The 10 Best Distilleries in the USA to Visit – Tours & Tastings
Updated On: September 01, 2023
The alcohol industry has been through ups and downs across America’s history, but it is alive and well today. From traditional recipes to modern twists on classic spirits, distilleries in the USA have much to offer.
If you’re planning on trying some of the most famous American spirits, nowhere is better to try them than at the source. But, with thousands of distilleries in the USA, choosing which ones to visit can be difficult.
To help you create the perfect itinerary, we’ve listed our top 10 distilleries in the USA to visit.
The History of Distilleries in the USA
The first distilleries in the USA began crafting alcoholic beverages as early as 1775. Over the following century, the alcohol industry boomed, and distilleries were popping up everywhere.
This growth of distilleries in the USA suddenly stopped in 1920 when the Eighteenth Amendment was added to the U.S. Constitution and Prohibition began. This change made producing, transporting, and selling alcoholic beverages illegal nationwide. Some states even prohibited the possession of alcohol.
When the amendment was proposed in 1917, the goal of Prohibition was to conserve grain that was being made into alcoholic beverages and put it towards the war effort instead. However, it was not made into law until 1919, after WWI had ended.
Although the benefits of Prohibition have long been debated, everyone agrees that there were negative effects. The ban on alcohol sales reduced the government’s tax revenue during the Great Depression and was very difficult to enforce.
When distilleries in the USA were forced to close during Prohibition, speakeasies opened nearly immediately. In addition, because the consumption of alcohol was not illegal, many people created stockpiles in their homes.
Americans also began creating alcohol at home from grains and grape juice. Homemade alcohol, called moonshine or bathtub gin, was then sold to the speakeasies. These black market sales helped to build and popularise city gangs, such as the Chicago Outfit led by Al Capone.
Prohibition ended in 1933 when the Twenty-First Amendment was passed. Although the production of alcohol at distilleries in the USA became legal, some states decided to extend the ban. In fact, it was illegal in Chattanooga, Tennessee until May 2013.
What is the Kentucky Bourbon Trail?
Kentucky is where 95% of the world’s bourbon comes from. While some spirits are created worldwide, the U.S. Congress declared bourbon an indigenous product, which means that it can only be created in distilleries in the USA.
The Kentucky Bourbon Trail program was launched in 1999 to promote the distillery industry in Kentucky. When the program began, there were 7 distilleries listed on the trail. Today, 42 Kentucky distilleries have joined the program. These include some of the most iconic distilleries in the USA.
10 Amazing Distilleries in the USA
1: Castle & Key Distillery – Frankfort, KY
Colonel Edmund Haynes Taylor, Jr. built the Old Taylor Distillery in 1887. Inspired by European architecture, Taylor added a springhouse, sunken garden, and even a castle to the grounds. It was one of the first distilleries in the USA.
During Prohibition, the distillery was forced to shut its doors, and over the years, the buildings began to crumble. Nearly 100 years later, in 2014, the distillery was purchased, refurbished to its original beauty, and renamed Castle & Key Distillery.
Since the reopening in 2018, visitors can go on a guided tour of Castle & Key Distillery. One available tour features a guide through the distillery to learn about the production process and ends with a tasting.
Another tour option ventures through the castle ruins. The guide gives visitors an insight into the distillery’s history, dating back to its original opening in 1887. This tour concludes with a tasting and charcuterie boards.
The distillery also hosts events on the grounds. The Springhouse Music Series is held on Wednesdays during the summer and features live music and food trucks. In the sunken garden, yoga sessions are held.
Whether you’re interested in the history of the bourbon or the distillery itself, Castle & Key is one of the most beautiful distilleries in the USA to visit.
2: Mount Vernon Distillery – Mount Vernon, VA
Mount Vernon has one of the most unique histories of all the distilleries in the USA. In 1797, George Washington, the first U.S. president, had just retired from the presidency. In his newly found spare time, he opened Mount Vernon. It was the largest distillery in the USA at the time. By 1799, Mount Vernon was producing over 41,000 litres of whiskey per year.
After Washington died in 1799, ownership of the distillery was passed around through his family and to local merchants. 15 years later, a fire broke out and burned a significant portion of the building. Mount Vernon Distillery was never repaired. In 1850, the remnants of the original distillery were torn down.
In 2007, over 150 years later, Mount Vernon Distillery and other buildings on the land were reconstructed faithfully to their original design and opened to the public. Today, guests can visit Mount Vernon, tour the grounds, and watch as whiskey is made the same way Washington made it in the 18th century. It is truly one of the most historic distilleries in the USA.
3: St. Augustine Distillery – St. Augustine, FL
Although St. Augustine Distillery was only established in 2013, its history goes much further. St. Augustine, Florida is America’s oldest continuously occupied city. The distillery is locally owned and dedicated to improving the community.
The distillery building was repurposed from the city’s first ice station, built in 1907. St. Augustine restored the building and became one of the many distilleries in the USA with a dedication to tradition and history.
St. Augustine Distillery creates both spirits and mixers. They are one of the only distilleries in the USA to do so, making them a unique attraction. Visitors at the distillery can explore St. Augustine through 2 different tour types: self-guided or with a tour guide. Both are offered 7 days a week.
The free self-guided tour allows visitors to explore at their own pace. No reservation is needed; perfect for last-minute plans & stopping during a road trip across the state or country. The self-guided tour lets guests learn about the distillery’s history and watch spirits being bottled by hand.
The guided tour at St. Augustine Distillery is perfect for enthusiasts or anyone who wants an in-depth look at one of the best distilleries in the USA. The guide takes guests through the facility and explains the whole process from start to finish.
