Americans have been making whiskey for longer than the States have been United. But, spurred by changes in the laws, a passion for local ingredients and a love of history, craft distillers are now producing exceptional spirits. Whether making whiskey out of beer or bottling unaged white whiskey (a.k.a. moonshine), these are some of the most creative new talents.
Prohibition ended in 1933, but many states have only just made distilling legal again. Here, pioneers who are bringing whiskey-making back to their communities.
Corsair Artisan Distillery: Nashville
Until last year, the great whiskey state of Tennessee allowed distilling in only three of its 95 counties. But, thanks in part to Nashville natives Andrew Webber and Darek Bell, the country-music capital now has Corsair, with its own still and tasting room. Webber and Bell make the silky, peppery Wry Moon (100 percent rye), a terrific new white whiskey; they're also aging a variety of experimental whiskey blends, including a Kentucky bourbon made in their Bowling Green location and, in Nashville, a smoky Tennessee whiskey filtered through maple charcoal.
Tuthilltown Spirits: Gardiner, New York
According to Tuthilltown Spirits, New York had upward of 1,000 farm stills before the 1919 ratification of the Volstead act made them all illegal. When Tuthilltown launched in 2003, it became the state's first small-batch whiskey distiller since Prohibition. Today, the company's whiskeys (which include the unaged Hudson New York Corn Whiskey) are sold as far away as Paris and Sweden, and Tuthilltown continually adds new spirits to its line. Located a few hours north of Manhattan, the distillery is open for tastings and tours.
Great Whiskey Recipes & Articles:
Most distillers get their grains from all over the U.S. and Canada, but the locavore movement is inspiring some producers to focus on local grains. These go into whiskeys that range in flavor from peppery to creamy.
Courtesy of Amy Jester Photography, Amyjesterphotography.com
Death's Door Spirits: Washington Island, Wisconsin
"The wheat came first," says Brian Ellison of his new spirits company (photo, left). While working as an economic-development consultant, Ellison was hired to help the wheat-farming community that surrounds the Washington Hotel on Wisconsin's tiny Washington Island in Lake Michigan. After first working with Capital Brewery near Madison to create an Island Wheat Ale, Ellison decided to launch Death's Door Spirits. Today his company makes an excellent, vanilla-flecked white whiskey, as well as a gin and a vodka; all three are distilled from a mash of Washington Island wheat (the gin even uses Wisconsin juniper). An aged wheat whiskey is also in the works. In just five years, Death's Door has helped the island's wheat fields grow from five acres to 1,200. deathsdoorspirits.com.
Dry Fly Distilling: Spokane, Washington
Dry Fly Distilling owners (and fly-fishing buddies) Kent Fleischmann and Don Poffenroth helped Washington state pass laws that not only allow craft distillers to offer tastings and sell bottles on their properties, but also require them to use more than 50 percent local ingredients in their spirits if they want to label them as Washington-made. "We've made sure that if you're going to be a craft distiller in Washington, you're going to make your alcohol from Washington products," Fleischmann says. Since the law passed, more than two dozen other distilleries have applied for licenses. Dry Fly's own lean, aged whiskey, with its pleasing notes of orange peel and tobacco, is made from Washington-state wheat; Dry Fly's bourbon, made from Washington-state corn, is also in barrels for release this December. dryflydistilling.com.
Some of the country's best new whiskeys come from former beer brewers. It stands to reason: All whiskey is distilled from a mash of fermented grainsessentially, beer.
Charbay Winery & Distillery: St. Helena, California
Marko Karakasevic home-brewed beer in his youth before joining his father Miles's artisanal spirits company in St. Helena, California. His Charbay Whiskey Release II is the first in the U.S. to be distilled not from a still-made mash but from brewed pilsner beer. His new line, Doubled & Twisted (released in January), includes both aged and white whiskeys distilled from hop-rich California IPAs (India Pale Ales). "'Doubled and twisted' is an old liquor term for the good stuff, " Karakasevic explains. "When it reaches about 160 proof, the liquor coming off the still twists on itself like a chain." charbay.com.
Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey: Denver
Named after George Stranahan, founder of craft-beer pioneer Flying Dog Brewery, the Colorado distiller still employs a former Flying Dog brewer to create its 100 percent malted-barley mash. "It's like having Martha Stewart make your cookie doughit's that good," says owner Jess Graber. The caramelly whiskey has a pleasingly bitter, remarkably beerlike finish. stranahans.com.
Where To Drink Now: Whiskey Watering Holes
Village Whiskey: Philadelphia
Star chef Jose Garces's saloon serves Southern-style snacks like deviled eggs and 100-plus whiskeys.
Beaker & Flask: Portland, Oregon
This new cocktail-driven restaurant offers smart whiskey cocktails like the Boston Massacre: dark rum, bourbon and mole bitters.
Rickhouse: San Francisco
A whiskey-focused bar from the team behind Bourbon & Branch.