Thank goodness we have the internet, a world within a world that’s at least allowing for a bit of normalcy. While in the drinks realm you can’t currently engage in popular activities like distillery tours and winery tastings, producers are adapting such things to the virtual landscape.
At the moment, brewers, distillers, and winemakers are going out of their way to offer an experience akin to what was allowed prior to the pandemic. They’re delivering their work to your doorstep or keeping you abreast of the latest in the production schedule via updates through social media avenues. For a glimpse of life before all of the madness, it’s recommended that you scroll through past videos from your favorite brewery or winery’s Instagram Live feed.
Sometimes it’s nice to have something a little more involved and catered. So we’ve rounded up some of the more immersive options in the rapidly growing genre of virtual tasting. It’s advised, and in some cases, a fundamental part of the experience, to have a drink in hand while you navigate.
Here are a few treks of note for the intrepid imbiber who at least wants to feel like he’s going straight to the source:
There’s something comforting about the relatively simple virtual tour provided by Kentucky bourbon specialists Four Roses. Little more than a well-appointed blog post, it feels like it’s curated by a tender and wise old guide, fit with fun facts and visual aids to boot. The tour is short and sweet, offering a behind-the-scenes perspective of one of the most reliable brown liquor purveyors.
Willamette Valley winery Lingua Franca has gone the webinar route for educational tastings that relate to the brand’s wines. Its wine webinar Wednesday series takes on trendy enological and viticultural topics like terroir by certified staff members very much in the know. It’s geared a little more like a private tour that you might otherwise experience at the winery, with context on how wines achieve their very specific personalities. Several other labels in the region are offering similar virtual gatherings, with the latest updates here.
St. Helena producer Seavey Vineyard is putting on occasional virtual tastings that dive into specific wines within its portfolio. Vintner Jim Duane hosts the tour, offering an insider’s take on how the process works. While the virtual package for this California winery’s tour is significantly more expensive, it’s cool in that it sets you up with a shipment of the wines in question so you can enjoy them in depth during the tour. Some, like the one scheduled for mid-April, feature library wines that Seavey has cellared for you. It’s tough to beat an intimate tasting with the person responsible for what you’re enjoying and this one even features an open Q&A session at the end.
The Glenturret Distillery
Dating back to 1775, Glenturret is teeming with history. You get a real sense of that walking through the distillery chambers in this video game-esque tour. It’s fit with accompanying videos and great vintage photos that line the many walls of the property. You get full 360-degree views of the distillery and some tutorials on the process, from milling to mashing to barreling. And for the consumer in you, there’s even a massive interactive gift shop to cap things off. I hope a lot of other producers use the Visualiza platform as it really can transport the user.
Big Sky Brewing
The virtual tour for this Montana brewery is nice and peaceful, its existence long preceding the pandemic. And in that sense it offers its own quiet charm. You can wander through the grounds at your leisure, with full views and the occasional tidbit for reference. Engineering types will appreciate the equipment on hand in the brew house as well as the bottling and canning lines. The platform here is through Matterport, which is a bit like Visualiza in its immersive nature. It’s a little voyeuristic and could use some video, but it’s still a worthwhile look under the hood of a respected brewing operation.
This one is less a virtual tour and more of a mini-video series but it’s still worth your time, especially if you’re a hop fanatic. Bale Breaker is one of the best in the business at working with hops, set as it is in farm-rich Yakima. It’s a reminder of the year-round nature of beer and how much growing, nurturing, and farming play in the bigger picture. Even if you can’t get your paws on a Bale Breaker beer, you can still appreciate the process and the utilization of hops, especially if you have a good IPA in hand.
Historic California winery Stags’ Leap launched in 1893. The Napa Valley operation is devoting Thursdays to virtual tastings involving specific wines, the backstory on the brand, a questions from participants. The last tasting of the month focuses on the label’s 2016 Block 20 Merlot and the 2015 Audentia Cabernet Sauvignon, powered by Instagram Live.
Washington’s Goose Ridge is taking to the virtual stage each Tuesday, discussing various wines from its catalogue and chatting about winemaking topics like tannin. The winemaking crew is usually on hand to deliver context about the wines at hand and their own tasting notes. The Evergreen State winery, with pulls fruit from all over the state, has a cellar in Benton City and tasting rooms in Woodinville, Richland, Leavenworth, and Walla Walla, has even entered the hand sanitizer game.
The nation’s oldest wine shop is hosting a BYOB virtual tasting series led by the shop’s chairman and third-generation wine merchant, John Kapon. The topics thus far have been as broad as they are intriguing, from Austrian Grüner Veltliner to Sauvignon Blanc from all over the globe. The 30-minute sessions run through Instagram Live and Zoom and involve Acker’s resident sommeliers. Manhattan residents (where the store is located) get free delivery at the moment and the shop also ships just about everywhere else in the country, for those who want to drink along — although they say you’re invited to drink anything you have lying around the else, too.
10 Barrel Brewing
Beer is getting creative as well, with deliveries, virtual hop farm tours, and more. 10 Barrel has been busy in the digital realm, hosting everything from beer yoga and pet adoptions to cooking segments and virtual tours and tastings with the brewing staff. You can track brewery and its stacked virtual calendar via social media. The brewery has expanded its Drink it Forward campaign in light of current events as well, shelling out some of the beer profits for the greater good.
Jackson Family Wines
Jackson Family has teamed up with wine.com for a miniseries on the company’s collections from all over the west coast. The first three episodes focus on tastings and pairings of some of the most popular Kendall Jackson offerings, a new wave of Santa Barbara producers like Diatom and Nielson, and the collective’s Oregon operations, which include Gran Moraine and Penner Ash. The series is free and led by both winemakers as well as industry types and somms via wine.com.
This Willamette Valley producer just spearheaded its own YouTube channel to stay in touch with its fans from coast to coast. The Salem winery will continue to add video content and jumpstarted the series with a tutorial on Oregon’s most famous appellation. Pudding River turns out some quality Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, along with warmer-weather reds sourced from eastern Washington fruit.
Oregon’s Raptor Ridge is offering virtual vineyard tours of many of its favorite sites through its website. Participants are encouraged to taste as well, with a trio of wine that correspond to the tour, which spans four unique American Viticultural Areas. The label is also involved in a mindfulness side project through cofounder Annie Shull, who recently helped lead the 8-week wellness course.
Sports have mostly dried up, but not entirely. Kentucky’s own Woodford Reserve is the official sponsor of the nation’s most famous horse race, which has been postponed until September for obvious reasons. But that doesn’t mean the bourbon purveyors aren’t still up for celebrating the tradition. On derby day, May 2nd, the distillery is hosting a day-long virtual tasting in the spirit of the race, featuring master distiller Chris Morris. There will be mint juleps, mocktail recipes, and a an international toast. There’s even a virtual race and some serious donations, with Churchill Downs already pledging $1 million to pandemic relief efforts.
Updated April 27 to include more options.
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