Weekend Trips for the Bourbon Lover
Plan your dream bourbon trip with these must-do bourbon tours, festivals and classes.
Kentucky Bourbon TrailCentral Kentucky is the birthplace of bourbon and it continues to be the largest producer in the world. Local distillers formed the bourbon trail in 1999, and its recommended itinerary includes ten distillers. It starts in Louisville at Bulleit and Evan Williams, popular names among bourbons fans, and continues to powerhouses Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark the next day. While in Bardstown, dubbed the “Bourbon Capital of the World,” pop into the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History to view a rare collection that dates back to pre-Colonial times. The tour concludes on the third day in Lexington, after squeezing in the illustrious Four Roses and Wild Turkey.
However, there are plenty of other acclaimed distillers in the region. Step off the official trail to visit beloved brands such as Eagle Rare, Buffalo Trace (for cult-favorite Pappy Van Winkle) and Willet. Or take a break from driving: My Old Kentucky Dinner Train rolls through bourbon country and offers bourbon-themed rides. 960 1280
Kentucky Bourbon FestivalWhat started as a bourbon tasting and dinner in 1992 has ballooned into a six-day bourbon festival to end all festivals, and is a bucket list must for water-of-life imbibers. Last year’s event attracted more than 50,000 people from the world over. It all goes down in Bardstown, where bourbon’s been made since 1776, and continues to produce the majority of the world’s consumption.
Maker’s Mark, Four Roses, Blanton’s and more will be in attendance, but the festival is more than just bourbon sampling. You can learn what goes into making a barrel, listen to live music, tour local distilleries and peruse craft vendors. For an additional fee, the black tie Tasting & Gala includes dinner and dancing along with the opportunity to hold court with master distillers while quaffing samples from eight local producers. 960 1280
Seattle, WashingtonKentucky isn’t the only place that makes bourbon, nor does it have to be produced there to call it such. Woodinville Whiskey Co. is a short drive outside Seattle, and definitely worth a side trip to tour the distillery and learn all about its 90 proof straight bourbon whiskey that took more than five years to make. Back in the city, Oola Distillery is a small-batch producer in the Capital Hill neighborhood, and offers tours every Saturday. Its Waitsburg Bourbon Whiskey has won awards and accolades.
2bar Bourbon from 2bar Spirits is made from locally sourced grains, and the distillery is open for tours Thursday-Saturday (be aware that Saturdays book up in advance). Upscale Tavern Law is the place to imbibe bourbon cocktails, or make a reservation at its (not-so-secret) speakeasy, Needle & Thread. Cocktail bar Canon Whiskey and Bitters Emporium claims to have the largest collection of spirits in the Western Hemisphere, and with more than 3,500 options, that number’s hard to dispute. 960 1280
WhiskyFestNow in its 18th year, WhiskyFest is the longest-running whiskey festival in the states. Events are held year-round across the country, and this year’s lineup includes Washington, D.C., Chicago, San Francisco and New York. Expect to find more than 350 international whiskies, including bourbon. There are also opportunities to participate in seminars and meet whiskey experts, from distillers to master blenders. 960 1280
Portland, OregonPortland isn’t just the leader on the craft beer landscape; a distillery boom is underway as well. In fact, there are so many that there’s even a Distillery Row, which includes Eastside Distilling, whose small-batch bourbon has won awards. Others, like House Spirits Distillery, offer bourbon-tasting classes, while New Deal Distillery holds whiskey-making classes that tend to sell out. Bull Run Distilling Company has a devoted tasting room and several Straight Bourbon Whiskey options.
