Today, May 20, is World Whisky Day.
If you’ve never heard of what may have just become your new favorite holiday, it’s a day to “try a dram and celebrate the water of life,” according to World Whisky Day.
“Events are taking place all around the world,” World Whisky Day explains. “If you can’t find an event happening near you, why not host your own World Whisky Day event? All you need is a bottle of whisky/whiskey to share with your friends.”
You can also visit World Whisky Day to learn about whiskey from around the world and even learn about cocktails and find cocktail recipes.
Then again, this may also be the perfect opportunity to pour yourself a glass of your favorite whiskey and start planning a whiskey-themed trip.
If that sounds like the perfect vacation, here’s what you need to know about visiting three places that are famous for their whiskey distilleries. Plus, there’s plenty to see and do in each of those areas besides visiting distilleries, so you can combine your love of whiskey with other activities.
First, one quick point: “Whisky” refers to grain spirits distilled in Scotland and many other countries. On the other hand, “whiskey” refers to grain spirits distilled in Ireland and the United States.
Visiting Whisky Distilleries Across The UK
As you would expect, people from around the world travel to the UK — and Scotland in particular — to visit whisky distilleries. After all, when many people think of whisky, they think of Scotch.
Luxury travel experts European Waterways, which offers what it calls whisky cruises in Scotland, analyzed more than 60,000 Tripadvisor ratings and customer reviews, then compiled an index that ranks all of the UK’s whisky distilleries.
Interestingly, the research found that 90 percent of the top-rated whisky distilleries to visit in the UK are located in Scotland. What’s more, English and Northern Ireland whisky distilleries make up 40 percent of what European Waterways calls the UK’s top 10 “hidden gem” whisky distilleries.
Based on its research, European Waterways notes that the top whisky distillery to visit in the UK is Bruichladdich Distillery, known for Islay single malt whisky, on the Isle of Islay in Scotland. Other top distilleries to visit include Glengoyne Distillery in Scotland; Laphroaig Distillery, also in Islay, Scotland; Spirit of Yorkshire Distillery in northern England; and Dalwhinnie Distillery in Scotland.
When it comes to those hidden-gem whisky distilleries in the UK, Bimber Distillery, known for several single malt whiskies, in London is the best to visit, according to European Waterways. Other top hidden-gem distilleries in the UK include Killowen Distillery in Ireland, Ardnamurchan Distillery in Scotland, Nc’nean Distillery in Scotland, and The Echlinville Distillery in Ireland.
If you’re planning a trip to the UK to visit distilleries, Paul Newman, marketing manager at European Waterways, has some tips.
First of all, when it comes to distillery tours and tastings, “look for regions that have a variety of distilleries to visit, and check that they offer tours and tastings that fit your interests and preferences,” Newman told TravelAwaits in an exclusive interview. “Some distilleries also offer unique experiences such as blending your own whisky or visiting a working cooperage, which can make your holiday more interactive.”
Newman also recommends doing research about whisky-related events and festivals.
“Before booking your trip, check if there are any whisky-related events or festivals happening during your trip, such as the Islay Festival of Malt and Music or the Whisky Live events,” Newman told TravelAwaits. “These can offer the chance to taste a wide variety of whiskies and meet other whisky enthusiasts.”
Visiting The Kentucky Bourbon Trail
There’s no doubt about it, the Kentucky Bourbon Trail is increasingly popular.
In fact, for the first time ever, more than 2 million people visited the 42 distilleries along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail last year, according to the Kentucky Distillers’ Association (KDA).
The previous record for attendance was set in 2019 when 1.7 million people visited.
There are specific requirements that must be met for a whiskey to be classified as a bourbon. For starters, it must be made with a minimum of 51 percent corn, then aged in new, charred oak barrels, the KDA explains. Next, bourbon must be stored at no more than 125 proof before being bottled at no less than 80 proof.
The KDA created the Kentucky Bourbon Trail in 1999 so visitors could get an up-close look at the state’s most historic distilleries. The good news for bourbon lovers is that there are 42 distilleries they can visit in Kentucky!
Of that number, 18 are what’s called “Signature Distilleries,” such as the Wild Turkey Distillery in Lawrenceburg, Angel’s Envy in Louisville, Four Roses Distillery in Lawrenceburg, and the James B. Beam Distilling Co. in Clermont.
Then, there are 24 “Craft Distilleries,” such as the Old Pogue Distillery in Maysville, the Kentucky Artisan Distillery in Crestwood, the Casey Jones Distillery in Hopkinsville, and the James E. Pepper Distillery in Lexington.
There’s no right or wrong way to experience the Kentucky Bourbon Trail — you can start or stop anywhere on the route and see as many distilleries as you want. You can even visit distilleries while you also explore Kentucky.
However, there is an official Kentucky Bourbon Trail Welcome Center in the Frazier History Museum in Louisville.
If you are interested in visiting the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, this map of Kentucky’s distilleries will help make your planning easier.
The KDA also offers numerous tips at Plan My Trip to make it easier. For example, you can learn more about individual distilleries as well as how to combine your tour of distilleries with other experiences such as outdoor activities and nearby hotels and restaurants.
Visiting The Tennessee Whiskey Trail
People have been making whiskey in Tennessee since the late 18th century.
To help celebrate that history, the Tennessee General Assembly even adopted a resolution declaring May 21 as International Tennessee Whiskey Day. That date is important because Tennessee’s repeal of the ban on the manufacturing of alcoholic beverages occurred on May 21, 1937.
Legally, a Tennessee whiskey must be manufactured in Tennessee, filtered through maple charcoal prior to aging, and made from grain that consists of at least 51 percent corn, according to the Tennessee Distillers Guild.
The whiskey must also be distilled to no more than 160 proof, aged in new charred oak barrels, and placed in the barrel at no more than 125 proof. Finally, it must be bottled at no less than 80 proof.
There’s also a Tennessee Whiskey Trail with more than 30 distilleries. Along the way, you can visit distilleries such as Cascade Hollow Distilling Co. in Tullahoma, the Jack Daniel Distillery in Lynchburg, the Chattanooga Whiskey Distillery in downtown Chattanooga, and Ole Smoky Distillery in Gatlinburg.
You can find a complete list of distilleries and learn more about each of them in the Tennessee Whiskey Trail directory. The distilleries are even grouped according to their location in Tennessee to help with your trip planning.
There’s also what’s called a Tennessee Whiskey Trail passport, which is offered as either a printed book or an app for iPhone or Android devices. If you visit all of the participating distilleries and get your passport stamped appropriately, you can earn a prize.
Learn how to apply for a digital or physical passport at the Tennessee Whiskey Trail passport webpage.