Paintings, sculpture, artifacts – all great ways to get an educational, illuminating glimpse into an era or a culture. It’s no different for hooch. Whether you’re heading to Kentucky or Kinsale, Ireland, these seven institutions of, er, higher learning will give you much to ponder over your next dram.
Museum of the American Cocktail (New Orleans)
Leave it to famed barman Dale DeGroff and the city of New Orleans (the only city in the nation to actually have its own officially legislated cocktail, the Sazerac) to dream up the country’s first museum dedicated to the cocktail. Located in the Southern Food & Beverage Museum in Central City, MOTAC takes its tippling preservation seriously. You’ll find everything from antique bottles, books, openers and all other aspects of imbibing ephemera to rotating exhibits like the current “New Orleans Prohibition Raids, 1919–1933.”
Fraunces Tavern Museum (New York City)
In the high-rise bustle and glam real estate culture that is New York, it’s easy to forget it was once a significant site of Revolutionary War activity. Built in 1719, this tavern and museum’s namesake, innkeeper and entrepreneur Samuel Fraunces, took over the old stone building in the 1750s, which became a haunt for the Sons of Liberty. Here, not only can you see the room where George Washington bade farewell to his Revolutionary generals and view an actual silk slipper worn by Martha Washington herself, you can also hop in on special events, like learning the art of making colonial milk punch, or wander into the working tavern with 130 beers and more than 300 whiskeys to fuel any revolutionary inklings you might have.
Desmond Castle & the International Museum of Wine (Kinsale, Ireland)
While Ireland is not exactly the first place you think of when it comes to the storied history of wine, this little seaside spot housed in a circa 1500 stone castle was a well-traveled port for ships bound for Bordeaux, France. And, indeed, there are legitimate Irish connections, known as the Wine Geese, via marriage and trade to the French vin motherland (Chateau Clarke, the Lynch in Lynch-Bages, the Barton in Leoville-Barton) that are barrel-tight in their authenticity. And after strolling through this small but fascinating museum, you may even be convinced that French wine is not just a little bit green.
Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History (Bardstown, Ky.)
Any bourbon hound worth her char will have this Kentucky spot on the hit list for a visit to charming Bardstown, Ky. Named for whiskey distiller and spirited historian Oscar Getz, who died in 1983, the museum is chocablock with Getz’s own fascinating collectibles from the Revolutionary War to Prohibition and beyond. Here, you’ll find pro- and anti-whiskey advertisements, legal documents and licenses, stills gone quiet, and if not the largest, certainly one of the most interesting collections of old whiskey bottles in the country. You can even see a few that were smashed by the famous ax of that old spoilsport Carrie Nation, who wouldn’t like this museum one bit. But you will.Continue to 5 of 7 below.
George Washington’s Distillery and Gristmill (Alexandria, Va.)
Thanks to the passionate work of some spirited archeologists, the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, American historians and preservation-minded distillers, the distillery that George Washington ran from 1797 to his death in 1799 was authentically rebuilt and launched more than 200 years after it began at his Mount Vernon estate. Twice a year at this working distillery, manager of historic trades Steve Bashore literally stokes the fires that fuel the old ways of whiskey distilling. But even when the stills are silent, it’s more than worth it to tour through this authentic glimpse into the past and see how the founding father himself found ever more spirited uses for his agricultural leanings. And yes, you can buy the booze too. Right now, there's an unaged rye ($98), a 2-year-old barrel-aged rye and a 2-year-old barrel-aged peach brandy ($188). By 2017, expect aged apple brandy and a 4-year-old barrel-aged rye. Hey, bottled history doesn’t come cheap, but it does taste good.
Irish Whiskey Museum (Dublin)
It’s a testament to the ever-growing popularity of Irish whiskey that about two years ago Ireland finally got a proper museum dedicated to its storied history, which includes one of the most significant moments in booze making: the perfected patent of the continuous still by Irishman Aeneas Coffey. Hop on an hour-long guided tour through Éire’s whiskey past—how it started in the 11th century, the rise of its pot-still popularity, the dark days of near extinction and the happy ending of a uisce beatha resurgence complete with a raised glass.
La Cité du Vin (Bordeaux, France)
This ambitious over-budget project recently opened its opulent doors on the Garonne River in Bordeaux, looking kind of like an oenophile’s dreamed-up version of James and the Giant Peach. It’s swooping design by XTU architects Nicolas Desmazieres and Anouk Legendre is meant to conjure the circling motion of wine swirled in a glass, and everything inside a full swan dive into it as well—and not just the juice of France. La Cité is meant to celebrate wine from everywhere, from its permanent exhibits to the trio of annually changings ones. And of course, there’s a wine bar, too.