Raise a glass at the world’s most unique distilleries
For those with boozy inclinations, touring a distillery is always fun, especially if it comes with a tasting at the end. But why sip spirits in an ordinary building? How about an old German storage bunker or perhaps a castle? Here are nine distilleries housed in unexpected places.
Tours and opening times are all subject to change due to COVID-19. If you are planning a trip, always enquire ahead and stay safe.
Slane Irish Whiskey; Slane, Ireland
Sure, whiskey is great. But whiskey in a castle in Ireland? Better. In 2017, the Slane Irish Whiskey Distillery opened in the 250-year-old horse stables of Slane Castle, home to the Conyngham family since 1703.
Using barley grown on its own land – which you’ll be able to examine in various stages on the tour – the family-owned distillery creates a unique triple-casked whiskey you’ll taste at the end.
Stop by the beautiful distillery bar to sit in booths made from former horse corrals and order one of the signature Irish coffees (the secret is vanilla Demerara syrup and Slane whiskey). Or opt for an additional tour of the main castle with a pit-stop at Browne’s Bar, decorated with photos and ephemera from the famous Slane concerts that have happened on the castle grounds since 1981. The massive shindigs have played host to many performers including U2, Madonna, Foo Fighters, Bruce Springsteen and the Rolling Stones.
A row of wooden bourbon barrels sit in a large open warehouse; Unusual distilleries
Detroit City Distillery is housed in an old slaughterhouse © Courtesy of Sprint Step
Detroit City Distillery; Detroit, MI
When Detroit City Distillery opened its doors in 2017, it became Detroit’s second distillery, post-prohibition. The team set up shop in an old slaughterhouse in the city’s famed Eastern Market, the largest historic public market in operation in the US.
In 2018, the company expanded to create “The Whiskey Factory” in what was formerly Goebel’s Brewing Company, one of the city’s first breweries that helped define Detroit’s brewing legacy. The new expansion brings it full circle, with the distillery again invigorating the city’s booze scene with small-batch artisanal and experimental whiskey, vodka and gin with locally sourced botanicals. Run by self-proclaimed “former-farm-boys-turned-city-folk”, Detroit City sometimes grows its own wheat for the whiskey or pine for the gin, which you can taste on tours. In summer 2020, the bar is moving outside, with a new cocktail menu, street food and live music.
Bently Heritage Distillery; Minden Nevada
Before providing the masses with vodka, gin and whiskey, the buildings of Bently Heritage nourished the public in other ways. The century-old Minden Flour Mill, now on the National Historic Register, processed 100 barrels of flour a day, as well as chicken and cattle feed, and was instrumental in the growth of electric power in the area.
The 1916 creamery housed the Minden Butter Manufacturing Company. Today both historic buildings are carefully preserved while serving a renewed purpose as distilleries, using grains grown locally on their ranch estate.
Exterior of the St. Lawerence Distillery; there’s a large stone circular structure to the right and a row of smaller stone structures leading to it; unusual distilleries
Perhaps the only thing better than the spirits are the stunning views in Thousand Islands, New York © Courtesy of St. Lawerence Spirits
St Lawrence Spirits; Thousand Islands, NY
The family-owned and operated St Lawrence Spirits in New York’s Thousand Islands is renowned for its award-winning small-batch vodka, absinthe, moonshine, whiskey, bourbon and a hefty navy-strength, barrel-aged gin. The distillery uses botanicals hand-picked from its family ranch and water from the St Lawrence River, making each sip distinctly New York.
Be sure to visit the château, which houses a farm-to-table restaurant alongside the distillery’s downtown tasting room. Built in 1937 as the Fairview Manor, the historic building was originally constructed in an eclectic European style as a private home for Carl Zimmerman, a world traveler. Later it was turned into a retreat for the nuns of the Sisters of the Holy Cross.
