The 12 Urban Distilleries You Need to Visit
Rooftop tastings, distillery-only expressions and Wonka-esque wonders await
Last week, Heaven’s Door distillery — the American whiskey co-created by Bob Dylan — announced it would open the expansive Heaven’s Door Distillery and Center for the Arts in downtown Nashville by 2020. But it’s certainly not the first of its kind: “destination” distilleries have been popping up in cities all over the country over the last decade.
What they all share in common is an emphasis on the experience. No longer is a distillery just a place of production: it’s a tourist attraction for intrepid booze tourists, and an opportunity to convert every one of them into a long-term brand advocate.
This is welcome news for serious spirits drinkers, who no longer need to schlep two hours away from their hotel to enjoy a few drinks. (I say this as someone who’s willingly trekked out to places like Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, and Ahus, Sweden, to enjoy a specific tipple.)
But it’s also great for casual visitors, since many of these new urban distilleries go above and beyond the offerings of the classic tasting room. Heaven’s Door, for example, will feature a whiskey library/restaurant, a 360-seat live performance venue and an art sanctuary displaying pieces of Dylan’s paintings and metalwork sculptures. And, oh yeah, also a working distillery. It’s all part of a renovation project to the 160-year-old Elm Street Church in the SoBro neighborhood (a rendering can seen below).
We’ll have to wait until late 2020 to experience the booze house that Dylan built, but until then, the 12 urban distilleries below will more than suffice.
Westward Whiskey (Portland, OR)
Try everything from whiskey to aquavit to distillery-only “developmental spirits” at this distillery and tasting room, one of several boozy stops within Portland’s Distillery Row (which you can tour by pedicab).
Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey (Denver, CO)
You don’t have to wait a week in line to test out the limited-edition American single malts at this Denver distillery, which also offers a more technical, two-hour VIP tour for true whiskey nerds.
The Old New Orleans Rum Distillery (New Orleans, LA)
The oldest premium rum distillery in the U.S. is located in a former cotton warehouse (you’ll need to get a shuttle from the French Quarter, but it’s only a few minutes away). The rums here are crafted from Louisiana sugar-cane molasses, but in our experience, you’ll want to go just to pick up a bottle of the distillery’s ready-to-drink Gingeroo cocktail.
Copper & Kings (Louisville, KY)
When surrounded by dozens of bourbon distilleries … well, enjoy them all (particuarly Angel’s Envy and Rabbit Hole), but make time to stop by this American brandy, absinthe and gin maker. You’ll start by visiting the brandy maturation cellar (the barrels are sonically aged) and end with a rooftop tasting that offers up some of the city’s best views. Then check out the on-site monarch butterfly sanctuary, because why not?
Sagamore Spirit (Baltimore, MD)
Based along the Patapsco River, this waterfront distillery is a place to take in some harbor views and try a trio of Maryland-style ryes. Bonus: You can book a “Rye and Fly” package that starts with a tour and tasting session, and ends with a helicopter ride and a tavern lunch.
Lost Spirits (Los Angeles, CA)
They call it “America’s Best Distillery Experience” and it’s certainly worthy of its “Willy Wonka-esque” pedigree. Enjoy the peated malts (yes, in California) and their line of award-winning rums, but you’re really here for the tour itself. There was a small fire in the tasting room, so we don’t know what the revamped space will look like until May, when visits resume … but prior to that, this might be the only tour that was led by a computer called TESSA, required an actual boat ride within the premises and featured brandy served on a floating carousel with dragons.
New Liberty Distillery (Philadelphia, PA)
Housed in a 110-year old, three-story restored building that used to be a horse stable, weekend tours (and drinks) at New Liberty focus on the history of Pennsylvania rye.
Teeling Whiskey (Dublin, Ireland)
The first new distillery in Dublin in over 125 years, the tasting room here is more like an actual bar. Learn about the Dublin Whiskey Fire while you’re sipping a cocktail or tasting some of their distillery-exclusive whiskeys.
The Ginstitute (London, England)
More of a hands-on experience, the Notting Hill distillery begins with a “long, and frequently miserable” history of gin lecture, a how-to on botanicals and finally, a chance to craft your own gin.
Still Austin Whiskey Co. (Austin, TX)
The first urban distillery in Austin since Prohibition, Still uses only Texas-grown grains to craft their gin, bourbon and Mother Pepper whiskey (“a tribute to Austin’s love of tacos”). The repurposed warehouse also features a bar and patio to hang out and enjoy cocktails, art and the on-premise food truck.
Republic Restoratives (Washington, D.C.)
A women-owned spirits brand launched after a successful crowdfunding campaign, Republic offers distillery tours followed by tastings of their small craft bourbon, rye, brandy and vodka.
Our/Vodka (various cities)
Based in Berlin, Detroit, Amsterdam, London, LA, Miami and New York, Our makes each iteration of its vodka differently in each city’s micro-distillery. While the tour itself is pretty quick (it lasted about 20 mins in New York), it’ll just give you more of a chance to hang out and try some distillery-only expressions and cocktails.
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