Exploring America's Whiskey Distilleries
First, the Big Ol' Boys.
Scroll down, or for some of America's newest distillers.
Once upon a time there were many, many little whiskey distilleries in America.
Then along came National Prohibition in 1920.
It was supposed to last forever. It only lasted for 14 years, but that was enough.
When Prohibition was repealed in 1933 all of those brands were owned by just a handful of big spirits merchants. So were the distilleries themselves. The merchants began closing them down, and filling all those bottles with whiskey they were making in the few remaining plants. By the time we began to explore America's spirits in the mid-'90s, there were just fifteen operating distilleries, one in Virginia, one in Indiana, two in Tennessee, and all the rest of them in Kentucky. We've visited most of them; here they are:
A. Smith Bowman Distillery Fredericksburg, Virginia
Jim Beam Distilleries in Clermont and Boston, Kentucky (Major update coming when they begin offering tours in 2012)
Brown-Forman: Corporate Headquarters in Louisville, Kentucky
Buffalo Trace Distillery near Frankfort, Kentucky (Major update coming soon)
George Dickel's Cascade Hollow Distillery near Tullahoma, Tennessee
Early Times Distillery Brown Forman's main whiskey distillery in Shively, Kentucky
Four Roses Distillery near Lawrenceburg, Kentucky
Maker's Mark Distillery near Loretto, Kentucky
Wild Turkey Distillery Tyrone, near Lawrenceburg, Kentucky
Woodford Reserve Distillery, once known as Labrot & Graham, near Versailles, Kentucky
Willett, and the Mystery
Master of Old Bardstown
Even Kulsveen & the Willett
The Ghosts of Bourbon's
Old Kentucky Homes - distilleries that aren't there anymore
And now for the New Kids on the Block.
"Why, you can't make likker! What'sa matter with
That's illegal! That's moonshinin'! And yo're a-gonna git in trouble with the LAW!!"
In the last decade of the previous millennium a few brave pioneers began to question that idea. Obtaining licensing and financial backing that they were told would never be available for a small, startup distilling operation, they managed to break through the red tape and the political processes needed.
By the year 2000 there were 24 legally licensed craft/artisan distillers (whiskey and other spirits); by 2011 that number had grown to nearly 300. There is no way that we can, or would want to, visit every one of these. American Distilling Institute founder and president Bill Owens is already in the process of doing just that. When he's finished he intends to publish a book.
Good luck, Bill; by that time there'll be another two hundred new ones!
So here are just a few that we've visited, or plan to, because we feel they illustrate something important about how the fruits of America's new distillers relate to American history. These distilleries range from tiny operations where the only way you can purchase a bottle is onsite to fairly widely-known names whose products can be found in retail stores and often online. One requirement (which we did not have of the Big Boy distillers) is that they offer tours to the public.
*** NEW in SEPTEMBER 2015 ***
Lyon Distilling Maryland Free State Rye returns to Maryland, thanks to Ben Lyon and Jaime Windon. Yo ho ho, and rum, too!
New Liberty Distilling Philadelphia veteran distiller Rob Cassel has revived -- and upgraded -- one of Philly's iconic whiskies from fifty years ago. Kinsey whiskey returns to the market!
Belmont Farms of Virginia Chuck and Jeanette Miller have been making "Virginia Lightning" here since 1989. Now they're being featured on public television and The History Channel and gearing up for visiting tourists.
Corsair Artisan Distillery Award-winning whiskey made at a single distillery -- located in TWO states
Dad's Hat -- Mountain Laurel Distillery in Bristol, Pennsylvania. After decades of drought, Pennsylvania Rye is flowing once again, and we mean Pennsylvania Rye the way it REALLY was; not just Kentucky-style rye made in Pennsylvania.
Delaware-Phoenix Distillery Cheryl Lins, the alchemist of Walton, New York. Art, magic, distilling, all here.
Indian Creek Distillery & The Staley Farm Joe and Missy Duer live in the Ohio country home on land that Missy's family has occupied since Ohio was still the Northwest Territory. They've been distillers all that time, at least up until Prohibition, and Missy has all the records, all the formulas, all the notes, and even all the original equipment. She also has her husband Joe, who has meticulously restored that equipment and made it fit for use as a distillery right out of the 19th century - or earlier. This is an operating version of the type of distillery that Col. Shreve built in Perryopolis, Pennsylvania in 1790.
Limestone Branch Distillery in Lebanon, Kentucky, a new generation of Beams do it again
M. B. Roland Distillery Paul Tomaszewski distills a comprehensive array in Pembroke, Kentucky
New England Distilling Company Portland, Maine. With one foot planted in the rum history of his Down East location and the other in the Maryland rye traditions of his family, Ned Wight's decision to become a master distiller of each bridges both worlds.
Newport Distilling Company Rum has returned to Rhode Island. "Tomas Tew" rum, named for the states most notorious pirate, is big, thick, dark, and tastes like a cross between Screech and Cockspur. Their process is very innovative and their tasting presentation is, too.
New Riff Distillery Bourbon distilling in Kentucky moves beyond the rural bluegrass with the opening of this shiny new distillery just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati.
Old Pogue Distillery in Maysville, Kentucky. One of America's classic distilleries that did not survive Prohibition's slaughter, the Old Pogue brand was revived several years ago by H. E. Pogue's descendents as a popular high-end bottling. But in April of 2012 the Pogue brothers began distilling whiskey from scratch again at the old family mansion.
Prichard's Distillery Phil Prichard challenges our understanding of what American spirits really are
Tom's Foolery Distillery
Tom and Lianne Herbruck began carrying on the
tradition of Johnny Appleseed and are now making real Ohio Straight
Bourbon and Rye whiskies on a still that once made Michters.
West Virginia Distilling Co. Payton Fireman makes "Mountain Moonshine" spirit whiskey and "Mountain Moonshine Old Oak Recipe" in Bo McDaniel's old auto repair garage.
White Whiskey Distillers of Virginia, West VA, Tennessee & Kentucky Unaged corn whiskey has always been produced in small quantities by the major distillers, but now "White Dog" can be distilled and sold legally in several states. And many are discovering what a tasty and versatile beverage white whiskey can be. Linda and John visit a few of the "Modern Licensed Moonshiners" and their extremely small-batch distilleries.
Woodstone Creek Distillery Don & Linda Outterson practice their art in the heart of Cincinnati, Ohio
By the way, you can find great (and usually more current) information about these brands and more at the WHISKEY ID website, http://whiskeyid.com . A great idea when you spot that rare dusty bottle on the shelf of a liquor store in a town you know darn well you'll never return to, so this is your only chance to buy it or them.