Bourbon is readily available at bars around town, and The Pope House Bourbon Lounge offers a wide selection, in addition to private bourbon-tasting classes. However, the hands-down winner is destination-worthy Multnomah Whiskey Library for bourbon nirvana. It’s not easy getting in, but once there, sink back into a leather couch, marvel at more than 1,000 whiskey bottles lining exposed-brick walls, and sip away. 960 1280
Hudson Valley, New YorkBefore Prohibition, the picturesque Hudson Valley was home to at least 1,000 distilleries. Tuthilltown Spirits was at the forefront of the area’s resurgence when it opened in 2005. It produces small-batch Hudson Four Grain Bourbon and Hudson Baby Bourbon, and in addition to tours and tastings, it also serves farm fresh fare at its restaurant, located in a historic grist mill. Orange County Distillery uses local grains to make quality bourbons in small batches. Both of its locations offer tastings, but only the aforementioned distillery has a production facility.
At Black Dirt Distillery, the corn used in its namesake bourbon is grown in said black dirt, which is an ancient fertile soil found in the Hudson Valley. To try it, head to the tasting room at Warwick Valley Winery & Distillery, which is where the bourbon originated. Hillrock Estate Distillery offers a different twist with “solera”-aged bourbon, a technique that periodically removes small quantities of whiskey and replaces it with new whiskey, helping to create a more complex flavor. Make a tour appointment to learn more, and then visit its rustic tasting room. 960 1280
Beer, Bourbon & BBQ FestivalThis annual festival is traveling to 10 cities in 2016, including Atlanta and Tampa. Besides the requisite beer and barbeque, taste more than 40 bourbons and attend educational seminars. Bourbon exhibitors include Elijah Craig, Yellow Rose and Blanton’s. 960 1280
New Orleans, LouisianaIt’s rumored that bourbon got its name from famed Bourbon Street in the 19th century, since New Orleans served as a key shipping port. Either way, bourbon still has a strong presence in the city. Dickie Brennan's Bourbon House is first and foremost a seafood restaurant, but it also boasts the largest bourbon selection in town (as well as Frozen Bourbon Milk Punch). The Avenue Pub also has a good selection, from wheated to experimental bourbons, and is also home to the New Orleans Bourbon Society. Chef Emeril Lagasse is behind the annual Boudin, Bourbon & Beer, a food and drink extravaganza that features notable chefs, live music, and of course, bourbon. Last year’s event included a signature bourbon cocktail from Buffalo Trace. 960 1280
New York CityIn the 1800s Brooklyn was once home to at least 20 illicit distilleries, which prompted ongoing raids known as the Whiskey Wars until none were left. Kings County Distillery was the first to return when it opened in the Brooklyn Navy Yard in 2010. It makes its award-winning bourbon (along with moonshine and chocolate whiskey) from organic corn, and also holds whiskey-tasting classes. Tours and tastings are available every Saturday, and there’s no need to book ahead.
Widow Jane Distillery is also based in Brooklyn, and produces a number of organic “farm-to-bottle” bourbons, including heirloom varieties made from ancient grains. It’s not open to the public, but you can find it at whiskey bar and restaurant Maysville, which boasts more than 150 American whiskeys. The Flatiron Room is considered a destination for whiskey connoisseurs, and its menu features about 100 bourbons. The Flatiron Room also offers a Whiskey School with classes for all levels, from Whiskey 101 to Pappy Van Winkle, an educational class and tasting devoted to the cult favorite. 960 1280
Chicago, IllinoisNot only does KOVAL Distillery focus on making organic spirits, but it’s also the city’s first distillery since the 1800s. Its Single Barrel Bourbon Whiskey is unconventional since it employs millet as a supplemental grain instead of the more commonly used rye or wheat. In addition to tours and tastings, it also offers whiskey workshops for furthering your knowledge. FEW Spirits is just north of Chicago in Evanston (ironically, the headquarters of the Temperance Movement, which formed to “temper” alcohol consumption before Prohibition). This small-batch distillery creates an award-winning bourbon whiskey and holds tours.
