Smoky Mountains, Tennessee
While mountains and moonshine have been a natural pairing for centuries, new craft distilleries are making the combination more official and sweeping up impressive awards in the process.
The first distiller to open once public moonshine sales became legal in 2009 was Old Smoky, which, in addition to its traditional unaged corn whiskey, offers flavored moonshine such as its signature apple pie and cherry-filled varieties. Old Smoky has two distilleries and tasting rooms in the Smokies: its original 20,000-square-foot facility in Gatlinburg and a new facility at The Island in Pigeon Forge. Also in Pigeon Forge, the Old Forge Distillery offers samples of its flagship moonshine, 1830 Original, made with mountain spring water. Visitors can also sample products from the Tennessee roots line, made with local roots and herbs, and check out a line of handmade knives forged by the resident blacksmith.
Though it’s one of the newest kids on the block, having opened in spring of 2014, Sugarlands Distilling Company earned an international best-in-class award its first year out. In a rare turn, Sugarlands also offers free all-ages distillery tours, often accompanied by musical performances, of its facility, which was constructed from wood salvaged from historic barns, some predating the Civil War. The company also partnered with Smoky Mountain Guides to offer off-site tours that explore the past and present of moonshining in the mountains.
Finger Lakes, New York
Scenic, foodie friendly and abundantly blessed with more than 100 vineyards that turn out everything from the area’s well-known rieslings and ice wines to little-known French varietals like cabernet franc, the Finger Lakes already have a lot going for them; but a new craft distilling scene is upping the ante. And unlike many areas that specialize in a certain spirit, these distilleries use locally grown ingredients to make multiple liquors.
As the Finger Lakes have had a strong farm-to-table connection since long before the term was trendy, it was natural for this to come through local distilling as well, and Myer Farm Distillers epitomizes the field-to-flask model, growing its own corn, wheat, barley and rye on-site. Its soft white winter wheat feeds its gin and four vodkas, including one infused with locally grown fresh ginger.
Named for the button factory run by owner Jason Barrett’s family for four generations, Black Button Distilling puts a fresh spin on traditional spirits. Using ingredients from a nearby farm, Barrett crafts a special Citrus Forward Gin made for those who have long avoided overjunipered gins and a Bespoke Bourbon Cream for folks looking for a New York state twist on Irish cream. On Fridays and Saturdays, Black Button runs regular half-hour tours, but it can also schedule tours and tastings for groups on other days.
Finger Lakes Distilling, the big kahuna of the area with its lake-view tasting room and deck, offers 17 different spirits, from maplejack made with local apples and maple syrup to Catskill honey-infused rye to riesling grappa. Public tours of the distillery run on Saturdays.
Due to their size, Finger Lake distilleries prefer that groups of eight or more call ahead to schedule a tasting in order to be accommodated.