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Alcohol

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Learning About Sake in Kyoto

The Gekkeikan Sake company Sake Museum in Kyoto, JapanThe Gekkeikan Sake company in Kyoto has a sake museum, and it’s actually quite similar to the Heineken and Guinness tours I did in Europe (right down to the fact that it’s housed in an ex-brewery).

However, it’s a lot smaller than those two, and doesn’t have quite the same element of flashy corporate spectacle.  You start in an area that goes over how Sake is made, then you proceed into a small museum that outlines the history of the Gekkeikan brand (it’s been around since 1637, so there’s some history there), then finally you get to try some sake.

The Gekkeikan Sake company Sake Museum in Kyoto, Japan

They give you two different types of sake and a plum wine to try.  The sake wasn’t bad at all — this was only my second time trying sake, and while it’s not exactly my new favourite drink, it’s pleasantly sweet and fruity.

The plum wine, on the other hand, wasn’t great.  It basically tasted like boozy sugar water.  It was way too sweet.

The Gekkeikan Sake company Sake Museum in Kyoto, Japan

All that and I was out the door about twenty minutes after I came in.  So it’s probably not worth coming too far out of your way for — but at least it’s ridiculously cheap at 300 yen (just over three bucks Canadian), which includes the sake samples, plus a small bottle of sake to take home.

The Heineken Experience

The Heineken Experience in Amsterdam, NetherlandsRemember the Guinness Storehouse that I wrote about in Ireland?  Well, they have something in Amsterdam called the Heineken Experience that’s pretty much the exact same thing, but with Heineken instead of Guinness.

The Heineken Experience in Amsterdam, Netherlands

Like the Guinness one, it’s in a converted brewery, and you basically just walk around and look at various exhibits that tell you the history of the beer.

The Heineken Experience in Amsterdam, Netherlands

It has pretty much all of the faults of the Guinness tour (it’s all very surface level, with little to no insight on how they currently brew their beer), but it’s an engaging enough way to spend an hour or so.

The Heineken Experience in Amsterdam, Netherlands

The biggest issue is that it’s extremely crowded, and it doesn’t seem to be particularly well-designed; you’re often in tiny little rooms that wind up feeling a bit claustrophobic, especially at the beginning of the tour.

The Heineken Experience in Amsterdam, Netherlands

But of course, you do eventually get to drink some beer.  There’s the standard Heineken (which is quite refreshing), plus one called H41 which had a really in-your-face clove flavour.  It was interesting, though I don’t know if I’d ever want to drink it again.

The Heineken Experience in Amsterdam, Netherlands

Drinking Guinness at the Source

Guinness Storehouse in Dublin, IrelandIf you walk around Dublin for long enough, you’re going to see someone holding a bag from the gift shop at the Guinness Storehouse.  It’s definitely one of those must-visit places for tourists.

Well, I’m a tourist.  I like must-visit places.  I also quite like Guinness, so yeah, it’s a no-brainer.

Guinness Storehouse in Dublin, Ireland

And the Guinness Storehouse is neat, but it’s hard not to compare it to my recent tour of the Glengoyne whisky distillery, in which we got to see every step in the actual production process.

The Guinness Storehouse is a slick multimedia experience that’s compelling to walk through — but it has very little to do with how the drink is actually made.

Guinness Storehouse in Dublin, Ireland

You get to see a bunch of historical equipment, and there’s a lot of talk about things like the perfect temperature to roast barley (232 degrees) and the number of nitrogen bubbles in every pint (30 million), but almost no insight on how Guinness is actually produced today.  What machines do they use?  What does the factory look like?  Who knows!  There are photos and videos of what the factory looked like decades ago, but pretty much nothing on how it looks now.

Guinness Storehouse in Dublin, Ireland

Still, it’s an enjoyable enough way to spend an hour or so, plus at the end you get to go up to the Gravity Bar (which is surrounded by windows offering amazing views of the city) and have a pint of the black stuff.  Anything that ends with you drinking a glass of Guinness can’t be all bad.

Learning about Scotch in Scotland

The Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh, ScotlandIt’s quite touristy, and you probably won’t get much out of it if you already have some scotch know-how, but the Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh is still a decent enough way to spend an hour or so.

It starts with a slow-moving, low-rent-Disney type of ride in which a ghost gives you an overview of how scotch is made.   It’s cheesy, but it’s a fun way to go over the basics of scotch production.

The Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh, Scotland

After that, you walk through a few exhibits and watch a couple of videos on the five scotch-producing regions in Scotland, and then finally at the end of the tour you get to try some scotch.  The tour comes with one glass of scotch, and you can pay a bit extra to try a scotch from all five regions.  I did this, because if you’re in Scotland, you may as well drink a bunch of scotch.

It was interesting to try all the varieties in such close succession, though I’ll admit that other than the overt smokiness of the Islay scotch, they all tasted quite similar to me.

The Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh, Scotland

Also, drinking five scotches in a row is probably not something you want to do.  They weren’t quite regulation-sized amounts of scotch, which is good because that wouldn’t have ended well for anyone.  I enjoyed all of them, but I was still a bit scotched out by the end.

They also have a store with an impressive selection of bottles to buy.  That includes this bottle of 50-year-old Balvenie, which costs a mere £27,500.

The Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh, Scotland