Whiskey and road-tripping are both quintessential pieces of the American experience. Winding along country roads to visit a distillery or rickhouse, tucked away in hidden valley or seaside village, is a great way to spend a breezy autumn day. And with whiskey and craft distilling exploding around the entire country, a trip like that is well within reach — regardless of which corner of the United States you live in.
Our advice is a take a look at who’s distilling in your neighborhood and start there. Visit, talk to the team, sample a few drams, and practice your tasting skills. Then get ready to take your thirst further afield. Maybe a weekend trip? Or fly to Kentucky and do a whole distillery-themed vacation.
Whichever way you plan it, if you visit one of the distilleries below, you’re sure to sip some superb drams.
OOLA DISTILLERY — SEATTLE, WA
The OOLA Distillery in Seattle is an easy drop-in if you’re already in the Emerald City. The stills are right in Capitol Hill near downtown. There are restaurants, music venues, and bars within a few minutes walk of the distillery tasting room. In fact, Canon Whiskey and Bitters Emporium is only a five-minute walk away. Their claim to fame is a selection of over 3,500 bottles of booze, which is the largest in any bar in the western hemisphere.
The hip tasting room at OOLA is the perfect place to post up and sample some of Seattle’s best local booze. Their gin and vodka are on-point and worth a deep dive. But, it’s whiskey that we’re after.
Waitsburg Bourbon Whiskey Cask Strength is a dram to savor. Their Cask Strength four-grain bourbon is bottled, uncut and unfiltered, directly from the barrel. The pure spirit starts with a rush of burnt sugars and warming spices. Notes of toffee, ripe cherry, fresh tobacco, vanilla, and a whisper of smoke draw you into the sip. A silky spiciness nature finishes this one off on a high note.
NELSON’S GREEN BRIER DISTILLERY — NASHVILLE, TN
Tennessee whiskey is having a renaissance thanks in no small part to the Nelson brothers reopening their old family stills. Nelson’s Green Brier in Nashville is the perfect place to spend a day talking and drinking whiskey. They also bottle Belle Meade Bourbon. This will give you a chance to compare Tennessee whiskey and bourbon side-by-side.
Nelson’s First 108 Tennessee Whiskey is a small-batch masterpiece of the style. There were only 108 of these barrels produced and they’re only available at the distillery.
This a complex sip that opens with candied apples, anis-forward spice, cedar bark, and wet brown sugar. That leads into notes of butterscotch, toffee, nutmeg, and cinnamon before closing with a slightly bitter cocoa note alongside a rush of coconut, cinnamon, and cherries.
HEAVEN HILL DISTILLERY — BARDSTOWN, KY
No road-trip around America in search of whiskey would be complete without a stop in Kentucky along the Bourbon Trail. There’s a lot to see (and drink!) in Kentucky. For our money, one essential stop is Heaven Hill Distilling and their Bourbon Heritage Center. The tour and tasting are all about assuring you leave knowing a little more about bourbon than when you arrived.
This spot is history and experience all rolled into one.
Elijah Craig 18-Year-Old Single Barrel is the play when you’re at Heaven Hill. The single barrel whiskey is a worthy bottle to seek out for very special occasions.
The sip opens with a rich oakiness spiked by vanilla, fresh mint, and hints of dark chocolate. There’s a mild fatty nutty nature followed by oak char, fresh honey, and a brief moment of leather. Lastly, peppery spice comes in to warm the finish with an ever-so-slight bitter note.
BALCONES DISTILLERY — WACO, TX
Texas is slowly becoming one of the most interesting whiskey destinations in the country. The vast state has a lot of agriculture, which is crucial to supporting local distilling. Balcones Distillery in Waco is a prime example of a distillery focusing in on local ingredients — like Texas-grown blue corn.
This operation takes pride in field-to-glass excellence and it shows in their unique line of whiskey and rum expressions.
