- 1 Master your malt in Scotland
- 2 Ride the Seoul train
- 3 Oaxacan the wild side
- 4 Taste beers in heaven in the Swiss Alps
- 5 Go on a sophisticated bar crawl in Manhattan
- 6 Study Wine in Bordeaux
- 7 Toast American ingenuity in New Orleans
- 8 Get in on some monkey business in Tokyo
- 9 Sing “Oh, Sherry” in Spain
- 10 Cycle to urban distilleries in Oregon
Booze Worth Traveling For
The world is wide, and the sea of drinking adventures vast. But only a select few experiences will quench our thirst for alcohol adventures. From blending your own custom whiskey in Scotland and bobsledding to beer in the Alps to carousing with monkey waiters in Japan, these 10 experiences should top any boozy bucket list.
Emily Saladino is a journalist and recipe developer in New York City. She has covered food, drinks, travel, and culture for Bloomberg, BBC, Travel + Leisure, and others. A former professional cook, she graduated from the International Culinary Center. She is currently the Editor in Chief of VinePair.
Master your malt in Scotland
Drinking whiskey in Scotland is neat. (See what we did there?) Drinking whiskey you blended yourself at a 180-year-old Scottish distillery is infinitely neater. Dumgoyne’s Glengoyne label, celebrated for its peat-free, Highlands-style whiskeys, hosts distillery tours with serious souvenirs. After checking out the stillhouse, which has been turning out liquid gold since 1833, visitors taste a flight of five 17-year-old single malts, training their palates to identify the effects of different casks. Afterwards, they put their malt where their mouth is, blending their own custom whiskey and bottling it in 200-milliliter takeaway drams. And it won’t break the bank either: The Malt Master Tour starts at £55.
Ride the Seoul train
Hard-drinking South Koreans take more shots of liquor than any other nation of boozers, and 97% of glasses are filled with soju, a distilled rice wine. For a truly, er, immersive experience, belly up to soju bars in Seoul, where shooting the spirit takes on a ceremonial air. The ritual goes something like this: an elder hands you a glass. You accept with both hands and avoid eye contact while he pours. You shoot your soju and offer to return the favor. Repeat as needed. Practice your new skill at the soju bar at The Timber House, an elegant watering hole in Seoul’s swish Park Hyatt. Those looking for a more rough-and-tumble soju experience (a.k.a. a shot and beer consumed simultaneously, which locals rather accurately refer to as a “bomb”) should head instead to Hongdae, the hard-partying district that surrounds Seoul’s Hongik University. Hongdae’s Vinyl Bar is a legendary spot for portable “juice boxes” that vaguely resemble IV bags filled with booze. Good night, and good luck.
Oaxacan the wild side
Tequila is regulated. It requires a blue agave base from Jalisco and highly controlled steaming and refining processes. But mezcal, tequila’s cowboy cousin, can be made anytime, anywhere from any agave plant. As a result, Mexico’s best mezcals are rich, diverse and often not approved for entry to the United States. (Our customs officials frown upon booze made from raw plant matter roasted in roadside pits, crushed by wild horses and strained by hand. Go figure.) Smart sippers with a taste for adventure can tap mezcal from the source in Oaxaca, its spiritual home. Established distillers like Destilleria Los Danzantes have multilingual staffers for guided tastings, as does appointment-only tasting room La Mezcaloteca. Downtown Oaxaca City is also home to casual mezcal bars like Txalaparta and Mezcaleria Los Amantes. The latter specializes in small-production mezcals impossible to find in the United States. Hear that? It’s the sound of your Instagram feed totally blowing up.
Taste beers in heaven in the Swiss Alps
Located in an Alpine village more than 5,000 feet above sea level, Switzerland’s Monsteiner Brauerei may very well be the “last beer stop before heaven.” Monsteiner beers are made with local spring water, Swiss-grown misty mountain hops and a special strain of yeast designed for high-altitude fermentation. The microbrewery occupies a 100-year-old former dairy, and opens its doors every Friday for active tours that make the most of its elevated surroundings. Strap on snowshoes, brave the bobsled or ride a train through the Alps, and then return to the microbrewery to pair bottle-aged Huusbier with brewer’s bacon and beer cheese.
