The rise of craft distilleries means that for spirits lovers, there are more options than ever before, writes Zac de Silva.
Cheers! Prost! Kanpai! If there’s one thing you’ll find the world over, it’s spirits. From Mexican tequila to Russian vodka, American bourbon to Irish whiskey, each nation has its own signature spirit, of which locals are immensely proud. And now, with the world in the clutches of a gin renaissance, the craft tradition is coming back in vogue: independently owned, small operations that typically hero local ingredients in their brews. While it can be difficult to navigate the wide and sometimes intimidating world of spirits, Lonely Planet’s Global Distillery Tour promises to make this process a little bit easier for us all. The book’s 264 pages combine to create a bible for lovers of spirits, showcasing the best places to find your tipple of choice, no matter where in the world you find yourself. These are our picks for the most exciting craft distilleries in the world.
Puhoi Organic Distillery, Auckland, New Zealand
While there are no scheduled tours here, you’ll see it all by default when you attend one of the distillery’s by-appointment tastings. Run by a Russian ex-nuclear engineer and his wife, Puhoi Organic Distillery is one of the world’s smallest commercial distilleries, producing a range of whiskies, gins and vodkas in strictly limited quantities. It’s also environmentally conscious. Puhoi is 100% solar powered, is the only distillery in New Zealand to produce zero emissions, and uses gravity-flow technology to move liquids around without pumps. Master distiller Alex Kirichuk’s oak-rested vodka is a definite highlight.
Adelaide Hills Distillery, South Australia
Adelaide Hills Distillery’s claim to fame is its Australian Green Ant Gin, produced in collaboration with Something Wild Beverages, which uses real insects in its distilling process. The ants are sustainably harvested in the Northern Territory by the Motlop family of the Larrakia people, and add notes of coriander and kaffir lime to the gin. The distillery uses all native ingredients, and fruits such as quandong (Australian wild peach) regularly make it into their brews. LOT.100, the distillery’s cellar door, is shared with Mismatch Brewing, The Hills Cider Company, Ashton Valley Fresh and Vinteloper Wines, so whatever your beverage of choice, you’re bound to find something you’ll love.
Hope on Hopkins, Cape Town, South Africa
Truly embracing the craft tradition, ex-lawyers Leigh Lisk and Lucy Beard opened Cape Town’s first artisan gin distillery with three stills: Mildred, Mouma and Maude, named after their grandmothers. The gin at Hope on Hopkins is made from a 100% South African grain-based spirit and botanicals include wild rosemary, pomegranate and indigenous medicinal herbs such as buchu and kapokbos. Tastings run every Saturday afternoon, where Leigh and Lucy make their own suggestions and then let guests pick and mix their own gin, tonic and garnishes. Lucky visitors may even get to meet Mimo, the distillery cat, and Martini, the distillery cat-in-training.
South and Central America
Casa Herradura, Jalisco, Mexico
There’s no better place to try tequila than Mexico, home of the world’s favourite agave-based spirit. Casa Herradura is the last tequila-producing hacienda in the world, with everything needed to make tequila sans electricity, including the original clay ovens and tahona, a crushing wheel that would traditionally have been donkey driven. You’ll travel two hours by train to get to the distillery, rolling through fields of blue agave while you sip on any number of tequila cocktails served along the way. Once you have arrived, you’ll get to taste tequila exclusively offered to guests, as well as eat lunch to live Mariachi music.
Lost Spirits, California, USA
More secret lair than traditional distillery, Lost Spirits is a testament to the power of technology. Owner Bryan Davis grabbed the attention of the spirits world in 2014 when he recreated the chemical signature of a 20-year-old Port Morant rum in only six days. Since then, he has developed an immersive Willy Wonka-esque distillery experience, with each room mimicking the imaginary environments that inspire the rum, whiskey and brandy that guests taste on the tour. The tour has been named ‘World’s Best Distillery Tour’ by the Drinks International Tourism Challenge two years running, and daily tours take a maximum of 12 guests, so book early to get a spot.
Park Distillery, Alberta, Canada
As Canada’s only distillery located within a national park, Park Distillery has a unique take on the distilling process. Their eco-friendly main facility was opened in 2015 in the Rocky Mountain town of Banff and is part-restaurant, part-pub and part-distillery. Describing its process as ‘glacier to glass’, the team draws water from six glaciers high in the Rockies and sources grain from local, high-altitude farms. Book in advance for a free 30-minute tour, which occur every afternoon, and be sure to try the Maple Rye, a sweet whisky made from locally grown grain and Quebec maple syrup.
Park Distillery © Anna Robi
Yoichi Distillery, Hokkaido, Japan
While most distillers use gas to heat their stills, Yoichi Distillery is the world’s last working coal-fired distillery. While this makes it more difficult to control the temperature in the stills, it obviously pays dividends as the tipples it produces for Nikka Whisky are regularly touted as some of the best in the world. Guided tours among the stone buildings are only available in Japanese, but self-guided walking tours, as well as the all-important tastings, are well signposted in English. A highlight here is the ‘Peaty & Salty’ distillery exclusive.
Alkon Distillery, Veliky Novgorod, Russia
Founded in 1897, Alkon Distillery has managed to survive the Russian Revolution and two world wars. The distillery uses a combination of centuries-old techniques, along with spring water from nearby Lake Ilmen to make some of Russia’s best vodkas, among other drinks. Veliky Novgorod itself is a three-hour drive from St Petersburg and rich with history. Attached to the distillery you’ll find a restaurant/bar with a log fire, dark wood and exposed walls — the perfect atmosphere for a night of sampling some of the country’s best spirits. Try the Nastoyka ‘Sadko’, Alkon’s traditional cranberry liqueur.
Salcombe Distilling Co., Devon, UK
In a boathouse in an old smugglers’ cove, you’ll find Salcombe Distilling Company. While the gins here are world class, it’s the Gin School that is the real highlight of this distillery. Under the guidance of an expert, each student is armed with their own mini-still, producing a small batch of gin that can then be enjoyed in the bar. Those looking to have a slightly less hands-on experience will appreciate Salcombe’s Gin Hamper Delivery Service, where you’ll have everything you need to enjoy an afternoon sipping gin and tonics delivered directly to your yacht.