Drink up! SEGD explores four distillery experiences

Read Time: 5 minutes

It’s summertime, and now that people are out and about, we’re looking for unique experiences to share with our friends. Visiting distilleries has gained popularity over the past 15 years, and consumers want to know more about the process—whether at small-batch craft distilleries or large-batch commercial distilleries—and taste the results! SEGD looks at member firms who have designed “distillery experiences” to cultivate a greater public knowledge of the science and art of distilling.

Join contributor Franck Mercurio on a tour of four distillery experiences:

1 – Johnnie Walker Princes Street Visitor Experience (BRC Imagination Arts)

Immediately recognizable by its famous “Striding Man” logo, Johnnie Walker is one of the world’s top-selling brands of Scotch whisky. An enterprise that started in 1820 in one Scottish distillery, has expanded to several distilleries and exports its spirits to markets across the globe.

Diageo, the parent company that makes Johnnie Walker, has invested more than $200 million to open its Johnnie Walker distilleries to the public—both online and brick-and-mortar facilities—in a project called “Destination Scotland.” SEGD member firm, BRC Imagination Arts, is helping Diageo by designing visitors centers at the distilleries as well as a new “flagship destination” in the city of Edinburgh.

“We’re leading on the Destination Scotland project which includes numerous distillery upgrades across all of Scotland and the Johnnie Walker Princes Street flagship in Edinburgh,” says Christian Lachel, Chief Creative Officer at BRC. “We’ve opened three projects thus far:  Glenkinchie Distillery, Clynelish Distillery and Cardhu Distillery. And the Johnnie Walker Princes Street project will open late summer (2021)”

COVID-19 delayed the interior renovations of the Princes Street venue, an eight-story vintage building located in downtown Edinburgh. BRC’s renderings of the spaces include bars, tasting rooms and a restaurant. When it opens, this new Johnnie Walker destination will also include rooftop bars with stunning views.

More detailed descriptions awaiting visitors to the Johnnie Walker Princes Street Visitor Experience will follow after the venue officially opens. Until then, “cheers!”

2 – Macallan (Atelier Brückner)

In Speyside in Scotland, the new Macallan distillery and visitor center opened to the public in June 2018. The building, designed by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, seems to blend into the surrounding landscape by means of its grass roof. The distillery is also within view of the historic Easter Elchies House, legendary home of The Macallan, one of the first legal distilleries in the Scottish highlands established in 1824.

SEGD member firm Atelier Brückner designed the visitor center’s exhibits, which take the form of a guided tour of the distillery, expressed throughout the center in staged spaces, with each dedicated to a specific theme related to the making of Macallan’s whisky.
The designers at Atelier Brückner divided the visitor experience essentially into three parts. The first presents the history and context of The Macallan brand where ceiling-high glass walls and glass shelves exhibit bottles of the latest whiskies, as well as vintage ones. The distillery’s guided tours start here.

The production stages are then presented as immersive experiences with interactive exhibits. Here, three installations explain the importance of wood for maturation inside oak barrels (“The Wood Story”), the blending and composition of the whisky (“The Whisky Story”) and the much-anticipated final product, the whisky itself (“The Peerless Spirit”).

The tour ends with 150 original barrels stored inside the “Cave Privée.” After this comes the much anticipated tasting at the bar! Here, the final products can be sampled. Salut!

3 – Sagamore Spirit Campus (Ashton Design)

By opening a new five-acre distillery site in Baltimore’s Port Covington neighborhood, Sagamore Spirit revived Maryland’s rye whiskey distilling tradition. The waterfront campus, opened in 2017, features three main buildings: a welcome center, a distillery and the Rye Street Tavern restaurant.

Ashton Design, SEGD member firm, designed the exterior and interior signage and a two-story hand-painted mural greeting visitors as they enter the campus.

The challenge for Ashton was to establish a functional aesthetic to create a unified campus feel. To do this, the designers created signage and wayfinding reflecting the rustic/modern feel of the distillery’s facilities.

The site’s signage is constructed of Corten steel, and its selection by Ashton was inspired by the color of aged whiskey, as well as the campus structures’ weathered building materials. The main entrance sign is a 20-foot continuous piece of one-inch-thick steel weighing over two tons. The curve of the sign conforms to the street and curb shape.

The sign’s angled top edge was derived from the distinct angular Calvert coat of arms rendered on the Maryland state flag. This detail and the other subtle yet evocative design choices in the environmental graphics and onsite buildings embody the “spirit” of the distillery. Pride in Maryland’s history and enthusiasm to share that history flows throughout the experience.

4. Sazerac House (Gallagher & Associates)

The Sazerac Company traces its origins to 1850s New Orleans and the Sazerac Coffee House, billed as the home of “America’s First Cocktail.” The famous concoction, known as “the Sazerac,” combines rye whiskey, bitters and licorice-flavored herbsaint.

To celebrate its place in distilling history, the Sazerac Company opened the Sazerac House in 2019. This 20,000-square-foot museum and “multi-sensorial journey” tells the story of New Orleans cocktail culture and Sazerac’s vital role in creating it.

SEGD member firm Gallagher & Associates (G&A) designed the exhibits, media and interactives all located within a historic building in the heart of the city.

“The Sazerac House reveals the little-known story of the company’s New Orleans origins while celebrating the local cocktail culture and the art of craft distilling,” says Rob Malootian, G&A Project Creative Director. “This hybrid experience uniquely merges historic architecture, interactive media, immersive storytelling, and distillery production to create something completely new for the city.”

Highlights of G&A’s designs include a traditional New Orleans bar enlivened with an interactive touch table and high-resolution displays introducing visitors to modern-day New Orleans cocktail culture. Another interactive exhibit, Cafe Culture, looks at the history of that culture by recreating the Sazerac Coffee House circa 1902. Here museum visitors can activate stories by moving three-dimensional coasters around a table and meet the Sazerac House’s most famous bartender, while enjoying tales and learning the method of making its signature drink.