Go on a sophisticated bar crawl in Manhattan
In some cities, the main difference between a bartender and mixologist is a $15 bar tab. Manhattan, however, is the birthplace of modern mixology, and home to some of the best cocktail bars in the world. Start at PDT, an elegantly retro boite hidden behind a phone booth in East Village hotdog shop Crif Dogs. Drinks are intricate, alchemic and, most importantly, delicious in ways that defy their complexity. Pair yours with chili-topped tater tots, and then move onto other enormously influential bars in the neighborhood, like the throwback Death & Co., inventive Booker & Dax and the bitters-centric Amor y Amargo. Pouring Ribbons, located on the second story of an Alphabet Street low-rise, has a welcoming atmosphere that makes patrons feel like they’re having cocktails in the apartment of a friend with a remarkably well-stocked bar. Another Aylesbury Duck vodka with cinnamon bitters, anyone?
Study Wine in Bordeaux
At L’Ecole du Vins, a school run by a wine trade organization in Bordeaux, budding oenophiles take two-hour initiation classes where they sniff samples, practice saying "appellation," and taste red and white wines with professional guidance. For extra credit, students can swirl and swill with off-duty instructors, many of who are local vintners, at the onsite wine bar. Bordeaux is also plotting a new wine museum, the Cite des Civilisations du Vin, scheduled to debut in late 2016. In the meantime, make a night of it with a stay at La Grande Maison, the six-room hotel-restaurant legendary chef Joel Robuchon and wine magnate Bernard Magrez opened in a 19th-century Bordelais mansion late last year.
Toast American ingenuity in New Orleans
Jazz, Mardi Gras and superlative signature sandwiches are among The Big Easy’s many claims to fame. It comes as no surprise, then, that the city known for letting the good times roll also happens to be the birthplace of the cocktail. As legend has it, an enterprising bartender in mid-19th century New Orleans mixed French cognac with a dash of sugar and local pharmacist Antoine Amedee Peychaud’s “cure-all” concoction of botannicals, now called bitters. Et voila! The Sazerac was born. To taste American ingenuity at its best, hang your (porkpie) hat at the Sazerac Bar, a landmark establishment in the French Quarter’s historic Roosevelt New Orleans, a Waldorf Astoria Hotel.
Get in on some monkey business in Tokyo
Tokyo’s world-renowned culinary culture includes everything from centuries-old sushi dens to noisy ramen-yas and avant-garde izakayas. As anyone who has ever sipped sake in Utsunomiya can tell you, the scene also spans multiple species. Kayabukiya Tavern, a sake house a few miles north of the capital, is staffed by two uniformed Japanese macaques. The primates take drink orders, distribute hot towels and generally keep sake-swilling patrons from monkeying around. Yat-chan and Fuku-chan both work two hours per day, so call in advance to time your visit to their shifts. And pack plenty of soy beans – like most bar and restaurant workers, these hard-working servers work for tips.
Sing “Oh, Sherry” in Spain
Sherry sales are surging worldwide, as drinkers learn that Spanish fortified wine is just as good for sipping as it is for cooking. While the category starts to find its footing abroad, dedicated pilgrims explore its origins in Jerez, Spain. The city that gave sherry its name has countless bodegas, or sherry warehouses, open for drop-in tours or tasting. But the best place to taste the rainbow is at Tabanco el Pasaje, a green-walled tapas bar between two side streets downtown. Vintage bullfighting posters line the narrow space, where thirsty enthusiasts pull every shade of sherry straight from the barrel. If all that spirit puts a song in your heart, stay for the weekend: on Saturday afternoons, Tabanco hosts live flamenco bands.
Cycle to urban distilleries in Oregon
It may seem like every Portlander makes something (two artisanal toothbrushes, coming right up), but the seven independent labels on SE Division Street’s Distillery Row produce more than twenty craft spirits. Brands like House Spirits, maker of the nationally acclaimed Aviation Gin, Brandywine and Eastside Distilling bottle gins, vodkas, whiskeys and even aquavits with local ingredients and cult appeal. Now, travelers can taste the revolution in the most Portland of fashions: by cycling from warehouse to warehouse on the back of a bicycle. PDX Pedicab offers three-hour tours of Distillery Row on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, and tours start at $60 per person.
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