What is the oldest distillery in the United States? Well, there are several contenders depending how you measure it.
Buffalo Trace claims to be the oldest continuously-operating distillery in the USA, though the name has changed over the years. Maker’s Mark has the oldest bourbon distillery in the world, while Jack Daniel’s is the oldest registered distillery in America. And then, of course, there are the unregistered distilleries.
However, there are plenty of distilleries whose buildings have an interesting history, whether they’re the oldest in the USA are not. Here are ten of the best.
Buffalo Trace gets its name because the distillery is located in what was once a buffalo river-crossing spot. Distilling started here in 1755 though the oldest remaining building on the site dates back to 1792. It claims to be the oldest continuously-operating distillery in the USA, and it remained open during Prohibition as it was allowed to make that popular product known as ‘medicinal whiskey’.
The name of Burks’ Distillery is now less well-known than the name of the company that bought it to start making their bourbon there in 1954: Maker’s Mark. The distillery goes way back to 1773 and is recognized in the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest bourbon distillery in the world. It was made a National Historic Landmark in 1980, the first distillery in the USA to be given that status.
Corsair has two distilleries but the one in Bowling Green, Kentucky, is housed in the Pushin Building on Main Street. This was the town’s first department store when it was built by the Pushin Brothers in 1921, and has Corsair’s tasting rooms and gift shop on the ground floor, with the distillery underneath.
George Washington opened his distillery when he retired from the Presidency in 1797, after his Scottish Plantation Manager James Anderson told him: ”Let me build you a distillery. I’ll make you a lot of money.” He did, and it was soon the biggest distillery in the USA. It eventually closed but was rebuilt with the help of DISCUS (The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States) and you can now visit and see what whiskey-making was like over 200 years ago.
High West only began distilling in 2007, when it became the first legal distillery in Utah since 1870. It is, however, part of the High West Saloon which is in two adjacent buildings. One is The National Garage, which used to be a livery stable, and the other is the Beggs House, which was built in 1914 and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
No list would be complete without good old Jack Daniel’s, which is the oldest registered distillery in the USA, as a sign on the side of one of the distillery buildings proudly tells you. The exact date when Jack started distilling whiskey is unknown, though he learned the skill from a lay preacher who had a sideline in making moonshine. Jack took over the business and moved it to its present location in 1884.
The Montgomery Distillery in Missoula, Montana, was built in 1889 by a German immigrant and was originally a liquor store and saloon. In those days there were 12 saloons on that one block. Later it became a gentleman’s outfitter, but in 2012 it returned to selling liquor when the Montgomery Distillery opened its tasting room and sold its first bottle of Quicksilver Vodka.
Four Roses was founded in 1884 but the man behind it, Paul Jones Jr., had been making bourbon since the 1860s. Later the company moved to the Old Prentice Distillery, which had been around since 1818 (though the current building was constructed in 1910 in Spanish Mission style).
St. George Spirits only started producing their Hangar 1 vodka in Alameda, California in 2001, but it gets its name from the amazing World War II aircraft hangar where distilling took place. The original facility was a 2,000-square-foot space located at the Alameda Naval Air Station, on the east shore of San Francisco Bay. The company sold off the Hangar 1 brand but the hangar is still there as an amazing distillery space.
Tuthilltown’s address is Grist Mill Lane and its distillery is a 220-year-old grist mill, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s estimated that before Prohibition there were over 1,000 farm distilleries in New York’s Hudson Valley, but when Tuthilltown opened in 2005 they were the first New York whiskey distillery since those days. They also make vodka by distilling local apples, and an Orchard Gin, both of which have won numerous medals and awards.
2601 Monarch Street
Alameda, CA 94501
14 Grist Mill Lane
Gardiner, NY 12525
George Washington Distillery
3200 Mount Vernon Memorial Highway
Mount Vernon, Virginia 22121
113 Great Buffalo Trace
Frankfort, KY 40601
3350 Burks Spring Road
Loretto, KY 40037
High West Distillery and Saloon
703 Park Ave
Park City, UT 84060
129 W Front St
Missoula, MT 59802
400 E Main Ave
Bowling Green, KY 42101
Old Prentice Distillery
1224 Bonds Mill Road
Lawrenceburg, KY 40342
182 Lynchburg Highway
Lynchburg, TN 37352