Over the years, the craft distillation movement has produced hundreds of new distilleries across the country and delivered a fair amount of small brands to compete with the bigger, more established names on the market. These craft distillers are passionate, inquisitive and driven by the thrill of experimentation. Best of all, they often operate in unique distilleries tucked away in charming settings and boast impressive tasting rooms, personalized tours and exciting special events sure to tempt your adventurous palate.
So, while the big-name tours are great, set out this year for a taste of the smaller brands and learn about the art of distillation directly from the people who long ago quit their day jobs to distill full time. You’ll see where these artisanal spirits are made and understand exactly what goes into crafting them while also gaining a wealth of historical and agricultural insights to school your palate. Then again, maybe the view from the tasting room is all you really need. Either way, these five craft distilleries are a great place to start your journey.
High West Distillery & Saloon
Park City, Utah
In 2006, David and Jane Perkins founded High West Distillery — Utah’s first distillery since 1870 — in a historic saloon and livery stable in Old Town Park City with only a small 250-gallon still. Today, this award-winning distiller produces some of the West’s most innovative blends, including the sweet and smoky flavors of Campfire Whiskey; the cinnamon, caramel and mint notes of Rendezvous Rye; and caramel apple finish of American Prairie Bourbon. In 2015, High West opened its newest distillery in Wanship, Utah’s picturesque Blue Sky Ranch, boasting a 1,600-gallon copper pot still. Visitors to either location will enjoy educational whiskey tastings and guided tours, as well as live music, the chef’s special menu and unique whiskey pairings on Thursday nights.
Woody Creek Distillers
About 15 miles west of Aspen, Colorado, in the town of Basalt is Woody Creek Distillers, the source of true Colorado vodka, rye and gin. Head distiller David Matthews and his team use only potatoes grown on their family farm in their vodka, they source the rye for their 100 percent rye mash whiskey from only trusted Colorado growers, and the distillery even prides itself on low-emissions practices like returning raw product waste from the distilling process to the farm for compost and livestock feed. All of this and a state-of-the-art tasting room with views of the beautiful Roaring Fork Valley make Woody Creek a truly matchless tasting and touring experience for Colorado visitors in every season.
St. George Spirits
Since 1982, St. George Spirits has been at the forefront of the craft distillation movement. Today it offers a full line of spirits that includes single malt whiskey, agricole rum, absinthe, and a host of gins, vodkas, brandies and liqueurs. Its 65,000-square-foot airplane hangar on a former naval station in Alameda, California, houses its breathtaking tasting room and laboratory alongside a multitude of beautiful copper stills. “Basic” and “Advanced Training” distillery tours include up-close views of the fermentation tanks, barrel storage and bottling line. For the full experience, bring your dog and picnic basket and make use of the distillery’s outdoor patio with spectacular westward views across the bay to the bridges and city skyline of nearby San Francisco.
Kings County Distillery
Brooklyn, New York
Housed in the 119-year-old Paymaster Building in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Kings County is Brooklyn’s oldest operating distillery. Using traditional copper whiskey stills made in Scotland, locally built wooden fermenters, and corn and barley grown in its small on-site farm, King County Distillery produces its gold medal-winning, scotch-like Peated Bourbon and Kings County Chocolate Whiskey, made with ground cacao bean husks from nearby Mast Brothers Chocolate. Visit the castle-like Gatehouse tasting room in the 1869 ceremonial entrance to the Navy Yard for public and private tastings and classes, or take part in one of Kings County’s special events like the “Brooklyn Distilled” Walking Tour, which passes through Vinegar Hill to visit Al Capone’s birthplace and sites associated with the Whiskey Wars of 1869-71.
In 2010, Nashville natives and childhood friends Darek Bell and Andrew Webber started the city’s first craft distillery since Prohibition, winning over 800 medals and endless praise ever since. Working closely with local farms and the distillery’s local malthouse and smokehouse, Corsair produces award-winning craft spirits like Ryemageddon and Pumpkin Spice Moonshine, as well as craft brews at its Nashville Brewstillery. Public tours include an up-close look at the experimental distilling process and guide-selected tastings of Corsair’s distinctive spirits. Visit on the first Friday of the month for the Master Distiller Tour to hang out and pick the brain of the head distiller himself while tasting Corsair’s discontinued and not-yet-released spirits.