Follow the road ahead as you hunt for your next favorite distillery.
Article by Fred Minnick
From New York to California, Minnesota to Mississippi, learn the drinking culture of disparate American regions, such as Bainbridge, Washington’s interesting bootlegging past, or the lost apple brandy heritage of New York. On your next excursion, take the time to visit one of these great distilleries and experience true American travel.
Little Rock–based Rock Town Distillers has slugged it out the past few years in the bourbon trenches, earning high praise from me and other critics. They’re one of the good craft distillers we point toward and say, “If you want to start a bourbon distillery, do what Rock Town does.” Their quaint facilities include plastic tanks and rooms with tables next to barrels. The best part is the taste, in which you see why most critics love these guys. Visit RockTownDistillery.com.
Every industry has a rebel that refuses to follow rules and lets folks know it. That’s St. George, a beautiful Alameda-based distillery in a former hangar with a great view of the San Francisco skyline. There you’ll find rogue distillers making vodka taste palatable, single malts full of fruit and floral notes, and a raw-and-rangy rum that agricole lovers will salivate for. More importantly, you go behind the scenes and see an old label machine and some of the most beautiful stills ever made. Distillers Lance Winters and Dave Smith are some of my favorite new age distillers, too. Visit StGeorgeSpirits.com.
If you happen to be in wine country, take a quick detour to the Sonoma County Distillery and see one of the country’s most widely distributed grain-to-glass distilleries. They distill what they grow, and you can taste the grain’s essence in their spirit. They call it the “California approach.” Visit SonomaCountyDistilling.com.
You probably know about Buffalo Trace, Four Roses, Jim Beam, Heaven Hill, MB Roland, and Wild Turkey. They’re all great. Visit them. But there’s a new distillery in town. Angel’s Envy, a non-distillery producer since 2010, finally opened its long-awaited and highly anticipated distillery in downtown Louisville. This urban distillery feels like a camping lodge, with its lacquered wood interior and lots and lots of whiskey. (I’m assuming your lodge has lots of whiskey.) You get an up-close look at production, and you can sign a barrel before the tour’s over.
There’s just one catch: You have to make an appointment. Visit AngelsEnvy.com.
Among the Blue Blood distilleries, the best treat for the eyes is Maker’s Mark, where construction crews have cut into the earth to create caves to house the Maker’s 46 barrels that are outfitted with French oak staves and require cool environments for best aging. Art lovers will appreciate the Dale Chihuly art glass barrel room. Visit MakersMark.com.
I’m reminded of the 1990s Pace Picante Salsa commercials, in which cowboys play cards and discuss two salsas being passed around. One looks up from the lesser salsa and says, “This is made in New York City?” So, yes, they make whiskey in New York.
Take a train to Brooklyn to see Kings County Distillery, where a Kentucky native has turned the Paymaster Building in the old Brooklyn Navy Yard into a burgeoning distillery. They distill in large pot stills and age in tiny barrels, unlike their counterparts in Kentucky. It’s a sight for bourbon-loving eyes. Visit KingsCountyDistillery.com.
There are two Washington distilleries I highly recommend, and they’re as different as night and day. Both are in the Seattle area.
2 Bar is a super-small facility, tucked away from a major highway. But you get a feel for what it’s like to start a distillery from scratch, with the barrels sitting next to a still and the tasting room practically in the middle of their office. Visit 2barspirits.com.
Westland Distillery is America’s most critically acclaimed single-malt distillery, and for good reason. The whiskey resembles America, cut from its Scottish ancestry but uniquely tied to the New World. Westland uses American peat to smoke the malt, American-bred barley to convert to malt, and Oregon oak—a species unique to the Pacific Northwest—to make the barrels for aging. Their Scottish-style stills are American made, too, and beautiful to behold. Visit WestlandDistillery.com.