A movement is happening across America. Breweries, distilleries, even meaderies are taking communities by storm as the new preferred watering hole. On a road trip from New York to California and back again, I traveled town to town along the contiguous United States sampling the fermented crafts and brews made by locals with ingredients selected from their own region. From a sleek spirit room in a Nashville historic landmark to wild west style saloons in Montana and Colorado, people are imbibing together.
In an election year fraught with challenges, contradictions and disagreements about where and what and how the economy is doing, something very exciting and industrious is happening in these cities and towns large and small across states from the southeast to the northwest and beyond. Enterprising and experimental, folks are making great drinks and serving them up to a welcoming populus in an era when locally made is resurging in an importance to rival the 1940s. Take a tour across America’s taprooms and sip.
Nashville’s Marathon Village—a converted engine manufacturer turned mega cool market—is home to Corsair’s distillery and brewery. I escaped a rainy afternoon entering into a chic, dimly lit bar. The only other patron at this early hour on a weekday to join in my impromptu tasting was a lone Australian traveler. Our knowledgeable bartender described each flavor, steam process and how best to slurp the Ryemageddon and Red Absinthe, Triple Smoke Whiskey and the wondrously smooth Quinoa Whiskey made from grains grown in Saskatchewan, that he poured for us. Next door to the spirit tasting room is a small tap room serving up Corsair’s craft beers which sippers can take with them on a tour of the distillery. I recommend the Turkish coffee stout.
The welcome sign to Ennis reads: pop. 840 people, 11,000,000 trout. It’s a fly fishing town set in a great bowl valley of southwestern Montana with a vibrant main street—unless you are trying to find a place for lunch after 2:00 p.m. Willie’s Distillery on East Main Street feels like an old saloon. Everything is covered in wood and there’s a large mirror behind the bar. The room smells pleasantly of barley and a glass wall to the next room reveals the distillery in action. For $1 a shot and $6 a cocktail, a liquid lunch of spirit tasting was in order. I took home a bottle of the honey moonshine made with ingredients from a local apiary and a bag of their own house blend coffee with a label that read: “This ain’t no pansy ass city coffee.”
Ourayle House Brewery (Mr. Grumpy Pants)
Ouray, Colorado considers itself the “Switzerland” of America and might be better known as one of the ice climbing capitals of the world. In this quaint town with much of its turn-of-the-century character intact, the Ourayle House Brewery is located toward the edge of Main Street and Ouray’s natural hot springs. Affectionately coined “Mr. Grumpy Pants”, the House Brewery is manned by its owner and his clever humor. The cabin-like bar with its own wood burning stove lures locals and visitors alike to sip tasty beers and examine the funny and biting isms and adages which decorate the walls.
Wicked Weed Brewing
Asheville is a green and welcoming enclave in North Carolina and home to Wicked Weed’s own Funkatorium. With two menu pages (8″ x 11″) of Wicked Weed’s home brews and experimental crafts, patrons can swill at long farmhouse tables with a view of the barrels while trying the plethora of beers they’re concocting. Some will never make it to a bottle and others will be the next big thing. For me, the star of the show was Nolte Blueberry Chipotle Stout—a dark stout with a dry finish, and slight spicy and smooth undertones without being sour or fruity.
Brothers Drake Meadery
Columbus, Ohio is the rising tech hub between the coasts and already home to some major brands like Abercrombie & Fitch and Victoria’s Secret. In true midwest fashion, the Brothers Drake Meadery is committed to its community and full of hospitality. The bar opens to the outside in warmer months and has a stage for live music. At the back, barrels of fermented honey from Ohioan apiaries wait until ready to serve. Mead, an ancient form of fermented beverage which is made from honey, has many of the qualities of a light wine, ranging from dry to sweet. The mead derives its flavor from the flowers which created the honey adding to its delicate aromas. Take a tour to learn more about this ancient process and taste some of the delicious honey at the source.
Copper Run Distillery
Saturday morning at Springfield, Missouri’s farmers market at Farmers Park, a friendly representative from Copper Run serves up small shots of their smooth moonshines, rums and whiskeys. Copper Run has the distinction of being the first legally operating distillery in the Ozark mountains since prohibition. Go for a tasting or to check on your very own barrel. From recipe crafting to production, those who purchase a barrel get to participate in it all and receive their very own private label bottles once ready. If you’re not prepared to commit to a barrel, try one of their infusion kits to dabble in new flavors—I particularly love their espresso rum.
Out for a pre-dinner cocktail at Erica Burke’s dimly lit, industrial-chic Chop Shop Café and Bar in Seattle’s prominent Capitol Hill district, the bartender poured Westland whiskey for my Hey Joe cocktail. Named, I presume after my favorite Jimi Hendrix tune (a Seattle native), and with a tantalizing mix of herbs and bitters, I couldn’t resist. The single malt is rare to see outside of Scotland and Westland’s flagship barley liquor has a delightfully creamy and rich flavor profile. Drink it neat or put it in your cocktail.