Denver Distillery; Denver, CO
One of the new kids on the Colorado booze block comes with some old-timey history. In its former lives, the 125-year-old building that now houses Denver Distillery was once a hotel, restaurant, flophouse and party store. Remnants of its past have been incorporated into its design with exposed brick walls, a bar top made from the old ceiling, patent medicine bottles, and old newspaper clippings.
Denver Distillery pairs the old with the new, with environmentally friendly packaging for the bottles of moonshine, rum and liqueurs with flavors like kiwi-strawberry and coffee and the crowd favorite, gin.
Free tours are available or you can watch the handmade copper stills at work while you sip cocktails at the bar area, which not only serves the specialties of the house, but also a curated collection of local spirits, beer, wine, hard ciders and Rocky Mountain sodas.
Exterior view of the side of the St George Spirits building; Unusual distilleries
Enjoy a vast portfolio of gins, fruit brandies and whiskeys during a tour at St George Spirits © Smith Collection / Gado/ Getty Images
St George Spirits; Alameda, CA
Established in 1982 and one of the oldest craft spirit companies, St George Spirits is located in a 65,000-sq-ft hangar on a former naval air station in Alameda, California.
The company got its start selling eau de vie (water for life). Distiller and five-time James Beard nominee Lance Winters was a former nuclear engineer on the USS Enterprise. As the story goes, Winters turned up with homemade whiskey as his resume and a partnership was born.
Book in advance for guided tours and tastings, with six samples from their vast portfolio including gins, fruit brandies, absinthe and whiskeys.
Uncle Nearest, Nearest Green Distillery; Shelbyville, Tennessee
Uncle Nearest not only pays homage to an important piece of American history, the brand is a trailblazer in its own right. It’s long been an open secret Nathan “Nearest” Green was a slave who taught a young orphan named Jack Daniel how to make whiskey, and later became the first known African-American master distiller in the country. But it was only when author and Uncle Nearest co-founder Fawn Weaver devoted herself to uncovering Nearest’s story that the world became privy to his legacy.
In 2016, Weaver launched Uncle Nearest whiskey with a Tennessee distillery, making her the first female and first person of color to run a major whiskey or spirit brand. She eventually raised $20 million to take over its production.
In September 2019, the first phase of the new distillery opened for touring, converted from a former horse farm. In 2020 it will be completed with a tasting room and a collection of all things invented in Tennessee, emphasis on Tennessee whiskey, walking horses and country music.
Two rows of wooden barrels are shelved outside. The barrels on the top are covered with snow; unusual distilleries
High West Distillery has four locations throughout Utah © PureRadiancePhoto / Shutterstock
High West Distillery; Park City, Utah
Utah isn’t usually the first place you associate with booze, but the state has made its mark on drinking history. In 1933, Utah was the crucial deciding vote to end Prohibition. And in 2006, it became the only state to have a “ski-in, ski-out” distillery and bar (or ski-in, stumble out as they’re fond of joking).
When High West Distillery opened in a historic livery stable and garage in Park City it became Utah’s first legal distillery since 1870. With a small, 250-gallon still, the space now operates as a gastro-distillery featuring spirits alongside killer mac-and-cheese and other alpine-inspired fares.
High West has now grown to four locations, including the fine-dining Nelson Cottage right next door, which offers whiskey-paired dinners and a massive distillery in Wantaugh, which houses a 1600-gallon copper pot still. And if you’re still jonesing for more, they’ve set up shop at the Salt Lake City airport.
Moon Harbour, Bordeaux
Bordeaux isn’t just for wine these days. In 2014 two friends set out to make the first Bordeaux whiskey, aged in Bordeaux and Sauternes barrels, made with locally-harvested barley and distilled in stills also made in the area.
They succeeded with Moon Harbour, a translation of Bordeaux’s nickname, la Porte de la Lune. The barrels are aged inside a diesel storage bunker left by the Germans in WWII which they’ve attached to the distillery by an 18-month process of removing concrete to make the entrance. On a tour, you can see the result of the efforts, along with an explanation of the process and a tasting of their products.