Love whiskey? Here are some fun facts you might not know: about four per cent evaporates from barrels while aging, known as the “angel’s share;” France consumes the most whiskey per capita; Mark Twain is attributed with the quote, “Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough;” and trips planned solely around the consumption of that delicious nectar is almost always guaranteed to be a good time.
Craft distilleries have exploded throughout the United States over the past decade, especially in the last four or five years. Kentucky, America’s traditional producer of bourbon, can no longer claim to be the sole purveyor of quality brown spirits. Nearly every state in the union now has distilleries producing some version of bourbon, small-batch whiskey, moonshine, rye or single malt (for a quick breakdown of the differences between whiskies, check out this handy guide from Whiskey Advocate).
The good news is it’s now possible to embark upon a nationwide whiskey-trail road trip (with a designated driver), sampling flavours unique to each whiskey-producing region of the country. The bad news, which is also really good news, is that there are so many whiskies it’s impossible to taste them all. To help you out, here’s a guide to some of the best new-school whiskies made outside of Kentucky, listed in alphabetical order by state, with information on distillery tours and where to get the spirits if you can’t physically make it there.
Rock Town Distillery – Arkansas
Rock Town Distillery, founded in 2010, is Arkansas’s first legal distillery since the end of Prohibition. In true artisanal/small-batch form, the spirits are made from grains that are grown no further than 125 miles from the stills. The distillery makes several whiskeys, including Single Barrel Reserve Bourbon, Arkansas Bourbon and Hickory Smoked Whiskey. Tours are given all year round, seven days a week.
Can’t get there? Check out where to by online here.
Stranahan’s – Colorado
The legend goes that Stranahan’s whiskey was born after a firefighter responded to a call at George Stranahan’s farm. After the fire was extinguished, the two discovered their mutual love of the brown stuff, and the rest is whiskey history. The resulting spirit is a smooth, sweet whiskey made using pure Rocky Mountain water and a unique grain mixture that is almost 100 percent malted barley – more like a Scotch than your average American bourbon. Also, each bottle lists what was being listened to while the whiskey was being bottled – one was infused with the music of The Pixies. Visitors can tour the distillery all year long; reservations are recommended.
Can’t get there? Email firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.
Onyx Moonshine – Connecticut
Onyx has only been around since 2011, a relative newcomer on the scene, but the distillery claims to be New England’s first legal moonshine since Prohibition. The Moonshine itself is a clear, versatile, un-aged spirit that makes a great substitute for vodka drinks. The Secret Stash is an aged whiskey with a nice, woody, nutty flavor imparted from the charred American oak barrels it spends its time in. This small operation (only five full-time employees) isn’t set up for tours yet, but they are working on building a speakeasy-style tasting room.
Can’t get there? Fill out the contact form to find out where you can purchase it.
Koval – Illinois
Chicago’s Koval Distillery was established in 2008, the first in the city since the 19th century. The team uses organic grains to distill its single barrel whiskies using the “heart” cut of the distillate, which refers to the middle part that is full of ethyl alcohol and aromatics. They offer a surprisingly large selection of whiskey, including oat, millet, four grain, and white rye blends. Koval holds distillery tours on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, as well as cocktail classes and whiskey workshops.
Can’t get there? Find out where you can get it here.
Iowa had its share of whiskey production before Prohibition, but it hasn’t seen much since then. Things are changing rapidly now. Mississippi River Distillery, founded in 2010, distills Cody Road Bourbon. The whiskey was named in honor of “Buffalo Bill” Cody, who was born in the distillery’s hometown of LeClaire, Iowa. Cody Road is made from 70 per cent local corn and aged in small 30-gallon charred oak barrels. For a 90-proof spirit, it’s remarkably smooth and has a pleasant grassy taste. Tours are given daily at the distillery.
Can’t get there? Check out the list of online retailers here.
Templeton Rye – Iowa
Even though it’s the most famous Hawkeye State whiskey, Templeton Rye is actually distilled in Indiana, before being shipped to Iowa for bottling. But the rye is based on the Prohibition-era recipe favoured by the most notorious American gangster, Al Capone. It’s no wonder, as this is a quality rye that won’t break your budget. Sweet and sharp, it’s the perfect blend for sipping neat or making a Manhattan. Distillery tours are given Monday through Friday, all year round.
Can’t get there? Find out where you can here.
