Take your group on a tasting at one of these great destinations known for their distilleries.
The home of Jim Beam, Heaven Hill and Maker’s Mark sits at the beginning of Kentucky’s bourbon trail for good reason: It’s known as the Bourbon Capital of the World. With top names in bourbon from industry giants to prized independent brands like Barton 1792 and Willett, it can be hard to know where to start, so Dawn Przystal, tourism director for Bardstown-Nelson County Tourism, recommends beginning with the Heaven Hill Bourbon Distillery’s Bourbon Heritage Center.
“It offers a really great educational tasting for tours because the distillery is not on-site, so they set themselves apart by focusing more on the tasting,” she said. “Willett is small, so you get an intimate tour at a craft distillery, while Barton 1792, which is kind of midsized, has a visitor experience like you are at a working distillery. Some places are all about the visitor center.”
Historic downtown Bardstown, which has been designated a Registered Historic District due to the excellent preservation of buildings dating back to before the Civil War, including many from when the town was founded in the late 1700s, draws nearly 50,000 visitors each September for its annual Kentucky Bourbon Festival.
Though Bardstown’s whiskey distilleries shut down during the prohibition, many have roots that reach back much further; Maker’s Mark, for example, was originally built in 1805 and has been designated a National Historic Landmark.
If you were to play a quick association game with the state of Texas and a type of liquor, what would you choose? Tequila? Moonshine? Perhaps wine? Even though it’s not widely known, Texas — and Austin in particular — is home to some of the top craft vodka distilleries.
Named for Deep Eddy Pool, Austin’s scenic spring and natural swimming pool, Deep Eddy Vodka blends Texas springwater with pure cane sugar and natural flavors to create flavored vodkas like sweet tea vodka, created in collaboration with the Sweet Leaf Tea iced tea company, or ruby red vodka made with real grapefruit juice. Its tasting room is open by appointment. Further out in hill country, Dripping Springs Vodka also makes use of the mineral-rich local springwater for its vodka, which has received a purity award for the taste, which results from Dripping Springs’ process of distilling more than 20 times. Groups can do tours with tastings on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
About an hour outside Austin, the Garrison Brothers Distillery has made a name for itself with a liquor you’d usually associate with Kentucky: bourbon. After becoming the first whiskey distillery in Texas in 2005, it’s gone on to win the top American micro whiskey of the year award for its Cowboy Bourbon. Garrison Brothers’ hands-on tour even includes a taste of white dog, the high-proof white liquor that comes directly from the still before the aging process gives the whiskey its color.
For centuries, rum drove commerce in the Caribbean, and Puerto Rico was no exception. The island’s first sugarcane mill was built in the 1500s, before the colonists established settlements in continental North America. But though centuries of political upheaval have taken their toll on many of the historic sugarcane farms, mills and distilleries, the history of the island’s rum economy and production is preserved at the Casa Bacardi visitor center.
The Bacardi family originally began plying the rum trade in Cuba, but when its holdings were appropriated by Castro, it moved its operation entirely to its facility in Puerto Rico, which today, is the largest rum distillery in the world and, as early as 1980, accounted for two-thirds of global rum sales.
Casa Bacardi’s one-hour historical tour begins with a welcome drink and delves into the origins of both the family business and the local rum-making tradition in the wind-powered visitor center, winner of an Environmental Protection Agency award. Groups looking for something more interactive or with more tastings can opt for a tour with a mixology class or a tasting included.