Whether you’re headed on an excursion to the Bourbon Trail or just visiting the microdistillery in your backyard, follow these tips when you show up to tour and taste.
1. Don’t Name-drop and Expect Special Treatment
What’s the easiest way to irk the employees at a distillery, especially one with a smaller staff? “Telling everybody that you know the owners, but you haven’t made an appointment ahead of time and show up on peak Saturday hours unannounced expecting a private tour,” says Scott Harris,the co-owner of Catoctin Creek distillery in Purcellville, Va. “Bonus points for a busload of 20 people.” Be considerate and call ahead. You may want to rethink showing up with a large group anyway, which can be loud and distracting and completely overtake the tasting bar.
(image: Mailson Pignata)
2. Keep Your Hands Off the Equipment
Those shiny copper stills are pretty to look at, but don’t touch them. “We have a variety of tours and tastings available, which all revolve around our working stills that tend to run very hot,” says Caley Shoemaker, the head distiller for Hangar 1 vodka in San Francisco. “We try to remind them that the equipment doesn’t generally like being hugged, no matter how tempting.” And unless you’ve been instructed that it’s OK to do so, don’t dip your fingers into the fermenting tanks of mash, either.
3. Don’t Rehash a Bad Experience That Made You Swear Off a Spirit for Life
Ever get sick from fill-in-the-blank booze that one time in college? Keep it to yourself, and keep an open mind. “All of our palates are different and change over time; spirits you may have had a less-than-pleasant experience with years before can surprise you later,” says Jordan Felix, Westward American single-malt whiskey advocate for House Spirits distillery in Portland, Ore. “A lot of love, time and effort go into producing spirits. Be open to the staff’s suggestions, and politely speak your mind.”
(image: Sergiy Palamarchuk)
4. Sip, Don’t Shoot
“We’ve seen patrons come through the tasting room and throw back our expressions without realizing that they’re tasting a single-malt whiskey,” says Rob Dietrich, the head distiller at Stranahan’s Colorado whiskey in Denver. “To help, we like to remind everyone that it’s meant to be a fun tasting and the best way to enjoy themselves is to savor the whiskey.” In other words, this isn’t a fraternity party or two-for-one shot night at your favorite watering hole.
5. Taste Something You Don’t Care For? Be Diplomatic.
“If you don’t like something, that’s fine; not every spirit is going to trip your trigger,” says Matthew Strickland, the head distiller for District Distilling Co. in Washington, D.C. “You can even say it’s just not your cup of tea; just don’t be rude about it.” And who knows? The whiskey-averse or the anti-vodka snob just might discover a new fave bevy.
6. Don’t Mansplain. Period.
“We have a lot of women that have worked at the distillery for a long time, including Becky [Harris] who is our chief distiller,” says Harris. “They absolutely know more than you do.”
7. Don’t Treat It Like a Flea Market
“There’s never room to haggle,” says Felix. “Prices are set for a multitude of reasons at a craft or large distillery, so it’s important to respect their process and price.” You wouldn’t think of bargaining over your tuna tartare appetizer or rib-eye steak at a restaurant, would you? Of course not.
8. Make Time Your Friend
Managing your day is very important, says Felix. Especially in cities and areas with a large concentration of distilleries, wineries and breweries. “We all enjoy indulging; just make sure to not stack your day with everything back to back,” he says. Stop for meals and snacks in between visits, and don’t try to do (or drink) too much. “Turning up at a distillery visibly intoxicated or just plain wasted is a sure way to not be given a tour or served any drop of liquor,” he says.
9. Don’t Be “That Guy”
“You know the one—the dude that reads every issue of every whiskey magazine and has toured the Bourbon Trail so many times that Jim Beam had a plaque made for him,” snarks Strickland. “Yes, you know a lot about making booze, but perhaps the rest of our tour patrons do not.” Feel free to ask questions, but don’t monopolize the tour guide’s time with niche or esoteric comments or queries. Don’t be that guy.