It would take months, maybe years to visit all of the whiskey distilleries in the U.S. So Instead of just focusing on Kentucky distilleries on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, we created this list to help avid whiskey drinkers weed out what distilleries are worth their time visiting or not. Whether the distillery offers exclusive bottlings at their tasting room or they have an incredible dining experience to accompany their spirits, these are seven must-visit distilleries. Book your plane tickets now and get drinking.
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Stranahan’s has made its reputation on two things: Its incredible line of single malt whiskeys, and its cultish, dedicated following, referred to in the industry as Stranafans. What many of these superfans go ga-ga for is Stranahan’s highly allocated Snowflake bottling, which is available only at the distillery once a year. If you don’t want to wade through a sea of Stranafans or brave temperatures in the low double digits common during the winter when the whiskey is released, the distillery has other things to offer its visitors the rest of the year. Not only can you take a distillery tour, but there’s also a VIP tour that concludes with a tasting not offered to the general public (be advised that reservations are required) and a lounge where you can try seasonal cocktails made with the distillery’s wares.
High West Distillery, Wanship, UT
If you are a big fan of rye whiskey then you are probably familiar with this Utah-based distillery, which makes one of the best ryes in the country. But when visiting their distillery there is actually much more to see and drink than just their line of spirits. Start by taking a distillery tour, which comes with a portfolio tasting, at their main facility in Wanship. Then you have the option of having a prix fixe seasonal dinner (with an optional whiskey pairing) at the company’s Nelson Cottage or craft cocktails and a bite to eat at their old timey saloon in Park City. At the saloon you can try their barrel aged cocktails, which use High West whiskey as a base, as well as the barrels used to age that whiskey. If that’s not enough High West action for you, there’s the High West Whiskey Club, which gives you exclusive, early access to new releases and private, members-only events at the distillery. Although membership is free, you do have to take a quick survey online in order to join the club.
New York’s first legal distillery following Prohibition, Tuthilltown Spirits is located upstate in the heart of the Hudson Valley. Although they’re most famous for their Baby Bourbon—which is made with 100-percent New York corn—the distillery also makes a variety of other delicious golden drams, including a luscious single malt whiskey (our personal favorite). Visiting the distillery should be an all-day affair, including a tour of the facility, a portfolio tasting at the visitor center and a meal at the on-site farm-to-table restaurant, Char 1788. The restaurant not only serves delicious local, seasonal food, but they also make a variety of seasonal cocktails with the distillery’s broad range of spirits and liqueurs. If you’re a history nerd, it is also worth noting that the restaurant is housed in the historic Tuthilltown Gristmill, which was built 220 years ago and is now on the National Register of Historic Places.
Founded in 2010, Kings County Distillery was the first distillery to produce whiskey in New York City since Prohibition and paved the way for a number of other NYC upstarts. Housed inside the gorgeous 119-year-old Paymaster Building in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, the distillery produces a number of different spirits, including an unaged moonshine, a bourbon and a wheated whiskey. While there, you should take a distillery tour—which includes an in-depth discussion on the history of distilling in New York, specifically Brooklyn and the Navy Yard—and visit their on-site tasting room. Not only can you sample all of their whiskeys in a tasting flight at the tasting room, but there are also seasonal cocktails and small plates. When you’re there, make sure to try their more experimental flavored whiskeys that are hard to find elsewhere.
While you won’t find farm-to-table meals or any other gimmicks at this distillery, you will find one of the most beautiful distilleries in the industry. Located in the town of Versailles, Kentucky, the Woodford Distillery was built in 1838—making it the oldest distilling site in Kentucky (distilling actually began there as early as 1780). In 2000 the distillery was officially designated as a National Historic Landmark. Even if architectural marvels and history aren't your thing, there’s definitely not a shortage of delicious bourbon to be had on site.
Built in 1910, the Four Roses Distillery was modeled after Mission-style Spanish architecture. At the distillery you can see their production process from start to finish: from fermentation, to the rickouses where their bourbons are aged, to the bottling room where they are finished. After the tour just make sure to visit their tasting room and gift shop, where they have highly allocated bottlings for sale that are only available at the distillery, like the Master Distillers Select series. Each release in the series is chosen by the master distiller—now Brent Elliot—and bottled at cask strength.
Maker’s Mark is one of the most recognizable whiskeys in the world thanks to the red wax seal on its bottles. But its distillery is just as iconic. There are a lot of reasons to visit the Maker’s Mark distillery. You can take a tour of their facility to see how Maker’s produces all of its iconic bourbons and stick around for a Saturday night prix fixe, farm-to-table dinners at their on-site restaurant. But our number one reason for wanting to visit the distillery is to get our hands on one of their limited, distillery-only releases. There’s not just one rare bottling available at the tasting room—there are four. There’s Maker's White, an unaged bourbon; Maker's Mark Cask Strength (our most desired bottle there); Maker's Mark Mint Julep (available seasonally), which was blended specifically for the classic cocktail; and Maker's Mark Founders' Bottle, which features a collector’s edition of the label with sketches of the distillery’s founders.