America is in the midst of a spirited renaissance, as distilleries across the US continue to get creative, push geographic boundaries and tap into terroir. Including the only sotol distillery outside of Mexico and a vodka facility that doubles as a hotel, these are the must-visit distilleries across the country.
As mezcal continues to rise in popularity, sotol too is experiencing an uptick in the American spirits market. Unlike mezcal and tequila, which are derived from agave, the Mexican spirit is made from a wild plant called Desert Spoon, native to northern Mexico and the southwestern US. After cooking and fermenting the heart of the plant when it flowers, sotol sports a flavor with hints of smoke and pine. It’s been a staple in Durango for centuries, but Desert Door Texas Sotol is helping shine the spotlight in the US, where the distillery is currently the only place in the country to harvest and distill sotol on a regular basis. Folks can try the sotol for themselves at the distillery’s chic bar, which displays sotol’s versatility in classic cocktails like palomas, mules and margaritas.
Founded by a biochemist inspired to pursue a career in distilling after a trip to the Maker’s Mark Distillery in Kentucky, High West became Utah’s first legal distillery when it opened in 2006. It all started for David Perkins with a humble saloon in downtown Park City, in what was formerly a stable. The distillery was also the first in the world to offer ski-in access, allowing visitors to slide right in off the mountain and sip whiskey cocktails alongside the original 250-gallon still. The brand has since expanded with a large distillery in the mountains of nearby Wanship, Utah, where visitors can tour the facility and taste the wares.
Rum has been a tradition in the Caribbean for centuries, but in the US, it begins with Old New Orleans Rum. The oldest of its kind still in operation, the distillery is a love letter to the city it calls home, exclusively using Louisiana sugarcane and molasses in its recipes while infusing flavors like chicory. Making its home in a former cotton warehouse, the company provides tours of the facility, with tastings along the way of the whole product line. There’s the original, molasses-forward Crystal rum, along with novelties like Cajun Spice, made by steeping baking spices, cayenne and chicory in rum for several weeks.
With roots dating to the 1880s, Memphis’ Old Dominick Distillery seamlessly blends the old with the new. It all started with Domenico Canale, an Italian native who migrated to the US in the 1850s to work with his uncle as a food wholesaler. Tinkering with whiskey recipes, Canale created a bottled drink he called Old Dominick. Though the wholesale company is no more, Canale’s great-great-grandsons Chris and Alex Canale discovered an unopened bottle of Old Dominick, inspiring them to return to their family roots and open a distillery in downtown Memphis. What’s old is new again at this pristine facility, which became the first place in the city to distill whiskey since Prohibition. Nowadays, customers can tour the property and sample cocktails at the bar while listening to live music from local musicians.
Doing double duty as an inn and a distillery, Marble Distilling is a unique place to sleep and sip. The only one of its kind in the US, the boutique property features five suites alongside an operational distillery and tasting room pouring house-made vodka, coffee liqueur and gingercello. Each luxury room comes equipped with a fireplace, patio and sweeping Rocky Mountain views, while the on-site bar gets guests even closer to the action with clear views of the distillation stills.
In the heart of bourbon country, Bardstown Bourbon Company is proof that plenty of room for innovation remains in this whiskey-soaked part of the US. The sleek new facility has stills on display through soaring glass windows, with views stretching out over 100 acres of active farmland. Not only is the property beautiful, but the distillery values hospitality with its Bottle & Bond Kitchen and Bar. Cocktails run the gamut from classic Sazeracs to tiki-inspired drinks like the Kentucky Zombie, combining rum and ginger-infused whiskey with cranberry and rhubarb. The kitchen echoes those boozy sentiments with dishes like bourbon-splashed brussels sprouts, bourbon-glazed salmon and dry-aged steaks with bourbon steak sauce. Be sure and check out the immaculate vintage spirits library, a veritable museum of bourbon, glassware and other vintage spirits dating back to the 1800s.
Artisanal chocolate and liquor go hand in hand at Brooklyn’s Cacao Prieto. Here, single-origin cacao beans from the Dominican Republic (the founder’s family has farmed cacao in the Dominican for more than a century) are made into chocolate bars, bonbons and rum. For the latter, residual oils from cacao production are infused into white rum and cacao liqueur, which can be sampled on-site and during tours of the facility on weekends.
For Vilya Spirits, a distillery and tasting room in Kalispell, Montana, it’s all about the terroir. Inspired by the bountiful Rocky Mountain region of the state, the company specializes in small-batch spirits incorporating local ingredients and elements. For gin and absinthe, it’s an especially apt location to call home, as distillers can grow their own alpine herbs, including wormwood, and utilize mountain spring water. Vilya even produces its own huckleberry liqueur during summer berry season, an homage to the fruit native to the region. Visitors can sample the goods in tasting pours or shaken into cocktails.
