Craft Distillery Tourism Is Definitely a Thing
See why smart travelers are making a stop at a unique craft distillery part of their travel experience.
Tour a craft distillery and you’re apt to see the co-founder operating a forklift or run into the distiller himself checking on his still levels. Such is the charm of the boutique whisky business, where small staffs and an intimately-scaled operation give you a very up close and personal vantage on spirit-making.
On my recent gambol through the ASW (American Spirits Whiskey) Distillery in Atlanta the same guy, Chadwick Ralston, who works as the company’s Chief Acorn Officer (that’s Chief Marketing Officer to you and me) also led my distillery tour, poured me a sip of ASW's barrel-finished bourbon, Fiddler (because they don’t make the bourbon, only finish it, thus fiddling) and told me about his inspiration for the whisky labels he designs for ASW. One man, many hats. And just one reason why you need to put a boutique barrel tour on your travel bucket list for 2018. These specialized craft distilleries are popping up all over the country, from a spot, Desert Door, just outside of Austin, that produces a native spirit, sotol, to one of the top boutique rye makers in the country, Catoctin Creek Distilling in Purcellville, Virginia.
When you're a distillery tourist, you can while away a good, very pleasurable few hours at places like ASW, sinking into a leather club chair with a Sazerac crafted by an Emory student by day, bartender by night with the distillery’s Resurgens Rye (the first post-Prohibition rye distilled in Atlanta) and soak in the utterly delicious fragrance of grain percolating in the back. Set up like a very comfortable gentleman’s club circa 1935, the ASW Distillery offers a curated gift shop, a menu of tasting options and the chance to revel in the love of whiskey with fellow enthusiasts (or drink alone, if that’s more your scene. Everyone to their own taste). Set in an industrial zone close to the highway, ASW is a natural stop for business types in Atlanta for a convention or meeting, and for the swelling ranks of dedicated whiskey tourists who make sure that a craft distillery is on their agenda no matter where they travel.
Below are some of our picks for interesting distillery stops to put on your 2018 travel list. Can’t make it to one of these awesome distilleries? Give the gift of booze this holiday with a craft spirit for someone with an esoteric obsession for spirits or cocktails.
Catoctin Creek Distilling: Purcellville, Virginia
Award-winners for their Virginia-crafted 80 and 92 proof rye, Catoctin Creek was singled out recently for a Good Food Awards for those distinctive spirits.
This family-run distillery in Loudon County, Virginia, produces rye, organic gin and brandy from local Virginia wines. Forbes offered this enticing description of Catoctin’s Roundstone Single Barrel Rye Whisky, "Delicate at first, this single-barrel rye gains in strength on the tongue, with flashes of herb, pear, white chocolate, whole-grain toast, and gentle spice." Sold!
The first distillery in Chicago since well before Prohibition, Koval was founded by a dynamic husband and wife duo who are changing the way America distills.
This craft distillery pioneer and organic distillery produces an award-winning barreled gin (with one of the most beautiful labels we’ve ever seen), a line of whiskeys and some idiosyncratic liqueurs including jasmine, rose hip, caraway and walnut, as well as peach and prune brandy, vodka and a sunchoke spirit. Way to play the field, guys! They mill and mash their locally grown grain on-site making for one of the country’s leading small-batch distilleries. We love Koval’s origin story: In lieu of buying a house, owner Sophie Dyer and her husband Robert used a chunk of change to instead buy a still, moved in with Robert’s parents and opened their distillery. And the rest, they say, is history.
A beautifully designed 6,500 square foot distillery with the ambiance of a boutique hotel lobby, ASW was founded by University of Georgia friends Jim Chasteen and Charlie Thompson in 2016 with a titular white whiskey. ASW has since expanded and despite Georgia's initially restrictive liquor laws, they can now distill their own liquor rather than producing it in Charleston, S.C. for import. ASW has expanded to a collection of six spirits including a barrel-aged bourbon, Fiddler, a Resurgens Rye, an apple brandy made from Georgia apples and double and single-malt whiskeys. This gorgeous space tucked away on an industrial strip right off 75/85 in the heart of Atlanta reads more like a cozy, well-appointed men’s club. There’s an Airstream outside for serving up snacks, picnic tables and even a place to park your pup. Take a tour, shop the whiskey merch, have a cocktail. ASW is opening a second 10,000-square-foot location along Atlanta's booming BeltLine walking and bike trail, so stay tuned for more ways to get your sip on.
Van Brunt Stillhouse: Red Hook, Brooklyn
Finding a bourbon at a Manhattan farmers' market made in Brooklyn is a bit of a nonsequitur among the baby greens and beets. But that’s just how I discovered this Red Hook, Brooklyn, distillery Van Brunt Stillhouse, far, far away from the bourbon green fields of Kentucky (where 95 percent of bourbon is produced).
Keeping it close to home, Stillhouse sources rye, wheat and corn from New York farmers for their American and malt whiskey, bourbon and rye along with a Due North Rum (which has been well-reviewed by Bon Appetit). The distillery is also working in conjunction with Brooklyn Winery and Red Hook Winery to create a grappa in an industrial section of Brooklyn zoned for distilling alcohol. Unlike many other businesses in the area, Van Brunt Stillhouse emerged intact after the deluge of Hurricane Sandy and has been voted one of the 10 best distilleries in NYC by the Village Voice.
House Spirits Distillery: Portland, Oregon
Called one of America’s best craft distilleries, this 13-year old spot in one of America’s hippest towns features locally-made single malt whiskey, rum, vodka, aquavit and a selection of limited-release small-batch spirits. Their Westward Oregon Straight Malt Whiskey matures in oak barrels for at least two years, allowing the region’s dry, hot summers and wet, cold winters to contribute to what has been touted as the whiskey's rich, smooth flavor.
The 14,000 square foot, $6 million dollar distillery in the Central Eastside Industrial District boasts the largest operating still west of the Mississippi. Just passing through and don’t have time for the whole distillery tour and tasting? Stop by the PDX airport shop for that craft distillery experience when you are pressed for time.
Desert Door: Driftwood, Texas
A 6,500 square foot distillery created by military veterans to highlight this native spirit, Desert Door's focus is sotol, crafted from the scrubby West Texas desert spoon plant and for a time a popular moonshine source in the region. Desert Door’s tasting room allows visitors to sample some sotol cocktails and features work by Austin-based artists (available for purchase) for a bit of locavore flavor. Founders Ryan Campbell, Judson Kauffman and Brent Looby who connected in a University of Texas business class, hope that their indigenous spirit will become to Texas what bourbon is to Kentucky. Packaged in a striking blue glass bottle with the look of a vintage apothecary jar, advertising "Handmade in Driftwood, Texas" a bottle of this sotol placed on your bar should let your friends know that you are, indeed, a discriminating craft spirit connoisseur. The first distillery since Prohibition to offer sotol, Desert Door offers a "desert modern" tasting room where you can sit by a roaring fire and sup on gourmet snacks and a sotol craft cocktail, so you'll have plenty of ideas for how to serve up this spirit when you get back home. The Driftwood is a rich blend of Desert Door Original Sotol, coffee liquor, Cointreau and lemon. And the Desert Door cocktail is a spin on the margarita featuring sotol, fresh lime, Ancho Reyes Poblano and Cointreau.