I’ve turned up alone at whiskey festivals and distilleries across the USA, and yet, I’ve never had the experience of not knowing anyone. In fact, I will often know so many people, either whiskey geeks from social media or industry professionals, that I never have to dine alone. Right before my first major European trip in high school without my family, my godfather told me that the people I went on the trip with would become my lifelong friends. It turned out to be true, and it also counts for whiskey friends.
I’ve met countless friends on distillery media trips, and, because I am ‘geographically blessed’ to live in Louisville, Kentucky, they come to visit often. I’ve taken my family out for Royal’s hot chicken and rock climbing at Climb NuLu with a travel writer from Indianapolis and her son, and I’ve crashed numerous local distillery visits with colleagues from Massachusetts, Oregon, New York, and more. Business travellers are a seasoned bunch, but whiskey business travellers know where the best bars can be found in town, no matter the town.
Even for non-industry folks, the whiskey industry is incredibly hospitable. If you’re planning a visit to a city or region and have the time to research which whiskey bars and distilleries you plan to visit, take it a step further and contact them. Most will be thrilled to learn they are part of your travel plans.
A friend who is a member of the Bourbon Women Association recently reached out to ask me if I knew anyone at St. Augustine Distillery in Florida and I, of course, connected her with an email introduction. After her trip, she reached out to say what a great time she’d had getting to know everyone and trying their products.
Visiting new distilleries, whiskey bars and festivals is a great way to get out of your home-turf whiskey bubble and see what else is out there. Personally, I spent a good five years in my Kentucky bourbon bubble, only visiting Kentucky distilleries, whiskey bars and festivals. There’s a reason they are so popular, but getting outside of my bubble was a real eye-opener. For starters, there are brand new enthusiasts who haven’t grown up with bourbon in the wallpaper, like we all have in Kentucky. They are curious and excited and just an absolute pleasure to be around. They also ask some of the best questions.
Distilleries outside of Kentucky will often recognise the greatness of the Kentucky bourbon industry while proclaiming they don’t want to emulate it, because what’s the point? I heard the same story at so many distilleries: we loved Kentucky bourbon and we knew we wanted to make our own whiskey, but we also knew we didn’t want to imitate Kentucky bourbon. These are the folks who are putting their own mark on the broader distilling landscape with new styles of rye, American single malt, and more. As a visitor to their homeplaces, it’s eye-opening to see a different vantage point on the broader distilling landscape.
I was recently discussing this with Marianne Eaves, after the reveal of her Eaves Blind project whiskeys, which were sourced from Oregon, Florida, New York, Texas, Illinois, Michigan, Colorado, and Ohio. She recounted to me how she felt she had almost been “drinking the Kool-Aid” about Kentucky bourbon, complete with assumptions that it was the best in the world, before she began visiting new distilleries all over the country and discovering they were making some amazing whiskeys.
It’s time to get back to whiskey travel. Take the time to look up distilleries and bars wherever you plan to roam, even if it’s for business. Send them a message letting them know you are excited to visit. This is how the whiskey fabric is woven – don’t be surprised if you come away from the experience with lifelong friends.