A glass of whiskey in a distillery barrel

Moonshine in a distillery barrel (Photo by Smit on Shutterstock)

The greatest American spirits are world-renowned for their quality and craftsmanship. The fascinating process of making, aging, and bottling fine liquors can be seen as part of a tour of many of the nation’s best distilleries. Our list of the top seven distilleries to visit offers a behind-the-scenes look at the process that makes some of the best liquid libations around.

If you want the perfect whisky, be sure its water content is less than 20 percent. Researchers say anything over 20 percent will dilute the flavor and change its taste. Adding a splash of water to your whisky has been an old trick to “open up” the flavor of whisky. According to the study, however, adding too much can ruin the drink altogether.

What happens in a distillery?

  • Fermentation: The cornerstone of spirit production, where microorganisms, typically yeast, convert sugars into alcohol.
  • Mashing: A preparatory stage involving blending and heating grains or other starch-rich ingredients to create a fermentable liquid called “wort.”
  • Distillation: The heart of spirit making, where alcohol and other volatile compounds are separated from the fermented liquid through selective evaporation.
  • Aging: Spirits often embark on a journey of resting in oak barrels or other vessels to acquire depth, complexity, and flavor.
  • Blending: The art of combining different aged spirits to achieve a desired flavor profile.
  • Bottling: The final step, where the spirit is carefully filtered, proofed to the desired alcohol content, and bottled.

For the curious minded, a trip to one of America’s most famous distilleries could be a fun excursion. Seeing production firsthand and, in many cases, sampling the product is part of the appeal of these tours. Our sources helped us learn about America’s best distilleries to visit. Let us know your favorites in the comments below!

St. Augustine Distillery in Florida
St. Augustine Distillery in Florida (Photo by Cheri Alguire on Shutterstock)

The List: Best American Distilleries, According to Experts

1. Castle & Key Distillery – Frankfort, Kentucky

Kentucky lays claim to many types of fine whisky and spirits. Castle & Key is historic and has reclaimed popularity thanks to a 2014 renovation. Connley Cove raves, “Colonel Edmund Haynes Taylor, Jr. built the Old Taylor Distillery in 1887. Inspired by European architecture, Taylor added a springhouse, sunken garden, and even a castle to the grounds. It was one of the first distilleries in the U.S.A.”

Travel + Leisure praises, “Consider Castle & Key, a once-abandoned Kentucky distillery with a fascinating history and a range of liquors, including gin, vodka, and whiskey. Of course, it’s not just the spirits that attract visitors — according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, more distilleries are designing experiences with tourism in mind, and visitors can learn more about local culture and history while they taste.”

Men’s Journal exclaims, “Colonel Edmund Haynes Taylor, Jr. built a castle to distill and celebrate bourbon back in 1887. It closed in 1920 because of prohibition, then became derelict over the decades. That is until the Old Taylor Distillery was purchased in 2014 and restored to its original glory. The new and improved Castle & Key Distillery offers an all-inclusive tour, as well as its Springhouse Music Series every Wednesday—and even yoga in its on-site sunken garden.”

2. Koval – Chicago, Illinois

This Windy City distillery opens its operation to visitors daily. Tour goers can expect a detailed explanation of the passion and process that goes into this finely crafted brand. Connelly Cove says, “The distillery offers 1-hour tours with generous tastings seven days a week. Also available at Koval are events such as book swaps, cocktail classes, and whiskey workshops. Koval is one of the best distilleries in the U.S.A. to visit for a new spin on a centuries-old product.”

Mashed describes, “Koval Distillery is notable for being the first in Chicago, Illinois, to open since the mid-1800s, and the makers are producing award-winning spirits to keep that status. Koval was founded in 2008 by a husband-and-wife duo and has grown into a massive distillery producing whiskey, gin, and specialty liquors.”

Travel Distilled elaborates, “One of the founders of the craft distilling movement, Koval is in Chicago’s northern suburbs where they make an intriguing range of spirits and liquors. They do Whiskey Workshops and Cocktail Classes, as well as conventional distillery tours. The 1-hour tour includes a generous tasting of their many products.”

3. Breckenridge Distillery – Breckenridge, Colorado

Breckenridge, Colorado is home to a well-loved distillery. They also offer a full menu at an attached restaurant. Men’s Journal comments, “Breckenridge, Colorado, is a town known for its skiing, but the whiskey produced by Breckenridge Distillery gives the place a very different distinction. Its whiskey is uniquely savory, and the distillery also manufactures vodka and bitters. Tours are offered six days a week.”

USA Today 10 Best adds, “Perched in the Rocky Mountains, Breckenridge Distillery is known as the ‘world’s highest distillery.’ Their top spirit is their blended bourbon whiskey, a high-rye concoction aged three years or more in charred American oak barrels. This whiskey provides aromas of butterscotch and candied orange, with flavors of brown sugar, vanilla and white pepper.”

