9 of America’s leading craft distilleries
Tuesday, February 14, 2017
A couple of years ago, we devoted a feature to the craft brewery craze sweeping the country, and here we are again to report on the latest tippling trend: craft distilleries.
From Seattle to St. Augustine, booze buffs can taste and purchase a variety of spirits, including bourbon, gin, vodka, rum, sour mash whiskey, tequila, brandy and various liqueurs — all lovingly created from scratch by some really bold and talented entrepreneurs. With that in mind, let's look in on a cross section of the country's leading craft distilleries.
1. St. Augustine Distillery
St. Augustine, Florida
Thanks to its daily free tours and tastings, this distillery — housed in a beautifully renovated 1917 ice plant — is one of St. Augustine's top visitor attractions.
Co-founders Philip McDaniel and Mike Diaz proudly proclaim to have made the first bourbon to be barreled in Florida since Prohibition. Today, they work virtually around the clock to mix, mash, cook and distill small batches of whiskey, vodka, gin and rum, using only high-quality, locally-sourced ingredients (except barley, which isn't grown in Florida).
2. Philadelphia Distilling Company
Founded in 2005, this highly regarded Philly distiller just recently (this month) celebrated the grand opening of a new 13,000-square-foot facility housed in a renovated 1890s warehouse.
Best known for its Bluecoat Gin — said to be more citrusy and less piney than its typical London counterparts — it also turns out an impressive absinthe and a flavored vodka. The new digs feature a tasting room, cocktail bar and lounge and a retail store.
3. KOVAL Distillery
Chicago's first distillery (legal, that is) since the mid-1800s, KOVAL produces organic whiskey, specialty spirits and liqueurs under the direction of former academics Dr. Robert Birnecker and his wife Sonat. Their grain-to-bottle approach follows in the distilling traditions of Robert's Austrian family.
Recognized as one of America's leading small-batch, independent spirit producers, KOVAL offers six different whiskies, gin, vodka, peach brandy and a selection of seven liqueurs — most of which have collected prizes in top international spirits competitions. Tours/tastings are available Wednesday-Sunday.
4. Death's Door Spirits
Utilizing grains, herbs and botanicals grown on Door County's Washington Island, the largest craft distillery in the Midwest annually produces more than 250,000 cases of gin, vodka, whiskey and schnapps at its impressive new distillery near Madison.
The brand's unusual name derives from the perilous Lake Michigan passageway between Washington Island and the Door Peninsula that historically has seen many shipwrecks. Death Door's Gin — a surprisingly simple botanical mix of juniper berries, coriander and fennel that employs a base of Wisconsin-grown wheat and malted barley, is its biggest seller. At present, no tours or tastings are offered.
5. Far North Spirits
Far North earns the distinction of being the northernmost distillery in the contiguous United States, situated just 25 miles south of the Canadian border. It's one of only a handful of authentic field-to-glass estate producers of small-batch, craft-distilled spirits in the region.
Inspired by a Swedish family heritage of independence and agricultural sustainability, founding partners Michael Swanson and Cheri Reese fled the corporate world to Michael's fourth-generation family farm where they harvest non-GMO grains and then mill, mash, ferment, distill and bottle all spirits from start to finish. Far North's product line includes its popular Navy Strength Gin, spiced rum, rye whiskey and vodka. Tours are offered from April to January.
6. Mile High Spirits
Located in the heart of downtown Denver, Mile High Spirits is but a short walk from Coors Field and numerous restaurants and attractions. This state-of-the-art small batch distillery is one of just three in the world to use an all-glass still for its distillation. This means that there are no metals or other impurities introduced throughout the distilling process, allowing for the purest, cleanest product possible.
Mile High creates and serves its Elevate Vodka, Denver Dry Gin, Peg Leg Rum, Fireside Bourbon and Fireside Peach in its 400-seat tasting lounge. Gourmet food trucks feed hungry spirit sippers from Tuesday-Sunday.
7. 8 Feathers Distillery
Just an idea until February 2013, this Boise enterprise stands out today as a state-of-the-art small-batch craft distillery that already has pocketed more than a dozen medals in top spirits competitions.
Utilizing grains sourced locally in Weiser, Idaho, and matched with pure artesian well water, 8 Feathers produces an intriguing lineup of bourbon, whiskey and moonshine (unfiltered corn whiskey). Tours and tastings are available on Saturdays only.
8. Copperworks Distilling Company
Seattle is both a craft beer and, more recently, a craft distilling hot spot. Copperworks was voted "Best Distillery" in 2014 by Seattle Magazine, which says a lot given there are now more than a dozen distilleries in the city. Its downtown waterfront location guarantees a steady stream of visitors, and Copperworks offers tastings of its superb gin, vodka and single malt whiskey daily from noon to 6 p.m., and guided tours on Friday and Saturday.
Owners/distillers Jason Parker or Micah Nutt are usually on hand to conduct tours that provide a highly informative behind-the-scenes look at the company's four impressive Scottish copper stills, the barreling process and fermenters.
9. Greenbar Distillery
Los Angeles, California
This L.A.-based craft distillery is the world's largest producer and distributor of organic, handcrafted spirits. Its lineup includes CRUSOE organic rums, FRUITLAB organic liqueurs, IXA organic tequila, SLOW HAND organic whiskey, TRU organic gin and TRU organic vodka. They also produce BAR KEEP organic bitters that bartenders say are the best on the market.
Going back to the mid-2000s, husband and wife owners Melkon Khosrovian and Litty Matthew discovered that the key to more flavorful, aromatic spirits was organic grains and produce. So they've dedicated their business to organics — and the environment — using recyclables wherever possible and planting a tree for every bottle sold (more than 500,000 so far). Tastings are available Tuesday-Thursday, and tours run on Friday and Saturday.
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