Whether you’re a seasoned swiller or still learning a malt from a rye, this list has you covered.
Wine and beer may get more attention, but distilled spirits have a solid place in American culture and history. With how the industry has grown over the last decade, they’re set to be back in the limelight. We’re not knocking the classic vineyard tour or evening at a brewery, but if you’re looking for a tasting with an extra kick, try visiting a distillery.
There are over 2,000 distilleries across the country, and craft versions are popping up rapidly with both traditional recipes and modern takes on old favorites. In southern Oregon, Immortal Spirits Distillery ages their whiskeys using charcoal oaked casks made locally, but they’ve also got a selection of specialty products on offer, including a limoncello and an Italian-style walnut liqueur. On the opposite coast, at Maryland’s Sagamore, visitors can try Maryland-style rye whiskey. They’ll also learn that, in the early 1800s, local farmers used rye to keep their soil from eroding, before realizing they could also re-purpose the crop after harvest for a more fun use.
Those farmers in the 1800s were far from the first to figure out the benefits of turning crops into a drink. When Europeans arrived they didn’t waste much time distilling their own spirits. Liquor has also caused a good deal of commotion over the course of our history. Shortly after the American Revolution, it was common for farmers to distill grain into whiskey, because it was easier transport the liquid than the grains. When Alexander Hamilton decided to flex his muscles and impose a liquor tax in 1791, people were none too happy about it — to the point where they tarred and feathered the collectors, and even lit one tax inspector’s house on fire.
Fast forward to 1920, and the temperance movement led the government to kickstart another not-so-popular strategy, outlawing alcohol altogether. Though prohibition lasted until 1933, it didn’t mean Americans spent that long sober. Liquor distillation, distribution and drinking went underground, leading to moonshine and bootlegging. In order to get their hands on alcohol, people turned to fake prescriptions for alcohol intended as medicine and, of course, the ever-popular speakeasy.
Luckily, you no longer need a fake prescription or to know which bookshelf swings open to reveal a hidden bar (although, that’s fun, too). Whether you’re in search of rum, whiskey, vodka or something much more obscure, Yelp has determined the best distilleries in the U.S. by using an algorithm that looks at the number of reviews and star rating for a business. Not more than two distilleries per state were included to provide geographic diversity, according to Yelp.
Spend an afternoon touring to see how the spirits are made, and then finish off with a tasting. And prepare yourself: To properly taste-test, you’ll skip the mixers and ice and sip each liquor served neat.