Forget In-N-Out Burger, many distilleries around the world offer secret menus featuring special-edition spirits only available for in-the-know drinkers. The only catch is that you actually have to make a pilgrimage to these brands’ tasting rooms and gift shops to get these bottlings. While it sounds like a lot of work, trust me they’re worth the effort!
I was recently in Portland, Oregon, as a guest of House Spirits, which makes a number of spirits and famously created Aviation Gin. (Yes, that Aviation, which actor Ryan Reynolds now owns.) While I was there to taste their new Westward American Single Malt Whiskey, in the distillery’s gift shop, I spotted a little bottle of intensely dark liquor sitting on the counter. It turned out to be their coffee liqueur, which was stunningly good: espresso-level coffee intensity, but with a real rum character underneath. This was a coffee spirit you could sip, not just mix with cream. The base is the rich and aromatic Casa Magdalena Rum, which House also produces. I made sure to get a bottle of the Coffee Liqueur, since it’s hard to get anywhere but in Portland.
Sazerac is famous for its portfolio of delicious bourbons, including Buffalo Trace, Blanton’s, Eagle Rare and Pappy Van Winkle. But one of my favorite spirits in its portfolio is the Buffalo Trace Bourbon Cream Liqueur, which is delicious and not easy to find. (Up until a few years ago, it was only available at the company’s Frankfurt, Kentucky, distillery, but now has limited distribution.) The best part is that it’s actually made with whiskey and is one of the very best cream liqueurs that will ever pass your lips.
So if these spirits are so delicious, why are they so limited? Well, some of these products are fun side projects for the distillers or are so labor intensive they can only be made in small batches. They’re also a reason for people to travel to their distillery. If you make the trek to the tiny town of Ancram in New York’s Hudson Valley to visit Hillrock Estate Distillery, something special awaits you. The brand offers visitors a malted rye whiskey that is barrel proof, and full of its signature clove and cinnamon notes. You can’t get it anywhere else.
These limited-edition items can also create buzz for a company and generate a lot of publicity. Philadelphia Distilling certainly does that with its seasonal releases of its Bluecoat Gin. Right now, if you go to its distillery tasting room in Kensington, you can get a bottle of the gin that is made with elderflower in addition to its normal mix of botanicals. It’s ethereal and you can, of course, only buy it there while supplies last.
For many spirited travelers, coming home with a rare bottle is the goal, but sometimes you just may get to taste something incredibly sought after, which can be the highlight of your trip. Yamazaki’s excellent whisky has become progressively hard to find—or afford. The one place you can try even the rarest of the rare, like the Hibiki 17-Year-Old, is in its distillery tasting room in Osaka, Japan, where you’ll be able to get a pour from a changing menu that includes not only the regular bottlings, but even unaged new make. Even better, the prices are ridiculously affordable.
Some brands go above and beyond spirits to offer a range of unique boozy products. If you drive back into the Vermont hills over miles of dirt roads to take the tour at the WhistlePig distillery, you’ll have the opportunity to get a bottle of its maple syrup. The sap was collected from maple trees on its property and the syrup was aged in its used rye whiskey barrels. I can testify that it’s awesome on buttermilk pancakes, especially with a cup of coffee made with beans aged in a former WhistlePig whiskey barrel. Just don’t ask about whiskey-aged bacon; the brand’s mascot is a bit touchy about the subject.