The Female Professional details, “There are over 60 distilleries in Colorado, but the one that makes this list? Breckenridge Distillery. This is because it’s the highest distillery by elevation in the world, sitting at over 9600 ft above sea level. A visit will get you vodka and whiskey (their specialties), but they also dabble in gin, rum, and others. In addition, you can take a break from drinking while you’re there and eat at their restaurant by Chef David Burke who serves up specially crafted meals to pair with your drinks.”

4. High West Distillery – Park City, Utah

High West Distillery is an operation that offers custom bottled blends. Additionally, they have food and shopping options on location. NextLuxury explains, “The majority of the great American distilleries can be found in Kentucky and Tennessee but there are plenty of exceptions, with one of them being High West in Utah. It’s the oldest distillery in the state and is even situated at the bottom of a ski run!”

The Female Professional offers, “High West Distillery in Park City is the place to ‘ski into’ when you’re in the area. They are expert blenders, offer food and shopping through their store. The location itself is in historic, revamped buildings!”

Culture Trip states, “High West became Utah’s first legal distillery when it opened in 2006. It all started for David Perkins with a humble saloon in downtown Park City, in what was formerly a stable. The distillery was also the first in the world to offer ski-in access, allowing visitors to slide right off the mountain and sip whiskey cocktails alongside the original 250-gallon still.”

5. St. George Spirits – Alameda, California

St. George Spirits is a great stop for liquor enthusiasts on the west coast. They have been operating for over 40 years. Trvl Channel claims, “St. George is stretching the boundaries of traditional styles of gin, very successfully… a young German man named Jorg Rupf fell in love with the Bay Area’s food culture and the quality of fruit growing in California, and subsequently founded St. George Spirits in 1982.”

NextLuxury relates, “Not only do they make great whiskey at the site, but as the name suggests, they do plenty of other spirits too. You’ll get to sample these on your tour, such as their absinthe, gin, brandy, and liquor. If you love more than just whiskey, it’s a brilliant experience.”

Mashed reviews, “Visitors to St. George’s distillery have praised the experience as something totally different than the average wine-tasting or brewery tour. If you go with another person (recommended), you can almost taste everything.”

6. Kings County Distillery – Brooklyn, New York

Kings County Distillery in Brooklyn offers a chic tour replete with detailed historical accounts. Only open for tours on Friday and Saturday, it may take some planning to make sure a visit fits your travel itinerary. “The founders of Kings County Distillery quite literally wrote the book on making whiskey at home. Their ‘Guide to Urban Moonshining’ is a look at America’s indigenous spirit, from the whiskey made by the early colonists and sprawling distilleries of Kentucky to the adventurous, modern-day craft distillers across almost every state,” according to Trvl Channel.

Men’s Journal asserts, “Kings County Distillery is one of several makers of spirits to help jumpstart a burgeoning industry within New York City itself. Offerings are presently focused on moonshine, bourbon, and a collaboration with Mast Brothers Chocolate. The distillery offers tours of the facility, located in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, on Fridays and Saturdays.”

NextLuxury evaluates, “If you’re a whiskey lover who happens to find yourself in New York then you should head over to the Kings County Distillery. The city doesn’t have a rich depth of history when it comes to whiskey, but the popularity of this site shows there’s a new trend for great distilleries in the region.”

7. St. Augustine Distillery – St. Augustine, Florida

St. Augustine, Florida is home to another popular distillery. Their tours are offered daily and are easy to fit into any visit. Culture Trip compliments, “Located in a bountiful region rife with citrus, corn, wheat and sugarcane, St. Augustine Distillery has the recipe for success. The distillery specializes in small-batch spirits like gin, vodka, rum and whiskey, each wafting with distinctly Floridian aromas. Housed in a former ice plant dating back to pre-Prohibition days, the distillery offers free tours and tastings of its farm-fresh products.”

Connelly Cove assures, “Although St. Augustine Distillery was only established in 2013, its history goes much further. St. Augustine, Florida is America’s oldest continuously occupied city. The distillery is locally owned and dedicated to improving the community.”

Men’s Journal articulates, “St. Augustine is the oldest continuously occupied settlement in America with its founding way back in 1565. While the city is filled with history and even has a 600-year-old tree called ‘Old Senator,’ there’s also an award-winning distillery. The best part? St. Augustine Distillery offers free tours and tastings every day of the week. You’ll learn about the distillation process, smell the ‘sweet mash,’ and even try a few signature cocktails.”

You might also be interested in:

Sources:

Note: This article was not paid for nor sponsored. StudyFinds is not connected to nor partnered with any of the brands mentioned and receives no compensation for its recommendations.

About Alan Corona

Our Editorial Process

StudyFinds publishes digestible, agenda-free, transparent research summaries that are intended to inform the reader as well as stir civil, educated debate. We do not agree nor disagree with any of the studies we post, rather, we encourage our readers to debate the veracity of the findings themselves. All articles published on StudyFinds are vetted by our editors prior to publication and include links back to the source or corresponding journal article, if possible.

Our Editorial Team

Steve Fink

Editor-in-Chief

Chris Melore

Editor

Sophia Naughton

Associate Editor