If you can’t make it there, FEW is served at Fountainhead Chicago, along with other craft and locally made bourbons, such as New Holland Brewing and Journeyman Distillery from Michigan. Fountainhead is also notable for its rare single cask selections. Other places to sip bourbon include The Berkshire Room, an upscale lounge with an extensive bourbon list, from Van Winkle to I.W. Harper, and Untitled Supper Club, a speakeasy burlesque that houses an entire Whiskey Library containing more than 400 American brands. 960 1280
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St. George Spirits; Alameda, CaliforniaSt. George is stretching the boundaries of traditional styles of gin, very successfully. More than 30 years ago, 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. He began making eau de vie (a clear, colorless fruit brandy) from pears, raspberries, cherries, and even kiwi fruit before there was a craft distillation movement in the U.S. to speak of. A lot of early gin distillers here kept to a London Dry style, which is very juniper-forward, but as the editor of Bevvy.co notes, now distillers are creating modern gins that are a lot more diverse. “Citrus peel is one of the botanicals that has come to the forefront, and local herbs and spices are becoming popular with people who want to make gin with a bit of hometown pride. St. George Terroir Gin is a great example of that, it tastes like the California coast.” 960 1280
Koval Distillery; Chicago, IllinoisThe first distillery in Chicago since well before Prohibition, Koval was founded by a dynamic husband and wife duo who are changing the way America distills. Dr. Robert Birnecker and Dr. Sonat Birnecker-Hart have won countless awards for their dry gins, 100% Midwestern grown organic rye whiskey, millet-based bourbon, and more. The power couple also prioritizes education, hosting a selection of cocktail classes and whiskey workshops at their North Ravenswood Ave location. Talent seems to run in the family—their distinctive laser-cut labels have also received a lot of attention, designed by Sonat’s sister and her firm Dando Projects. 960 1280
Seven Stills; San Francisco, CaliforniaTim and Clint of Seven Stills Distillery started out by coming at everything backwards—no one was pushing whiskey from the beer angle, but a huge craft beer segment in the San Francisco Bay Area along with their extensive beer knowledge provided a nice segue into making whiskey from extremely high-quality craft brew. Now their robust road map of spirits includes “a still for every hill” in San Francisco using a different artist to design each bottle (Chocasmoke is made from a chocolate-oatmeal stout in honor of Twin Peaks, and Fluxuate is distilled from a coffee porter to celebrate a rapidly-changing, post-Gold Rush Rincon Hill), to add to their collection of small-batch, seasonal bitters like Meyer lemon, prickly pear, and cranberry. 960 1280
Clear Creek; Portland, OregonFor the past three decades, Clear Creek Distillery has been honoring the intimate marriage between farming and distilling, utilizing the world-class fruit from the farms around their Portland, Oregon home base. Well known for its eau de vie (a clear, colorless fruit brandy), Clear Creek’s diverse portfolio of more than 25 products rivals the best of their European counterparts, and is anchored by the flagship Williams Pear Brandy, which has been named one of the top spirits in the world. 960 1280
House Spirits Distillery; Portland, OregonBeloved and very well respected in the industry, House Spirits Distillery is making whiskeys that have been listed among the best in their categories. Their Westward Oregon Straight Malt Whiskey matures in new American oak barrels for at least two years, allowing Oregon’s dry, hot summers and wet, cold winters to contribute to its rich, smooth flavor. Accompanied by Aviation American Gin, Krogstad Aquavit, and Volstead Vodka, almost everything in their line of spirits is ideal for mixing a cocktail. Their new distillery and tasting room on Portland’s famous distillery row opened to the public in November 2015, and hosts regular classes on making whiskey, cocktails, and bitters. 960 1280
Kings County Distillery; Brooklyn, New YorkThe founders of Kings County Distillery quite literally wrote the book on making whiskey a thome. Their Guide to Urban Moonshining is a look at America’s indigenous spirt, from the whiskey made by the early colonists and sprawling distilleries of Kentucky to the adventurous, modern-day craft distillers across almost every state. This is all quite fitting, as they run NewYork City’s oldest operating whiskey distillery, the first since Prohibition, located in the iconic Brooklyn Navy Yard and just steps from the legendary site of the Brooklyn Whiskey Wars of the 1860s. Their moonshine, bourbon, peated bourbon, and barrel strength bourbon have all won numerous awards, along with their recent accolade of being named Distillery of the Year in 2016 from the American Distilling Institute. 960 1280
