It’s a truth universally acknowledged that incredible whisky is now made all over the world. The development of the industry at the hands of exciting, innovative distillers means we can experience a sense of place like never before – through a tasting glass without leaving the comfort of our homes.
The more intrepid whisky drinker will actually make the trip to far-flung makers. Around 2.2 million people visit distilleries in Scotland alone each year, according to the Scotch Whisky Association. Another two million headed to Kentucky distilleries in 2022, calculates the Kentucky Distillers’ Association. No one body tallies up global distillery trips, but it’s clear that whisky tourism is flying.
Even for those not into whisky, combining distillery visits with local adventures can make for extraordinary travel. Beyond the drams themselves, consider the communities distilleries are part of, the local culture, the landscapes. Our favourite whiskies often come from wondrous places. What happens if you intentionally pair the two?
We reached out to some of the world’s most exciting makers for their recommendations on distillery tours and tastings, and quizzed them on the breathtaking, must-experience activities in their local area. From archaeological digs to world-leading galleries, and even dog sledding, these are the whisky itineraries of dreams. Pack your bags – it’s time to go exploring.
Aurora Spirit Distillery – Lyngen Alps, Norway
It typically takes a plane, car, and ferry to reach Aurora Spirit Distillery, where the world’s most northerly whisky maker produces the Bivrost brand from its wildly remote home. The stills flow where the Lyngen Alps meet the sea. At 69° north, far inside the Arctic Circle, the bright summer days are seemingly endless. Whales and dolphins swim and puffins rest under the midnight sun. But Polar nights cocoon the distillery in darkness around the clock through winter. It sounds inhospitable – but the set-up is anything but.
Stay in the stylish Aurora Fjord Cabins and, if conditions are kind, you’ll get to see the spectacular Northern Lights. Just a two-minute walk from the distillery, the cabins serve as the perfect base for both whisky and adventure. The two-person self-catering units, some with jacuzzis, sit right on the shoreline, offering panoramic views across the crystal-clear water. The larger Distillery Cabin sleeps up to five, with mountain and fjord vistas. Whichever option, you’ll be cosy indoors but still be immersed in the natural landscape.
Visit from December to March and you’ll have the chance to explore the Arctic wilderness by dog sled. Scale 1,400-metre summits, cross snow fields, and traverse dense forests, complete with a stop for a bonfire lunch at a traditional Sami Lavvu tent. It may be a physically taxing day, but it'll be a remarkable one.
Let’s not forget the distillery itself – a masterpiece in both architecture and distilling. The striking building is the design of architects Innovation Norway. And the whisky is breaking new ground, too. Barley trials are under way to evaluate if Arctic varietals could be used in whisky production. In partnership with Spheric Spirits, the team is also experimenting with yeast strains. The best way to get under the skin of it all is with a Founder’s Experience tour. Tor Petter W. Christensen will personally accompany you around the distillery, including the stillhouse, bunker, and Viking warehouse.
The name Bivrost is taken from two Norse words: ‘biv’ for shaking, and ‘rost’ for road or path. It’s the Viking name for the Northern Lights – considered a bridge between earth and heaven. That’s certainly the sense you get out in the wilderness at Aurora Spirit.
Komoro Distillery – Karuizawa, Japan
Just a couple of hours from bustling Tokyo is one of Japan’s newest distilleries – and it’s not just in any location. The name Karuizawa will resonate strongly with many whisky lovers. Komoro Distillery, the inaugural producer from Karuizawa Distillers, is taking up the mantle of whisky making in the Greater Karuizawa area after the eponymous – and now iconic – distillery that was mothballed back in 2000.
Nestled in the Mount Asama foothills, the new producer is as luxe as it comes. It was founded by entrepreneur Koji Shimaoka and his wife, finance professional Yoshie Shimaoka, alongside award-winning master blender Ian Chang, formerly of Kavalan fame. The vision is to make whisky of the highest quality. But it’s about creating a destination for whisky lovers, too.
Visitors to the producer – which opened its doors in July 2023, a century since whisky distilling started in Japan – are in for a treat. The attention to detail is extraordinary. From the one-piece copper staircase to the bar crafted from mizunara oak, every angle is considered. Take, for example, that you can see the gleaming stills from every part of the visitor centre. For those wanting to immerse themselves even deeper, the Komoro Whisky Academy, curated by The Whisky Lounge’s Eddie Ludlow, will offer a rich banquet of education.
Make the journey in winter, and you’ll also be close to one of Japan’s most celebrated ski regions. With good-quality snowfall (they’ll get the snow machines out to guarantee it) and slopes generally considered to be safe for beginners and families, it’s a great way to turn a whisky visit into a trip for everyone. Check out the Prince Hotel for a range of rooms and amenities. Just don’t directly mix the whisky with skiing…
Isle of Raasay Distillery – Highlands and Islands, Scotland
Why not get a group together for a retreat to one of Scotland’s most stunning – and remote – destinations? The Isle of Raasay offers a phenomenal whisky experience, and more besides. Located just a 25-minute ferry journey from the Isle of Skye, Raasay is a tiny island community with just 120 permanent residents. The isle offers views like you’ve never seen before, along with remarkable whisky from one of Scotland’s leading young distilleries.
Alasdair Day, founder of R&B Distillers along with Bill Dobbie, constructed the first legal distillery on the island, with spirit first flowing back in October 2017. Today it’s selling its very own single malt, a blend of peated and unpeated whiskies that evokes the style of old Hebridean bottlings.
