Whether you want to soak up some history or try something new—these top craft distilleries are worth traveling to see.
A mix of locally sourced ingredients, historic roots, and creative cocktails make these seven distilleries from across the US a great addition to your travel plans. When you return home, you can showcase all your spirits in style with engraved whiskey decanters. Let’s delve into the top 7 craft distilleries to visit this year.
Visit One of the First Craft Distilleries in the US
Founded in 1985, Clear Creek Distillery nestled in Oregon's spectacular Columbia River Gorge had a single mission. They wanted to bring old-world distilling techniques and marry them with ingredients from local orchards. The result is one of the best pear brandies in the world made in the tradition of Eau de Viv de Loire William (clear brandy with a pear in the bottle) using local Bartlett Pears.
Karen MacNeil, the author of the Wine Bible, called their flagship brandy “…the most extraordinary eau-de-vie in America, indeed, in the world.”
As they have matured, Clear Creek has expanded their spirits from clear brandies to barrel-aged apple brandies and liqueurs, including Cranberry, Cassis, and Marion Blackberry.
Their tasting room, located in downtown Hood River, Oregon—known for its orchards and world-class windsurfing—is the perfect accompaniment to an afternoon exploring the many waterfalls of the Gorge or a day on the river.
Oahu! Don’t Think Beaches Think Rum!
Oahu’s KoHana Distillery is one of the most unique distillers of rum in the US. Its farm-to-bottle Agricola rum is made from local, hand-harvested sugarcane. Much of the rum in the US is distilled from molasses, a byproduct of manufacturing refined table sugar rather than raw sugarcane.
KoHana’s rums are made exclusively from their cane fields. Visitors can explore the fields on their Estate Sugarcane Tour, where the distillery grows heirloom varietals known for their unique flavors. Back at their tasting room, you can discover what a difference those varietals make in each of their different rums.
After exploring KoHana’s Estate or an afternoon at their tasting room, you can take a walk up the Diamond Head volcanic crater and enjoy a 360-degree view of the island.
Locally Sourced Prohibition-era Bourbon in the Badlands
Celebrate the wild west and the Prohibition era at Badlands Distillery Ranch on the Weta Basin in South Dakota. It was during Prohibition that co-owner Jim Herber’s great uncles manned the stills not far from today's distillery. Great Uncle Joe may have ended up in jail, but he still handed down the recipe that Badlands Distillery uses for its Special Reserve Bourbon.
Badlands Distillery’s ranch is the source of many of its ingredients, including corn for its bourbon and honey from the bees that pollinate the corn and jalapeños used in the distillery's Badlands Honey Bourbon.
Imagine your trip to the Badlands with its stunning visits and fossil beds. End your drive through the Badlands Loop Road (SD240) at the Badlands Distillery tasting room in Kadoka, South Dakota!
An Award-Winning Gem North of Chicago
Birthed in the Seat of Prohibition, FEW Spirits Distillery in Evanston, Illinois lives up to its motto, “Fortune Fancies the Bold.” Bucking Evanston’s history as the headquarters of the temperance movement, it continued to flourish in the town, which remained in a dry community until 1972.
FEW's award-winning whiskies include its Straight Rye Whiskey named Best in Class in 2020. The distillers suggest trying the rye whiskey with a craft IPA or its Bourbon with a Hefeweizen.
If you are feeling whimsical, pair your trip to FEW’s tasting room with a visit to the American Toby Jug Museum. Or for a more classic pairing, try the Halim Time & Glass Museum or Merrick Rose Garden.
A Taste of the Historic South
Known for the small-batch gin, bourbon, and flavored everything—from Ginger Whiskey to Orange Flavored Vodka—Ghost Coast Distillery is a must-do on any trip to Savannah, Georgia. Yelp and Travel + Leisure named Ghost Coast one of the 25 best craft distilleries in the US. Ghost Coast is the first distillery in the city since before Prohibition.
Ghost Coast is dedicated to “indulgence, light-hearted mischief, and jubilation.” You can find all three in its Burl Gin. Named in honor of the American singer/actor Burl Ives, Ghost Coast's Burl Gin received a 93 from the Beverage Testing Institute. Burl Gin forgoes the traditional heavy joiner notes in exchange for citrus and lavender.
Keep the theme and book a Ghost Tour or visit the iconic Bonaventure Cemetery. Or spend your day shopping on Broughton Street and enjoying great Southern cuisine.
Craft Distilleries in the Heart of Moonshine Country
Continuing the theme of historic locations, Old Forge Distillery at Pigeon Forge in the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains is a must-see. Old Forge makes its unaged 1830s Old Forge Moonshine in the spirit of the settlers that came to Tennessee with their copper pot stills. The distillery sits near the site of the Old Forge built next to the Little Pigeon River and the historic Old Mill built in 1830 and still in operation.
Old Forge’s spirits have a unique way of combining past and present. The spirits include not only the tractional moonshine, rum, and vodka but also the innovative Rock & Rye collection with flavors ranging from “Peach Habañero” to “Grapefruit Thyme.” Recipe No. 502 Honey Fennel won the 2020 MicroLiquor Spirit Award.
You can explore more of this scenic history when you take a hike in the Great Smoky Mountains.
Whiskey and Rye in Red Hook Brooklyn
Organic and regionally sourced are the keywords for Van Brunt Stillhouse’s spirits. Van Brunt doesn't use commodity corn. Instead, it gets its corn from an organic farm near Ithaca and prefers using special malts to give its whiskies more flavor.
It is a story of how a homebrewer makes good. Van Brunt's master distiller started at home and then began researching pre-industrial age distilling methodologies, carving a different sustainable distilling path. Since then, it has gained remarkable notoriety. In fact, Grub Street named it one of the “Absolute Best Distilleries to Drink in New York.”
While visiting Van Brunt Stillhouse, take time to explore Brooklyn’s Red Hook district’s waterfront Barge Museum for a look into the history of the New York Waterfront. You can also visit its many parks, art spaces or wander down Van Brunt Street to check out its shops, cafes, and restaurants, including the Red Hook Lobster Pound!
Articles Related to Craft Distilleries
- The Best Spring Cocktail Recipes
- Holiday Cocktail Recipes to Celebrate the Season
- Cool Summer Cocktails
- Serve the Perfect Drinks at Your Christmas Cocktail Party
- Time to Chill: Great Spring and Summer Cocktail Recipes
- Tour the Tennessee Whisky Trail
- More than Moonshine: 5 Must-Try Distilleries
Start Your Journey to Explore Craft Distilleries
The distilleries listed above are a great starting place. But, there are so many great craft distilleries to explore. Each one is committed to mining its unique region and history. What is your favorite distillery or a distillery on your wishlist? We’d love to hear from you.
Most of the distilleries above have online ordering, or you can also check out this list of Top Six Craft Distilleries to Buy From!
Making travel plans? Remember, in our changing COVID world, check before you go, and then be sure to check out some of our favorite US destinations on Wander.