Corsair Distillery; Nashville, TennesseeCorsair founders Darek and Andrew are Nashville natives who have been collaborating since high school. They began by home brewing beer and wine in Darek’s garage, but soon decided that whiskey would be “much more satisfying.” Their adventurous, innovative, and big-flavored craft whiskeys—including a quinoa whiskey, a handful of rye whiskeys, some malt whiskeys, and more—consistently receive high marks among respectable critics, along with countless international spirit awards. Ones to try: Triple Smoke Malt Whiskey and Wry Moon Unaged Rye Whiskey. 960 1280
Few Spirits; Evanston, Illinois
Named after suffragette and temperance advocate Frances Elizabeth Willard (FEW), Few Spirits is a true grass-to-grain distillery, sourcing all of their grain (corn, wheat, rye, and barley) from no more than 150 miles away. It is also the first (legal) alcohol-production facility of any kind in Evanston, a city that banned alcohol sales for four decades beyond the end of Prohibition. Their bottles show up everywhere among the craft spirit community, and their rye whiskey has received acclaim as Whisky Advocate’s 2013 Craft Whiskey of the Year, as a gold medal winner in the 2014 World Whisky Awards, and was rated one of the top five whiskies in the world by the Beverage Tasting Institute.
Death's Door Spirits; Middleton, WisconsinWhat was once a robust potato farming region, Washington Island, Wisconsin fell prey to vertical integration in the potato industry in the early 1970s. More than 30 years later, two brothers started growing wheat on the island and soon Death’s Door Spirits was born, focusing from the beginning on how to support local and sustainable agriculture on the island. Death’s Door pioneered white whisky, which became very popular as a cocktail ingredient, featuring an 80:20 ratio of Washington Island Wheat to malted barley from Chilton, Wisconsin. Other Death’s Door family members include a London Dry style gin, a double-distilled vodka, and Wondermint Schnapps Liqueur—the first and only artisan craft peppermint schnapps in the world. 960 1280
Montanya Distillers; Crested Butte, ColoradoMontanya Distillers are best known as purveyors of high-altitude craft rum, distilled in the breathtaking Rocky Mountains. Not surprisingly, their ingredients list reads as an ode to America’s inspiring outdoor beauty: Non-GMO sugar cane from family farmers in Louisiana who grow and mill for them; water from one of the purest spring and snowmelt charged aquifers in the USA; and they even heat their building from the alembic copper pot stills. Award-winning Montanya Platino and Oro rums are joined by a limited-release Exclusiva rum that is aged for 30 months in American white oak barrels and then finished in French oak barrels that previously held Sutcliffe Vineyards’ Port. 960 1280
Portland, OregonOregon is a major player in the nation’s craft beer scene, with almost 200 breweries across the state. There are at least 60 in Portland alone, earning its “beervana” nickname and (unofficial) title as beer capital of the world. Widmer Brothers Brewing was among the first on the scene in 1984. Award-winning Deschutes Brewery, based in Bend (another craft brew hotspot and with its own ale trail) operates a brewpub in downtown Portland, while Hair of the Dog Brewing Co. is heralded for its unusual beers. With 99 craft beers on tap, beer hall Loyal Legion is a great way to sample local offerings, including newer brewers Burnside Brewing and The Commons Brewery.
Or join an organized beer tour: BeerQuest PDX offers walking tours, Brewvana provides small bus tours, and Pedal Bike Tours combines the best of biking and tasting. For festival buffs, the Oregon Brewers Festival, now in its 29th year, attracts 80,000 beer aficionados to one of the longest-running craft beer fests in the country. 960 1280
Asheville, North Carolina
Although there are more than 100 breweries and brewpubs across the state, Asheville is the epicenter with the most breweries per capita, earning it the title of “Beer City, USA” four times in a row. As such, beercation options abound. You can start by following the Asheville Ale Trail, which provides options by car, bike or on foot. Wicked Weed Brewing is a favorite for its hoppy ales and barrel-aged sour beers. Visit its Funkatorium location, a barrel house and tasting room all in one.