Aside from the whisky, it’s one of the finest places in Scotland to spot wildlife. Not only do whales and puffins populate the surroundings, but so do otters and basking sharks. Sea eagles can be spotted, and golden eagles have been identified over the island. It’s one of the most fascinating ecosystems in the British Isles, and one that will delight even the most amateur ornithologist.
For accommodation, Raasay Distillery offers the chance to rent out the whole of Borodale House, an enormous family home that sleeps up to 12 comfortably. Guests have the run of the bar and restaurant, and also have the option to fill their own casks.
For daytrippers, tour options include pairing whisky and gin with chocolates, and even taking in the island by Land Rover or RIB fast boat trips to get up close and personal with the coastline. Be sure to return to the visitor centre for one of the best stillhouse views in Scotland.
Kavalan Distillery – Yilan County, Taiwan
Kavalan is widely considered to be one of the early world whisky pioneers – and with good reason. Its bold, innovative approaches to maturation and cask management have landed it a staunch reputation as one of the most desirable makers. Since 2005 it has been crafting impeccable whiskies, and it’s an essential stop on a global spirits adventure.
Touch down at the distillery and you’re in for a treat. Tours are available in Chinese, Japanese, and English, taking in the entire whisky-making process from mashing through to fermentation and distillation. Fascinatingly, the programme includes the STR (shaving, toasting, and recharring) cask preparation process. The flavour impact is enormous, and a signature of the Solist Vinho Barrique expression.
Perhaps most excitingly, guests have access to Kavalan’s Whisky Lab, where they can craft their very own expression from cask samples – and there are few greater souvenirs from a whisky trip than your very own bottling.
After the distillery guests should head to downtown Taipei, just an hour away. Not only is the city home to the Kavalan Whisky Bar, but it also offers an exciting art scene; widely considered to be one of the world's most cutting-edge, vibrant markets, the city is full to the brim with young collectors, gallerists, and creators.
The Taipei Contemporary Art Fair is a must-attend. Now held in mid-May, the event attracts buyers from across Asia. There’s a real sense that younger demographics are bringing fresh perspectives to the art world, and Taipei is an engine of regeneration. Year-round, be sure to check out the Aki, Tina Keng, and Chi-Wen Galleries.
Art is thirsty work. Circling back to the Kavalan Whisky Bar is essential, for a refreshing cocktail or two to round off the day’s visual indulgences.
Buffalo Trace Distillery – Frankfort, Kentucky, USA
One of America’s best-known and most-loved distilleries has an intriguing side. Buffalo Trace, a protagonist in the history of American whiskey and known for brands including George T. Stagg, Weller, and Pappy Van Winkle, is inviting guests to literally dig into its past.
Its history stems from E. H. Taylor Jr, who is widely considered to have revolutionised the bourbon industry. His influence dates back centuries, and his life and history are central to the distillery’s ‘Bourbon Pompeii’ tour. Whether you like whiskey or not, the experience will pique the interest of any historian or budding archaeologist.
At the centre of the tour is the Old Taylor House, the oldest dwelling in Franklin County, dating back to the 1790s. Built by E. H. Taylor’s great grandfather, it sat vacant prior to its restoration but over the years housed a lab and even a small hospital.
Built by Taylor in 1869, the experience also takes in the original foundation wall used in the first ‘modern’ distillery. The fermentation vats, found intact, date back to 1873, and, although decommissioned in the 1950s, lay undiscovered until 2016. In a remarkable twist, they were only discovered when work to renovate an old building got under way. The third stop is Warehouse C, a brick and limestone structure built in 1884, but still in use today.
The next stop on the dream itinerary is to explore the private Single Barrel Select programme. Retailers and consumers alike can take to Warehouse H, the home of Blanton’s Single Barrel, to choose their own bottling from four samples. Guests can customise their bottles with their own name, mark, and logo. There’s no better way to acquire your very own bourbon – and take a piece of liquid history home with you.
Lark Distillery – Pontville, Tasmania
Tasmania has a long, if gappy, history of whisky making. There are records dating back to 1822 which show distilling on the island. Lark Distillery, the carbon-neutral pioneer, opened its doors 30 years ago. Its establishment came 150 years after the last shut up shop. The constant through it all has been the abundant Tasmanian ecosystems, rich with nature and potential for whisky.
Lark taps into this with its epic four-day Tasmanian adventure. Founder Bill Lark recently took on the challenging 49-kilometre Three Capes Adventure Walk along with 200 friends of the distillery. Hikers, ready your boots: the adventure is back next May with master blender Chris Thomson. Intrepid adventurers can expect accommodation in stunning eco lodges, nourishing dinners, a bounty of whiskies, and stories galore from Lark and Thomson.
The itinerary starts with a private tasting at The Still, Lark’s Hobart venue and an embassy of Australian whisky. Out on the Three Capes trails, which include dramatic views from some of the world’s highest sea cliffs, guests are immersed in the world-renowned Tasman wilderness.
The group is led by the Tasmanian Walking Company, an organisation which has explored the land for more than 35 years. It clearly acknowledges the Palawa, the Tasmanian Aboriginal peoples, as the traditional owners of the land and waters of the area. It also fervently protects the natural and cultural integrity of the land through stringent sustainability practices.
It’s a theme that continues to Lark Distillery itself, which is a must-visit before or after the hike. Carbon neutrality is at the heart of every practice, as certified by the Australian government’s Climate Active programme. Tours run every day from Wednesday to Sunday, with whisky blending sessions also available.