By the late 1700s New England was arguably the distilling capital of the American colonies, and the spirit of choice was rum. Then Americans transitioned to whiskey in the 1800s as prices for molasses rose and those for grains fell, and distillers left the east coast for the midwest.
Now roughly 200 years later, craft distilleries are on the rise across New England and are making everything from absinthe to gin to whiskey. Throw in harbors, lighthouses, mountains, fall foliage, historic inns and great food and you have a New England Craft Distillery Trail that rivals trails in Kentucky.
Boston was founded in 1630 and is the home of the American Revolution and a number of firsts, including America’s first college, first public park, first public school, first subway, etc. Boston also has the largest airport in New England with direct flights between most major US cities and beyond. It’s a good place to start.
Privateer is in Ipswich, about 30 miles northeast of Boston and is one of Boston’s best known craft brands, and visiting is an easy day trip. (Try to swing by Gloucester before or after.) As their name suggests, Privateer is all about rum. Silver Reserve and True American Amber are their delicious, go-to rums, but try to get a sample (or a bottle!) of the very limited Queen’s Share. The Queen’s Share is made by redistilling the seconds, which is the cut between the hearts and the tails, then aged and bottled at cask strength.
GrandTen was built in an old iron foundry in Southie, just a short walk from the Andrew Square or Broadway T stations. The team make their own gins, rums and liqueurs, and they source some whiskey from Ireland. Maybe most importantly for our purposes, they were the first Boston distillery to have a full bar, which is open Thursdays through Sundays. Try to visit on Friday evenings for a more educational tour and tasting (reservations required).
There are another 10+ craft distilleries just in and around Boston.
Portland is a two hour drive from Boston if you stick to major highways, which is efficient but really boring. Better to make a few pit stops along the way, spend some time on the coast, and arrive in Portland in time for dinner.
The first stop heading north is Smoky Quartz just across the NH and MA border. The distillery is named after the official New Hampshire gem stone and is a proudly Veteran-owned and operated, grain-to-glass distillery. The distillery is small and very friendly, you’re likely to be guided Kevin Kurland, the owner and distiller, or his father. Their unaged and aged Granite Coast rums shouldn’t be missed. Don’t knock their Moonshine until you try it, but finish your tasting with their V5 Bourbon and its 100% corn mash bill.
The idea for Wiggly Bridge was conceived at a family dinner after a joking statement of “let’s make our own whisky.” Being fortunate enough to travel to the Caribbean, they decided to build and operate a small handmade copper still on the island of Montserrat to put their research to the test. It wasn’t long before they built their own still in an old barn in York, ME. Their White Rum is made, in part, using a dunder pit — a practice that sounds disgusting but results in gorgeous, funky fruity flavors associated with traditional Jamaican rums. That White Rum is also aged in their used bourbon barrels, softening the funky fruits and adding caramel and vanilla. Those used bourbon barrels are from their flagship Small Barrel Bourbon, a high-rye bourbon at home in any whiskey collection.
The Sweetgrass Tasting Room and Shop is conveniently located in downtown Portland. The winery, distillery and farm is in Union, about an hour north, where you can combine a tour and tasting with a hike, a picnic and some time in the countryside. No matter which tasting room you visit you’ll discover one of Maine’s most popular craft gins: Back River Gin. This craft, small batch, pot distilled gin has robust juniper, stimulating botanicals, and a uniquely smooth finish. It’s a contemporary style gin that works for a classic Martini, or a G&T, and more. You should also try their Cranberry Gin, Apple Brandy, fruit wines, and homemade bitters.
Plan to finish your day at Liquid Riot on Union Wharf with a view of Casco Bay. Liquid Riot takes their name from an riot in 1855 against a prohibitionist State law and a temperance City mayor in defense of their right to produce and consume liquids of their choice. Great choices is what Liquid Riots provides too, with a full restaurant, a brewery and a full range of craft spirits and cocktails. One of our favorites is the Old Port Single Malt, which is cherry wood smoked and ideal for drinking in front of a fireplace. Another favorite is Fernet Michaud, a fernet with a hint of mint that makes a perfect Toronto Cocktail and after-dinner sipper.
After a good night of rest, take the scenic route west on ME 25, continue through NH, head north through Franconia Notch, then west to Stowe, VT — all with plenty of sights and stops along the way.
Tamworth Distilling built a gorgeous distillery in the heart of Tamworth, a historic New Hampshire Village. Taking their cues from 19th Century Transcendentalists of New England, they are inspired by the surrounding atmosphere. Ingredients are sourced from local farmers and their water is sourced from the pristine Ossipee Aquifer. A portion of each bottle sold goes to the Tamworth Land Trust. You can taste all of this love and care in a delicious and unique range of garden-infused gins, cordials, infusions and limited release spirits, many of which are only available at the distillery.
Between Tamworth, NH, and Stowe, VT, you’ll drive by Caledonia Spirits, the makers of Bar Hill Gin. If you love gin and love honey and love a combination of the two, then pull over and buy some of both!
OK, it’s not a distillery but a can of Heady Topper deserves to be on anyone’s list. The Alchemist is a family run brewery specializing that famous, fresh, unfiltered IPA that set the New England standard. Heady Topper is brewed in Waterbury but you can taste it and their other beers at their visitor center in Stowe, VT.
Instead of taking the interstate the entire way back to Boston, head 60 miles south to Middlebury first. After some touring and probably some lunch, head east through the northern part of the Green Mountain National Forest and then back to Boston.
From their solar-powered distillery, Appalachian Gap are handcrafting a line of delicious, unique spirits. Founded in Middlebury by a former chef and a biochemist, the team carefully — and painstakingly — crafts spirits to meet our their own exacting standards. Mythic Gin is their rendition of an 18th century style of gin where the flavor of the grain forms the backbone of its complex yet clean flavor. Papilio honors the state butterfly of Vermont by distilling a blend of agave and maple syrup. Ridgeline Whiskey is aged in new oak barrels, ex-bourbon barrels, and port wine barrels, and will appeal to those wanting a layered whiskey. There are usually some special edition products to try too.
SILO is located in a newly-built barn distiller in the same Artisan Park as the Harpoon Brewery in Windsor. SILO was founded by Vermonters dedicated to making innovative craft spirits. Their process is completely hands on, starting with grains from Grembowicz Farm in North Clarendon, VT. Everything else is done right there in their barn distillery. In the tasting room and on the patio you can sample the freshest Cucumber Vodka you’ll ever have, along with a number of other infusions. The team also make two gins, three whiskies and there are usually limited edition spirits to try too.
Harpoon was the first brewery in Massachusetts since Prohibition, and they have Brewing Permit #001 to prove it. Then in 2000, Harpoon purchased the former Catamount Brewery in Windsor. In addition to giving Harpoon the extra brewing capacity they desperately needed, it now includes a full restaurant. So grab a bite to eat and a pint or two before making the two hour drive back to Boston.
September 29, 2017