Download the Dig Local app for the city’s latest beer happenings, or let an organized tour, whether the original Brews Cruise or small group Asheville Brewery Tours, do the work for you. Depending on the time of year, try to include the long-running Brewgrass Festival for live music alongside favorite local brewers, or the Winter Warmer Beer Fest to partake in some of the best breweries from around the state.960 1280
Milwaukee, WisconsinMilwaukee was once considered the beer capital of the world, but few of the old guard, such as MillerCoors, remain. Though the city may have lost certain bragging rights, a strong craft beer scene has emerged. The new guard includes Sprecher Brewery, the city’s first craft brewery, Lakefront Brewery, a microbrewery that pioneered organic and gluten-free options, and Brenner Brewing Co., a newer brewer heavily involved in the arts and music scene. Even better, each one offers tours.
Take your pick of festivals: the Wisconsin Craft Beer Festival, held at the Harley-Davidson Museum, is a weekend–long event with classes and tasting sessions with the top nationwide craft beers. Admission to the Milwaukee Brewfest includes unlimited sampling of more than 100 craft and major name beers, while Where the Wild Beers Are focuses on wild and sour ales, generally defined as tart-tasting beers brewed with “wild” yeast. 960 1280
Denver, ColoradoAs one of the top U.S. producers with more than 200 breweries crafting the whole gamut, this beer-soaked state is awash in suds. Choose between the Denver Beer Triangle, a trifecta stretching between Denver, Boulder and Fort Collins and home to at least 60 brewers, or follow the Denver Beer Trail, with a more manageable 20 breweries. Highlights along the latter trail include award-winning Great Divide Brewing Company, beloved for favorites like Yeti Imperial Stout, and must-stop Breckenridge Brewery, which was among the state’s first craft breweries when it opened in 1990.
Crooked Stave is newer to the scene, but has already won awards for its sour Wild Wild Brett Rouge. Denver’s also home to the Great American Beer Festival, a Guinness World Records’ holder for the world’s largest beer festival. That record is hard to dispute since this year’s fest will feature more than 700 breweries offering 3,500 varieties of beer. 960 1280
San Diego, CaliforniaCalifornia and wine are synonymous, but the state is also a brewery heavyweight with about 500 statewide. San Diego alone is packed with more than 70 breweries; and standouts encompass Stone Brewing Co.: its beautiful Escondido location offers 45-minute tours followed by a tasting at its outdoor beer garden. You can sample draft beers from Stone’s own line, along with some of the city’s other top brewers. Green Flash Brewing Company is notable for its West Coast IPA and 4,000-square-foot tasting room and beer garden. Stop by one of Ballast Point Brewing Company’s five tasting room locations for its award-winning Grapefruit Sculpin IPA.
Avoid drinking and driving by joining Brewery Tours of San Diego for either public or private tours of the city’s top breweries, or designate a driver and navigate this self-guided tour. If you fancy a festival, the San Diego International Beer Festival is the largest one of its kind on the West Coast, with more than 400 international beers from around the world, including some of California’s most highly regarded breweries. If you can’t commit, the San Diego Brewers Guild holds year-round events revolving around craft beer. 960 1280
Chicago, IllinoisChicago’s suds scene is quickly catching up to more established hubs, thanks to at least 50 breweries within city limits, and more than 100 in greater Chicagoland. Goose Island Beer Company has become synonymous with the city’s craft beer movement, and it’s still producing the coveted line of Bourbon County Barrel Stouts even though it was acquired by Anheuser Busch in 2011. Although it’s only been around since 2010, award-winning Revolution Brewing has already become a fixture; try the popular Anti-Hero IPA.