True Blue 100 Corn Whisky is one of the best examples of Balcone’s ability to up-end the whiskey game in America. The blue corn fueled spirit opens with dried fruits, cocoa bitterness, cinnamon and chili heat, and a note of grainy sugars. Roasted corn comes in next with hints of leather, charred oak, black tea, and roasted coffee beans. Finally, the sip finishes with a flourish of ripe red berries, salty chocolate, and a warming oak spiciness.
VIRGINIA DISTILLERY COMPANY — LOVINGSTON, VA
Virginia Distilling Co. is doing some of the most interesting marriages of American whiskey and Scotch whisky in the freaking world. The master distillers and blenders cut some of their local whiskey with barrels of expertly aged scotch to create a wholly unique expression of whiskey that shines. Their tasting room is a great place to spend a little time getting to know scotch and American single malt in one place.
Prelude: Courage & Conviction is a new expression from Virginia Distilling. The bottle is an American single malt that blends whiskey aged for three to three-and-half years in bourbon, sherry, and cuvée casks.
The sip starts with rich caramel and butterscotch. Ripe red berries with a tartness come in next alongside a buttery toffee, figs, and a baking spice matrix. The barrel is there but in the background with a note of toasted oak. The finish has an echo of bourbon vanilla and vinous fruit.
KO’OLAU DISTILLERY — KANEOHE, HI
Near the western shores of O’ahu, you’ll find a little craft distillery making some absolute magic happen with their whiskey expressions. Ko’olau Distillery is all about the wonderful resources Hawai’i has to offer. Their whiskey is a combination of locally-sourced corn and water from the volcanic wells of the island. This is a whiskey that speaks to a purely local experience.
Plus, it’s in Hawai’i. You know, paradise? We’ll meet you there.
Old Pali Road Whiskey is a blend of Kentucky bourbon and Ko’olau’s own corn whiskey made with that dope local Hawaiian water. The bottle is fairly new and small batch, so finding it outside of O’ahu is going to be tough, hence you’ll need to hit up Hawai’i for this one.
The taste opens with a rich corn sweetness that leans towards caramel and minerality. Bourbon notes echo through the sip with oakiness and vanilla in the background. There’s slight bitter note that leads towards a spicy finish with a very warm conclusion.
WHISKEY ACRES DISTILLING COMPANY — DEKALB, IL
Whiskey Acres Distilling Company prides itself of being a “seed to glass” operation. Fifth-generation farmers grow the corn and grains for the whiskey that they then distill and barrel. The level of craftsmanship is second-to-none and allows the whiskey produced to shine.
Their Artisan Series is something special. There are barrels of bourbon made with green Oaxacan heirloom corn. Other barrels of bourbon were made with blue popcorn. That’s exciting. The Artisan series is very limited runs of a few barrels. That means you’re going to need to ask when you get there to know what’s ready … or not. And, if you’re lucky, you’ll get to walk away with a bottle of whiskey you cannot get anywhere else on the planet.
TEMPLETON RYE — TEMPLETON, IA
Iowa’s Templeton Rye is a touchstone rye whiskey. The expertly aged whiskey has helped define the style and helped rye come back into prominence amongst whiskey lovers everywhere. The tastings the distillery hosts are a great way to get to know the town of Templeton as well.
This is small-town farm country where it seems like everyone knows everyone and Templeton feels like it’s at the center of that community.
Templeton Rye Barrel Strength is a seasonal release from casks of rye whiskey that are just right. The bottling is a high-proof masterpiece in rye whiskey. Since it’s a straight-from-the-barrel affair, the nuances of the taste and feel of this bottling will ebb and flow over the years.
The 2019 release is a great place to start any rye journey. The sip opens with fresh pears, sharp ginger, and fatty almonds. Sweet wildflowers roll into play with clear notes of oaky char and dark, ripe fruits with a tinge of tartness. The rye spiciness rushes in and takes this sip to a warming conclusion.