Arts & Entertainment

Dowd on Drinks: Thirsty Tourists Hitting the Trails

Beverage tourism isn’t just for wine lovers anymore. The worlds of brews and spirits are opening up to travelers as well.

The debut last week of the Dallas Wine Trail pushed to about 130 the number of wine trails in the country. However, there is change on the horizon.

Down East, as they say, the Maine Restaurant Association and the Maine Brewers Guild the same week announced the unveiling of the Maine Beer Trail.

The purpose is to attract visitors to Maine to enjoy the micro- and craft-brewing industry found throughout the state. A brochure provides a guide to more than a dozen of the state’s breweries and brew pubs. Brochures can be downloaded (www.mainebrewersguild.org) and also will be available at Maine Visitor Centers and participating breweries and brew pubs.

Maine ranks fourth in the nation in the number of breweries per capita, with one brewery for every 42,000 residents, according to the Brewers Association.

It is home to New England’s first microbrewery, D.L. Geary Brewing, established in 1986 in Portland. And Gritty McDuff’s opened its doors in 1988, the first brew pub to open in Maine since prohibition. It now has sites in Portland, Freeport and Lewiston/Auburn.

The Kentucky Bourbon Trail at about the same time marked its 10th anniversary by unveiling a new logo, brochure, souvenir passport and commemorative T-shirt.

“This is a significant milestone for one of Kentucky’s most popular tourism attractions,” said Eric Gregory, president of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association. “It’s also a perfect opportunity to introduce a fresh new look that reflects the growing bourbon revolution.”

The association created the Trail in 1999, inspired by the tourism and marketing opportunities in California’s wine country and Scotland’s whisky trails. The Trail features eight historic distilleries located in the Bluegrass country. The seven original members — Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark, Buffalo Trace, Four Roses, Heaven Hill, Wild Turkey and Woodford Reserve — were joined by the Tom Moore distillery last August.

Visitors who collect stamps on their souvenir “passports” at all eight distilleries can redeem the passport for a free Kentucky Bourbon Trail T-shirt. This year’s shirt commemorates the 10th anniversary.

And, in New York State, an even dozen craft distillers have joined together to form the New York Craft Distillers Guild.

With 12 licensed craft distillers, the state now has the highest concentration of distilleries of any state east of the Mississippi, according to the Guild. Some are part of winemaking operations while others are standalone businesses. As a group, they produce spirits ranging from fruit brandies to vodka, rum and bourbon. Since some already are part of wine trails, it’s an easy jump to creating a whiskey trail as well.

Meanwhile, separate pieces of new legislation just signed in the past 10 days or so are allowing distillers and brewers to sell or hand out free samples of their wares to on-premises visitors, a practice that had long been forbidden and prevented an increase in tourism.

Vermont, for example, now allows winemakers and distillers to sell more products on-site. Previously, wineries could offer tastings or sell bottles of wine. Distilleries could do neither. Now, wineries also may sell glasses of wine on-premises, and distilleries can offer tastings and sell bottles of their spirits. Wineries also will be allowed to sell and offer tastings of other winemakers’ products.

And Texas’ distillers now will be allowed to serve free samples on premises, just as wineries have been allowed to do.

So, wherever you plan to travel, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to see and sample some intriguing operations. For a complete online list of the nation’s wine trails, go to my archive at americanwinetrails.blogspot.com.


(William M. Dowd covers the global beverage field at BillDowd.com)

(c) 2009 Hearst Newspapers

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