Half Acre Beer Company, known for its rough micro beers, is another one of Chicago’s beloved craft makers. Moody Tongue Brewing Company, which calls itself a culinary brewery, represents the newer creative class (e.g. Shaved Black Truffle Pilsner). Many individual brewers also offer tours. For something different, beer snobs can geek out at the Festival of Barrel-Aged Beers, where more than 90 breweries will be serving 300 barrel-aged beers. Chicago Craft Beer Week is another great introduction to the best in local beer. 960 1280
Seattle, WashingtonWe’d be remiss to leave Washington off the list, as it’s currently the leader in hops production, stouts and IPAs. There are more than 300 breweries dotted across the state, and at least 20 call Seattle home. Founded in 1989, The Pike Brewing Company is an early pioneer, and offers tours of its 30-barrel brewery. Newcomer Holy Mountain Brewing Company has already developed a cult following for its seasonal and limited-edition lagers, while Fremont Brewing is popular for its beer garden and award-winning beers, from barrel-aged to pale ale.
Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood in particular has experienced a brewery boom: nano-brewery Populuxe Brewing might have a limited selection, but if possible, order its award-winning Cinderblock CDA. For tours, Road Dogs provides a good overview of the city’s craft scene. Time permitting, detour to the Yakima Valley for the annual Fresh Hop Ale Festival. 960 1280
Portland, MainePortland, Oregon might be considered the beer capital of the world, but with 17 microbreweries for less than 100,000 people, Portland, Maine ranks as one of the highest per capita. Allagash Brewing Company, nationally known for its Belgian-style beers, helped launch the city’s craft scene in 1995. Of those that followed, Peak Organic Brewery is known for its hoppy organic beers, while Bissell Brothers Brewing Company has also garnered acclaim for its hop-forward ales. To navigate, Maine Beer Tours offers numerous tours of the city’s breweries. Now in its 23rd year, the Maine Brewers Festival is a celebration of all things craft beer. 960 1280
Brooklyn, New York
Believe it or not, Brooklyn was once one of the country’s top beer producers at the turn of the 20th century. As with the rest of the country, Prohibition was one of the major factors behind the industry’s decline. Brooklyn Brewery heralded the industry’s resurgence when it opened in 1996, and today its beers, including the popular Brooklyn Lager, can be found nationwide and abroad. Venture to hipster-haven Williamsburg for a free tour and tasting.
Other breweries that you can visit include Threes Brewing, which consists of an on-site brewery and a full bar with 20 taps. Recent newcomer Other Half specializes in IPAs and gives appointment-only tours. Tørst has become a destination for craft beer imbibers; across the river in Manhattan, Blind Tiger Ale House, one of the city’s best craft beer bars, serves a curated tap selection that includes renowned Brewery Ommegang from upstate New York.
For guidance, Urban Oyster offers craft beer walking tours and craft beer crawls. True beer lovers shouldn’t miss the annual NYC Beer Week, a 10-day event celebrating local beer with everything from trivia nights to secret events.960 1280
Grand Rapids, MichiganGrand Rapids’ craft beer industry may still be in its infancy, but beer experts are keeping a close eye on the city that gave birth to internationally acclaimed microbrewer Founders Brewing Company, and is home to more than 40 breweries. Of these, Brewery Vivant is a sustainable producer of Belgian-style beers operating out of a former funeral home. The Mitten Brewing Company resides in a Victorian-era firehouse and adds a twist on classics—for example, Label Up is a brown ale made with toasted pecans and maple syrup.
Harmony Brewing Company represents the up-and-comers, and now has two locations serving IPAs, stouts and lagers. For more, consult the Beer City Ale Trail for a self-guided tour, or hand the reins over to Grand Rapids Beer Tours. Either way, factor in visiting HopCat, regarded as one of the best brewpubs in the county for its extensive collection of local craft beers (and equally beloved for its beer-battered "Crack fries"). For even more options, the annual Winter Beer Festival features more than 100 Michigan breweries pouring about 1,000 different craft beers. 960 1280