Every distillery has an interesting and exciting story behind it. Be it a story dating back as far as the history of Whisky itself, or a story beginning in the last decade, every distillery has something special behind it. Here is a selection of some interesting origin stories behind some and some small American Distilleries.
St. George’s Spirits, not to be mistaken for the English distillery of the same name, started life as an eau de vie distillery in 1982. Founded by JörgRupf, the company prides itself on being America’s first craft distillery. They are still going strong today and now produce a wide range of products, including Hangar 1 Vodka, named after the World War II aircraft hanger that the distillery calls home.
This is actually a Rum distillery, but it has pretty brave beginnings. Bridget Firtle was fed up with her hedge fund, corporate lifestyle and decided to go her own way. She was interested in spirits distilling and decided to open The Noble Experiment, a Rum distillery based in Brooklyn. Firtle herself hails from Brooklyn and has family roots here. In order to start the distillery she had to give everything up, including her loft apartment, and move in with her parents. The brand, called Owney’s, has been doing well and continues to find new buyers.
Bully Boy Distillery in Boston has a pretty exciting beginning, one that would not be out of place in any children’s adventure novel. The distillery owners, Will and Dave Willis grew up on a fourth generation working farm that had been used to store illegal spirits during the prohibition era. The spirits had been stored in a vault and it wasn’t until 70 years after prohibition that this vault was rediscovered by the two boys. They took inspiration from this and decided to open Bully Boys Distillery in homage to the artisan and craft spirits they had found.
Tuthilltown Spirits is the first distillery to open in New York since prohibition in the 1930s. Though I’m sure there have been plenty of not-so-legal stills around the town since then. Tuthilltown is based in Hudson Valley and creates a varied range of spirits using ingredients from their own farm. The distillery building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as it is based in a 220-Year-Old gristmill that created flour from local grains. They have held fast to their dedication to creating craft spirits and have close ties to the local community.
Distillation occurred on the site that is now occupied by Buffalo Trace as far back as 1755. It wasn’t until 1792 that the first building was erected, a building that remains on site today. This long history allows Buffalo Trace to make a claim at being the oldest continuously operating distillery in the US, quite a feat! This includes being open during the prohibition era to make a product called “medicinal whisky”. The name “Buffalo Trace” comes from the fact that the distillery is located at the part of the river where buffalo would cross.
Home of the world famous Maker’s Mark, this was the first distillery in the US to be given the accolade of National Historic Landmark. It dates back to 1773 and has also been recognised by the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest distillery in the world! It was first purchased by Maker’s Mark in 1953 for $35,000. Charles Burks, who distilled alongside working on his farm, had set up the original distillery in Lorreto, Kentucky. With prohibition, Burks Distillery was forced to close and was not revived until William Samuels moved in to begin Maker’s Mark.
When he retired from the presidency, George Washington was looking for something a little more interesting to occupy his time. With encouragement from his farm manager James Anderson, a Scot with a history in distillation, Washington decided to open up Mount Vernon Distillery. When he saw and tasted the results, Mount Vernon was set up for large-scale productionthat included 5 copper pot stills. By 1799, the same year that Washington died, the distillery was producing 11,000 gallons, making it the biggest distillery in America at the time.
Tis distillery only opened in 2007, but was the first legal distillery in Utah since 1870. That’s quite a lot of history to catch up on and High West manages to capture this history in its two buildings, The National Garage and the Beggs House. Both of these buildings have historical significance. The Beggs House dates back to 1914 and is now on the National Register of Historic Places. The National Garage was once used as a livery stable that was used to service workhorses. So despite being less than a decade old itself, the High West Distillery has quite a lot of history behind it!
This distillery was born like a phoenix from the ashes, almost pretty literally. Jess Graber was working as a volunteer fire-fighter when he went to tackle a blaze that had erupted in his neighbours barn. That neighbour was George Stranahan, a long time liquor enthusiast, and as the fire died down the two soon discovered a shared interest in Whisky and Colorado. They decided to collaborate and as such, Stranahan’s Colorado Whisky was born. The company lives to create “the smoothest, most-flavourful whisky” with the help of their wonderful Colorado surroundings.
This is a craft distillery that has been collected awards left and right. It has won both Craft Whisky Distillery of the Year from Whisky Magazine and Best Craft Distillery I the U.S. from the Craft Distiller’s Alliance. With this they decided to upgrade, and increasd their floor space to 30 times the original size. But that hasn’t taken away from their craft roots. The machinery used in the distillery was all hand made and they continue to handwrite the batch number on every bottle they produce.
Do you know of any other fascinating American Distilleries stories? Share them in the comments below!