Both tours end with a tasting, and guests have the opportunity to fill and personalise their own bottle of bourbon. This activity makes St. Augustine one of the best distilleries in the USA to visit for an interactive experience.
4: Woodford Reserve – Versailles, KY
Home to the most popular premium bourbon in the USA, Woodford Reserve Distillery began creating spirits in 1812. It is one of many distilleries in the USA that have been designated as a National Historic Landmark.
Woodford Reserve is proudly one of the most environmental distilleries in the USA. They have set aside 10 acres of land on the property to restore native grasses. They also promote environmentally friendly activities such as recycling and composting.
The distillery has multiple different tours available. Some tours are more beginner-friendly, while others take up to 2 hours. There is even a National Landmark tour available where guests can learn more about the history of Woodford Reserve’s legacy.
5: George Dickel – Tullahoma, TN
What makes Cascade Hollow one of the most unique distilleries in the USA is its commitment to tradition. George Dickel originally spelt whiskey as “whisky”, which remains on their packaging today. Cascade Hollow is also the only major distillery without a single computer.
George Dickel moved to the United States from Germany in 1844. He made a living running a liquor store in Nashville for over 20 years before he would distil his own spirits. George Dickel & Co opened the Cascade Hollow Distillery in 1878.
Cascade Hollow remained one of the most popular distilleries in the USA throughout the 1900s, even after it temporarily closed during Prohibition. However, things changed in the 1990s, when they overproduced the Whisky and created a surplus.
To fix their supply issue, the distillery closed and stopped producing Whisky. When demand increased, they reopened in 2003 and were almost unable to produce enough of the spirit to avoid a shortage. The demand for George Dickel Whisky is still high today.
Today, tours at the distillery are available seven days a week for free. The tours take guests through the distillery and explain the process of creating the iconic George Dickel Whisky. Extended tours are available for an additional cost and include a tasting.
6: Balcones Distilling – Waco, TX
Although most are located in Kentucky, Texas is becoming a hotspot for distilleries in the USA. Balcones opened in 2009 in a renovated welding shop. Since then, the distillery has produced award-winning spirits.
Tours at Balcones Distillery are hosted on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. The tours take visitors through the entire process, starting at the grain silos on site and ending with a tasting. The distillery also hosts master classes, events, and festivals throughout the year.
Balcones is one of the most interesting distilleries in the USA to visit, thanks to their modern take on old traditions.
7: Wild Turkey – Lawrenceburg, KY
Wild Turkey’s story begins in 1869 when the distillery first opened. The whiskey generated great interest throughout the state of Kentucky and quickly began to grow nationally. In fact, Wild Turkey represented Kentucky at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, Illinois.
Soon after, Wild Turkey became one of the most popular distilleries in the USA. It is known for having bird-themed nicknames for its spirits. These nicknames include the Kicking Chicken and the Screaming Eagle.
In 1954, Jimmy Russel joined Wild Turkey and became a Master Distiller. Jimmy has kept that title for over 65 years and is the longest-tenured, active Master Distiller in the world. His reputation helped to make Wild Turkey one of the most prestigious distilleries in the USA. In 2000, Jimmy Russel was inducted into the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame.
Along with tours of the distillery, Wild Turkey also has a beautiful visitor centre. It features a museum, a gift shop, and tasting rooms for guests to enjoy.
8: Jim Beam – Clermont, KY
Jim Beam is one of the oldest bourbon distilleries in the USA and worldwide. Since its beginning in 1795, Jim Beam has become one of the best-selling bourbon brands in the world. The distillery is named after James Beam, who helped to rebuild the business after Prohibition.
Eight generations of the Beam family have been involved in bourbon production, and that tradition continues today. The Jim Beam company is one of the only distilleries in the USA where the original family is still involved.
Tours at the distillery typically take just over an hour to complete. They take guests through the history of the bourbon-making process and the Beam family traditions. Tasting is available after the tour, and a restaurant is also located on-site.
Touring Jim Beam is a great way to learn about one of the oldest-standing distilleries in the USA.
9: Koval – Chicago, IL
Koval Distillery was established in 2008 and focuses on bringing a modern feel to the old tradition of spirits. The distillery is the first to open in Chicago, Illinois since Prohibition ended.
Koval produces a range of spirits, including whiskeys, vodkas, and brandies. The award-winning spirits at Koval are all certified organic and kosher, making it one of the few distilleries in the USA with these certifications.
The distillery offers 1-hour tours with generous tastings seven days a week. Also available at Koval are events such as book swaps, cocktail classes, and whiskey workshops. Koval is one of the best distilleries in the USA to visit for a new spin on a centuries-old product.
10: Jack Daniels – Lynchburg, TN
No list of distilleries in the USA would be complete without Jack Daniels. Located in Lynchburg, Tennessee, the distillery opened its doors in 1875. It is the oldest registered distillery in the USA.
The distillery hosts multiple tours 7 days a week. The Flight of Jack Daniels tour lasts 90 minutes and features a visit to the historic Barrelhouse 1 – 14. Other tours provide more history on the most famous distillery in the USA or a 2-course meal with a flight of whiskey.
Jack Daniels is a household name in the whiskey industry, and a trip to their distillery is sure to please. For any whiskey fan, Jack Daniels is the most iconic distillery to visit in the USA.
There are many Amazing Distilleries in the USA.
Rooted in history and tradition, each of the distilleries in the USA has its own story to tell, sights to see, and spirits to try. With brands dating back centuries to new names in the industry, there are hundreds of distilleries in the USA to visit.
Whether you visit one of these distilleries in the USA or make a bucket list to see them all, it is a great experience for anyone who enjoys spirits.
If you’re planning to visit America, check out these USA Travel Statistics before you go. And of course if interested in a behind the scenes of a distillery – check out this video: