Proeflokaal (tasting tavern) has been around since 1679. The distillery makes more than 70 products (gins, brandies, bitters and liqueurs) using the same craft distilling methods as it did in the 17th century. They make five genevers or Dutch gins, including the strong and earthy Spelt Genever. Every evening on weekends, Wynand Fockink offers a distillery tour followed by a tasting in its atmospheric tasting tavern. For details, visit Wynand-fockink.nl.

Local tip: Skip the tourist traps and head to the archipelago of Amsterdam’s Western Islands (just off the Central Station), a sleepy district dotted with little wooden bridges, charming old buildings, and artists’ studios.

Cork, Ireland

Unlike other gins that are made using barley or wheat grain spirit, the two-year-old Bertha’s Revenge Small Batch Irish Milk Gin uses whey alcohol from local dairy farms. The gin is made at the family run Ballyvolane House in an idyllic rural setting about 35km north of Cork City. The gin is complex with spicy (cinnamon, cardamom, cloves) and citrus (bitter orange, sweet orange, grapefruit, lemon) notes. It makes a good digestif if you add a splash of water, and also works wonderfully in a classic martini. Farm and distillery visits are possible with prior appointment. Ballyvolane House also offers luxury accommodation coupled with warm Irish country hospitality. For details, visit Ballyvolanespirits.ie.

Local tip: Don’t miss visiting the English Market in Cork City, one of the oldest covered markets in Ireland, dating back to the 18th century. You can sample traditional Irish food such as corned beef and black pudding.

Nevada, US

This is as local as it gets—at Frey Ranch, the gin is made in their custom-built distillery using grain from the estate’s own farm. Driving on Route 50, the loneliest road in America, stop by at the Frey Ranch Estate Distillery in Fallon, one of the oldest ranches in Nevada. Here Colby Frey, a fifth-generation farmer, is now distilling a variety of spirits, from gin to bourbon. The Frey Ranch Gin uses seven different botanicals, of which the juniper berries and sagebrush are sourced from the ranch itself. The distillery is open for tours and tastings every Saturday, from noon-4pm. For details, visit Freyranch.com.

Local tip: Every September, Fallon hosts the Tractors & Truffles event, showcasing local produce, and holding cooking demonstrations, concerts, and a farm-to-table dinner to end the revelry.

Tasmania, Australia

After successfully overturning a 150-year-old distilling ban in 1992, Lark Distillery began as a family affair. Today, it is one of Australia’s leading distilleries, producing award-winning whiskies, and other spirits. Their Forty Spotted Gin is made using the steeping method of gin production, and is hand-distilled in small copper stills. Apart from traditional botanicals, it is flavoured with a rare Tasmanian pepperberry, which gives it its distinctively aromatic notes of freshly grated pepper. They offer tours and tastings through the week. For details, visit Larkdistillery.com.

Local tip: Explore the picturesque cobblestoned Salamanca Place in Hobart, lined with historic Georgian buildings housing boutiques, cafés, theatres and galleries. On Saturday, the square comes alive with the lively Salamanca Market.

Veneto, Italy

The family run Poli Distillery in the heart of north Italy’s Veneto region has been distilling grappa and other spirits since 1898. They use traditional bain-marie stills for high-quality grappas, as well as the artisanal Marconi 46 gin. This floral gin is a unique infusion of juniper berries, Muscat grapes, mountain pine, and local herbs. It has a silky smooth mouthfeel from the grapes and intense herby notes. The Poli Distillery and Poli Grappa Museum offers guided tours in Schiavon. For details, visit Poligrappa.com.

Local tip: Head to neighbouring Vicenza (20km from Schiavon) to admire Andrea Palladio’s grand architecture, from the stunning Teatro Olimpico (the oldest surviving indoor theatre in the world) to several private villas designed by the great Renaissance architect.

Weimar, Germany

Wiegand Manufactur is an organic craft distillery in the historically important town of Weimar in central Germany’s Thuringia region. It’s the region’s only gin manufacturer and produces the Lyonel Dry Gin with intense notes of juniper and citrus, a mild background of lavender, and a soft mouthfeel. Wiegand’s special edition Lyonel Barrel Aged Gin is also worth a try for its smooth, refined finish. Tastings are available on prior appointment.For details, visit Wiegandweimar-shop.de.

Local tip: Visit the Unesco World Heritage library, Herzogin Anna Amalia Bibliothek, to ogle at ancient books displayed in an ornate Rococo hall which was painstakingly reconstructed after a devastating fire in 2004.

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