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March 2021

Eight things you will and won't hear on a bourbon tour (almost guaranteed) 

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With spring around the corner, our thoughts turn to touring bourbon distilleries. While some distillery tours are still closed, many are open with reduced numbers. Here is a semi-serious look at eight things you’re likely to hear from your tour guide. We’ve also included a decidedly sarcastic take on eight things you won’t hear.

You will hear:

1. “Do you have a reservation?”

The days of just dropping in for a bourbon tour are gone. There are fewer tours of smaller size in these pandemic times. So planning ahead is absolutely key to not being disappointed. Most tours now charge a nominal fee (it’s well worth it), but even the free tours require advance reservations.  


2. “Please use plenty of hand sanitizer while you’re here. And buy some to take home.”

Pandemic protocols like masks, social distancing, and hand sanitizer are all the rage these days during a bourbon tour. Many distilleries converted production early in the pandemic to making hand sanitizer for a while, so they’ve got plenty on hand. In fact, now that the shortages have eased, they have a lot on hand. Consider buying some and taking it home.


3. “All bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon.”

Many people are neophytes when it comes to whiskey. They need to be told how and why bourbon whiskey is different than whiskey from Scotland, Ireland, Canada, Tennessee, and other parts of America. It is fun to watch the facial expressions as first-timers try to sort out this helpful bit of information.


4. “There’s no substitute for time in the barrel.”

The mash bill, yeast, type of still, level of char…they all play an important role in how the bourbon will ultimately taste. But the aging process, time in the barrel, is usually considered to be the strongest determining factor in the quality of what ultimately comes out of the barrel. 


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5.“The only right way to drink bourbon is the way you like it.”

Many bourbon enthusiasts (read snobs) have very definite rules about how you should and shouldn’t drink your bourbon. Most of the distillery folks you’ll meet on tour, if they’re honest, want you to drink bourbon however you like it. Just as long as you drink it. Their livelihood depends on it. You do you, as long as there’s bourbon flowing.


6. “Bourbon is at least 51 percent corn —it’s the law.”

There really is a federal law specifying how bourbon is made if it carries that name: Minimum 51 percent corn, produced in the United States, distilled at 160 proof or below, put in a new, charred oak container, bottled at 125 proof or lower, and nothing added but water. It’s the law, man.


7. “Did we mention we have a gift shop?”

Like all good tourist attractions, most bourbon tours either start or end in the gift shop. But that’s a good thing. First, there is all the great bourbon-branded swag you can buy. Second, these days distillery gift shops are THE place to buy special and limited edition bottles of bourbon. Some bottles are only on sale at the gift shop.


. “Y’all come back.”

Hospitality is really the heart of the bourbon business. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a friendlier group of people than those who work at a distillery. They’re genuinely glad you visited and want you to come back soon. Heck, they’ll even give you directions to the next bourbon stop down the road. And by the way, don’t forget to tip your tour guide. 


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You won’t hear:

1. “We have plenty of Pappy 23 in the gift shop, and it’s on sale!”

Visiting a distillery will afford you access to some premium merchandise, but don’t have unrealistic expectations. While you may be able to find some specials and potentially rare items, you likely won’t find “the good stuff” just laying around and waiting to be snapped up.


2. “Mila Kunis/Matthew McConaughey is working today, do you want to meet her/him?”

You know that’s a marketing gimmick, right? While there are many great people who work at distilleries, those celebrities don’t really work there. Say hello to the people you see and make friends with them, they are the real whiskey celebrities!


3. “Who wants to do chugs from the whiskey thief?”

Crafting whiskey is real work. Hard work! While it is tempting to be funny in the moment, just be cool and don’t even try this kind of shenanigan. 


4. “We highly recommend that you mix this with cola, preferably diet.”

Look, we understand that you can drink your whiskey as you please. Mix it together with whatever you choose, but in the privacy of your own home. Don’t be a savage and enjoy it au naturel when you’re at the distillery. 


5. “Dangerous selfies are ok… just be careful.”

Upping your social media cred with incredible pictures is tempting. However, you need to remember that these awesome people are at work crafting whiskey. They don’t need to be shooing you out of forbidden areas just because you want a cool photo. 


6. “We don’t recommend you share this whiskey.”

Whiskey is meant to be shared. Don’t be ridiculous.


7. “Jack Daniels is bourbon.”

/eyeroll… Just stop.


8. “Jack Daniels isn’t bourbon.”

/eyeroll x 2… no really, just stop!