The 12 Urban Distilleries You Need to Visit
Rooftop tastings, distillery-only expressions and blending classes await
In 2019, 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 (Covid and a reimagining of the project have since pushed that date back).
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. In the original plans, Heaven’s Door was set to 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 some undetermined time to experience the booze house that Dylan built, but until then, the 12 urban distilleries below will more than suffice. Note that some of these are still closed or working on reduced hours due to Covid restrictions.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Copper & Kings (Louisville, KY)
When surrounded by dozens of bourbon distilleries … well, enjoy them all (particularly Angel’s Envy, Old Forester 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?
Wigle (Pittsburgh, PA)
On Saturdays this award-winning Pittsburgh distillery conducts tours and offers up history lessons on the Whiskey Rebellion.
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. And while you’re in Dublin, you can also check out the Roe & Co distillery.
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.
Starward Whisky (Melbourne, Australia)
You won’t be able to visit until probably 2022, and the tour itself is pretty short (20 minutes). But the facility also offers tastings, classes and a full bar with not just whisky, but beer, wine and other spirits.
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.
Bonus 13th entry: O’Shaughnessy Distilling Co. (Minneapolis, MN)
This writer just spent two days at a preview of this new whiskey distillery, a beautifully impressive multi-floor building with several bars and outdoor space. Bonus: It’s also next to a gigantic brewery. Check back later this summer for the distillery’s official opening. (We’ll have a full overview of the space and the whiskey coming soon.)
The Secret to Great Cocktails? Find Out in The Spill.
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