I must precise that all the following is clearly a question of personal taste, here’s only my very own point of view, which you may not completely share or even strongly disagree with.
I’ve been studying the specific topic of distillery visitor experience for a few years now as part of my tourism management studies (chosing to focus on spirits tourism and more particularly whisky tourism).
Whisky tourism refers (for me) to the visit of whisky-related attractions which can be museums, distilleries, whisky events…
To sum up, if the main purpose of your whole trip or your visit has anything to do with the amber nectar (whether it is taking a distillery trail or only indulging in some kind of spirited pub crawl in Brooklyn or Glasgow), you can be labelled as “whisky tourists”, as long as the place you’re taking this tour/visit/tasting outside of your usual residency area.
According to this quick definition, whisky tourists profiles appear as diverse as the range of shoes in my closet (where is this comparison coming from ? No idea.)
Distillery tours in particular, are a wonderful combination of several types of tourism : industrial tourism, cultural tourism and of course, gastronomic (or culinary) tourism.
Many distilleries have been opening state-of-the-art visitor centres and offering a wide array of experiences to an ever-growing crowd of malted wanderers. And as whisky tourists flows have seen stellar growth within the last decade, I’m asking myself, according to my personal experience of distilleries, how can a distillery stand out from the others in terms of visitor experience ?
First of all, one thing that really matters to me is the range of tours. I like being offered a choice of different experiences (according to my whisky knowledge, time, purse…). I mean, there’s not much added value for a whisky enthusiast to take another jargon-free tour to be explained the grain to glass process over and over again. Some may argue here that the process may be different from a distillery to another, but I think some people would need a deeper insight or be able to ask specific/rather technical questions if needed. Distillers or any distillery operator could then be in the best position to conduct those tours instead of regular guides (who, don’t get me wrong, are perfectly suitabe and a valuable asset for most whisky tourists).
A second criterion to feature in my personal “must-do” lists of distillery tours would be the actual experience. I’d like my visit to be “sensational”, meaning I like all my senses to be awakened : being offered to plunge the hand into raw barley, smelling the peat smoke, not to mention tasting the end product (which is pretty obvious).
Stories are another important part of a successful distillery tour. Storytelling makes everything more magical, from distillery legends to real anecdotes surrounding the whisky-making process or a special expression (who wouldn’t crave to hear Jim McEwan’s stories about his famous Black Art or Brian Nation talking about the Midleton Very Rare ?)
As craftmanship is a significant part of whisky making, I also tend to prefer visiting working distilleries than “disneyland-style” facilities such as the Old Jameson Distillery in Dublin (Which yet hosts a pretty good restaurant !)
Something else that could make the difference for me : the food offer. I’m the kind of person who always fancy a little something to eat before or after indulging in a whisky tasting. I’m also really keen on whisky experimentations, and spirited cooking is definitely a good field to experiment with whisky whether it is pairing specific ingredients with different drams or offering tasty whisky brownies or marmalades in a cute coffee shop.
Last but not least, I believe coherence is the key to a successful visitor experience. I won’t need an award-winning 3D-technology display in a small craft family-sized distillery nor am I expecting a full range of tours in a newly-opened micro-distillery. I could have mentioned many other aspects in this article (including staff, shop, opening hours, booking, facilities…) but I don’t want you to get bored with a way-too-long and indigestible piece (That I wouldn’t have read to the end myself).
However, I’ll be more than happy to discuss this and have your thoughts on this matter via the contact form (or scroll down the page) or on social networks !