Hawaii may be a far cry from the Caribbean, but rum has been a tradition in the Pacific islands for hundreds of years. Thanks to its sugarcane crops, the state is ideally suited for distilling the spirit, and that’s just what they do at Manulele Distillers. Tours at the facility begin with a pour of fresh-pressed cane juice, so visitors can taste the product that makes it all possible. With majestic views of Diamond Head and the Waianae Mountains in the background, tours then proceed to the rum still and through on-site gardens lush with sugarcane. At the tasting bar, guests then get a flight of Manulele’s rums to sample, including white rum and agricole.
Moonshine has been around for centuries, but ‘blueshine’ is something distinctly Maine. Essentially a blueberry moonshine with maple syrup, it’s a product that taps directly into two of the state’s most iconic ingredients, and it’s available for sampling alongside other innovative spirits at Maine Craft Distilling in Portland. It’s all part of what owner and head distiller Luke Davidson calls “farm-to-flask,” utilizing products that lend distinctly local flavors to his spirits. Visitors can taste the terroir at the distillery’s bar, which has several cocktails along with local beers and small plates. The ‘blueshine’ takes the lead in the ‘Lemonshine’ cocktail, a simple combo of liquor and lemonade. Other offerings include cucumber- and basil-infused gin with honey and lime in the ‘Mr. McGregor’s Medicine’ and apple brandy, honey and bitters in ‘Common Ground.’
Located in a bountiful region rife with citrus, corn, wheat and sugarcane, St. Augustine Distillery has the recipe for success. The distillery specializes in small-batch spirits like gin, vodka, rum and whiskey, each wafting with distinctly Floridian aromas. Housed in a former ice plant dating back to pre-Prohibition days, the distillery offers free tours and tastings of its farm-fresh products. Of the signature spirits on offer, the port-finished bourbon is a highlight, made by aging double-cask bourbon in port wine barrels from nearby San Sebastian Winery. The Florida Cane Vodka is another standout, made from locally farmed sugarcane that provides a smooth taste with whispers of molasses.
Napa is regarded as a wine mecca, but craft spirits also get their due diligence at Napa Valley Distillery. The first of its kind to open in Napa after Prohibition, the lustrous facility sports a funky Art Deco motif and offers tours for curious imbibers. The gorgeous bar in the Grand Tasting Salon is home base for brandy, gin, rum, vodka and cocktails. The distillery ages cherry brandy in port wine barrels and infuses fresh flavors like meyer lemons and sweet basil into its spirits, liqueurs and cordials. Swing by the distillery’s shop in Oxbow Public Market to snag house-made bitters and other products.
Located in La Vista, Nebraska, in the thick of America’s wheat-filled breadbasket, Patriarch Distillers is in an optimal locale for making vodka with local grains and pure groundwater. Each batch is distilled six times, ensuring a smooth product ripe for sipping. Along with other grain-based spirits like whiskey and bourbon, which utilize the local abundance of rye, wheat and barley, the vodka can be sampled on tours of the distillery or at the convivial bar while enjoying live music. There’s also a blackberry whiskey, which made its debut in 2017 as a one-time production for an ice-fishing tournament in South Dakota. Due to the huge amount of interest and public feedback, it was added to the roster at Patriarch.
As a certified kosher and organic distillery with both a putting green and lodging, Journeyman has plenty of unique attributes going for it. Located in a Three Oaks facility that once served as a factory for corsets and buggy whips, the distillery works with organic Michigan farms and uses unfiltered water from an underground aquifer to create whiskey, gin, vodka, brandy and rum. Taste the goods at the on-site restaurant, Staymaker. Or enjoy a cocktail while golfing on the 30,000-square-foot (2,787-square-meter) putting green behind the distillery; the 18-hole course was inspired by owner Bill Welter’s time spent in Scotland. For those looking to linger a little longer, Journeyman offers a lofty abode for up to 14 guests at The Flat.
After Mississippi became the last state to repeal Prohibition in 1966, this Jackson company became the first distillery to emerge. Everything about Cathead is engrained in Mississippi lore, from its musically inspired moniker to its pecan-infused vodka. The name is a nod to a nickname local blues musicians gave to one another as a compliment, and today, the distillery pays homage to the state’s musical roots by donating proceeds to music charities. Along with items like pecan vodka and honeysuckle vodka, two flavors that sing of the South, Cathead also produces a wholly original chicory liqueur called Hoodoo. Each one can be sampled as part of daily tours or at the bar, situated right alongside the soaring stills.