Kansas Clean Distilled Whiskey – Kansas
Kansas Clean offers an un-aged whiskey made from “steel roller milled amber winter wheat” instead of usual grains like corn, barley or rye. They also use column stills, producing a spirit that is closer in form to vodka than traditional whiskey. The distillery prides itself on being something completely different from the rest of the pack, easily enjoyable even by inexperienced whiskey drinkers.
Can’t get there? Buy it here.
Louisiana Lightning – Louisiana
This lightning in a bottle is the first whiskey to come out of Louisiana, a clear, sour mash, un-aged whiskey that many people would call moonshine. Don’t expect any of the smoky, woody taste you’d find with bourbon here. Instead, enjoy this subtly sweet spirit on the rocks or substitute in any number of classic cocktails.
Can’t get there? Check out this list of retailers.
Defiant Whiskey – North Carolina
Defiant Whiskey, produced by Blue Ridge Distilling Co., is probably the only distillery anywhere in the entire world run by a bunch of salvage divers. This whiskey is not bourbon; this is American single malt made in the spirit of the Scottish greats but with a uniquely Yankee character. One distinct thing about the whiskey is that it’s aged for only 60 days. They do this by inserting spiral cuts of wood into the whiskey instead of aging the spirit in barrels, an unorthodox method that seems to work rather well. The distillery is open Monday through Friday and by appointment on weekends.
Can’t get there? Buy here now (it’s also available in Alberta, Canada).
KGB Spirits – New Mexico
KGB Spirits has a distinctly New Mexican flair. Founded in 2009, its Rancho de Los Luceros Destilaria is located in an old straw bale building. With only four employees, every batch is by definition a small batch. But they still manage to distill several whiskies, as well as other spirits, including two types of Single Barrel Straight Rye, and two types of Single Barrel Straight Bourbon.
Can’t get it there? Find out where you can get it here.
Hudson Whiskey – New York
Hudson Whiskey is the first whiskey distilled in New York State since the end of Prohibition. It’s the granddaddy of the current micro-distillery boom happening in Brooklyn, and all over the state. In addition to their popular Baby Bourbon and Manhattan Rye, the distillery offers a special Maple Cask Rye for the fall season in limited numbers. If you can get your hands on one, don’t hesitate. The whiskey is finished for several months in maple syrup casks, infusing it with a subtle, not too sweet maple flavor. This isn’t a saccharine liqueur; this is a lovely, seasonal whiskey perfect for the colder months. Visitors can tour the distillery and tasting room all year round.
Can’t get there? Get it here: HudsonWhiskey.com
Garrison Brothers – Texas
Garrison Brothers claims to be the oldest distillery in the Lone Star State. However long it’s been around, these guys are making some good whiskey. The Texas straight bourbon whiskey they produce isn’t cheap, but it’s well worth the price. It’s made from Texas corn and rainwater, and aged two years in oak caskets “harvested from sustainable forests” – good to hear they’re concerned about the environment. The fruity sweetness of this bourbon isn’t overpowering, and the smooth, woody flavor that hits your nose is subtle as well. Don’t waste this in a cocktail; this is really nice sipping bourbon. The distillery is open Wednesday through Sunday for tours, holidays excluded, and you can book online.
Can’t get it there? Check here to find out where to buy online.
Whistlepig – Vermont
Whistlepig Rye was first released in 2010, and it has consistently impressed ever since. Bottles generally run around $70 U.S., but the quality of this whiskey matches the price. The farm that the distillery is located on grows its own rye, of course, as well as raising Mangalitsa pigs; hence, the name “Whistlepig.” Their latest release is called Boss Hog: The Spirit of Mortimer, a 14-year-old batch of delicious rye of which only 50 barrels will be released. The distillery doesn’t offer tours to the public, but it open for private events.
Can’t get it there? Check this map to find out where to buy.
Belmont Farm Distillery – Virginia
Kopper Kettle whiskey, trademarked as “Virginia Whiskey,” is a triple-wheat blend of grains grown at the farm, which has been around since the Civil War. Corn, wheat, and barley are fermented in copper tanks before soaking with oak and applewood chips. The whiskey is then aged for three years resulting in a light, mellow drink, slightly sweet with strong hints of vanilla and honey. Kopper Kettle tastes like a younger, less complex whiskey, but it goes down easy and tastes great. Visitors can tour the distillery and tasting room from April through the end of November, Tuesday through Saturday.
Can’t get there? Get it online here: 1 West Dupont Circle Wines & Liquors