Whisky tourism continues to grow in popularity, from Scotland to Bourbon Country and beyond. But recently, people aren’t coming just for the whisky. Distilleries have become cultural destinations, and many are showcasing collections of art well beyond that which can be found in liquid form. From sculpture to watercolors, drawings to glass, there’s a wealth of visual splendors to enjoy alongside a dram.
The best tours for lovers of both whisky and art
Handle the Glass with Care at Maker’s Mark
Maker’s Mark was the first bourbon distillery to welcome visitors in 1968—a bold move for the era. Today, the brand’s innovative edge is manifested in the abstract musings of glass sculptor Dale Chihuly. His permanent installation, The Spirit of the Maker, radiates from the ceiling of a narrow corridor adjoining one of the distillery’s original barrelhouses. In early 2017, Maker’s COO Rob Samuels commissioned Chihuly to create a site-specific exhibition across the entirety of the property. Six glass sculptures dot the distillery grounds and mesh perfectly with the landscape, from the 12 foot tall Sapphire and Platinum Waterdrop Tower in front of the cellar and water source to the glass and steel Summer Sun. These shimmering al fresco fixtures are even more resplendent when lit up at night. Visitors can take self-guided tours to marvel at the art every Saturday through October 7th, 2017.
Hold Your Horses at Slane
The 18th-century Slane Castle in the countryside north of Dublin has been the home of Ireland’s biggest annual music festival since 1981. But it wasn’t until this year that Slane took on the added workload of a fully functioning distillery, opening in Fall 2017. Visitors are welcomed to observe not only the whisky making process, but also to walk the grounds and interact with a collection of art works detailing the site’s history as a center of horse racing. There’s a sculpture of a horse, mid-stride, fashioned out of barrel staves and hoops by Lynn Kirkham, while the walls of the visitor center and stillroom (located in the former stables of the castle) are adorned with paintings of prize-winning racehorses formerly stabled there over a century ago.
Compare Historic and Contemporary Architecture at Macallan
Sometimes a building holds art. Other times the building itself is the art. Such is the case with The Macallan’s new distillery and visitor center. The £120 billion facility, housed largely underground, emerges from the earth in five grass-covered mounds, intended to evoke brochs—prehistoric Scottish roundhouses. When it opens in 2018, the visitor center will house a six room art gallery developed by Atelier Brückner, the architecture and design firm behind the Grand Egyptian Museum in Giza. Much of the collection will focus on authentic drawings from the region around the time of Macallan’s founding in 1824—images that will starkly juxtapose the historic distillery with its contemporary counterpart. It promises to be the most artfully rendered reception in all of whisky.
Explore Global Artistry at Glenfiddich
Since 2001, Glenfiddich has selected talented artists from across the globe to convene at its iconic distillery in Scotland’s Speyside region. The Artists in Residence Program awards £10,000 to those selected, who spend a summer collaborating on original pieces of art. In the end, three separate exhibitions, spanning a range of media, from copper to oil paints to photography, are presented on the distillery grounds. Often, the creative expressions on display are inspired by the single malt produced there. But you won’t know exactly what to expect until you see it in person; no two exhibits are even remotely alike. The galleries are open to the public from late July until October.
Enjoy Local Whiskey and Art at Oakhurst Spirits
One of California’s newest distilleries is in the town of Oakhurst, located along the southern gateway to Yosemite National Park. Owners Mike and Ally Benbrook each follow their passion to realize something quite unlike the rest. Adjacent to the stillhouse is The Gallery, a permanent showcase of Ms. Benbrook’s watercolor paintings. Her award-winning work ranges from naturalist depictions of majestic vistas to portraits of animals and depictions of contemporary life wrought with social commentary. Both the distillery and the gallery are now open to the public from Friday through Sunday, noon to 7 p.m.