The American Whiskey Trail

The American Whiskey Trail provides an educational journey into the history and cultural heritage of distilled spirits in America. It includes historical sites and operating distilleries that are open to the public for tours.

Frommer's has rated the American Whiskey Trail one of the top international and domestic travel destinations from nominations submitted by travel editors and authors.

"We picked the American Whiskey Trail because it highlights a fascinating-- but an often overlooked and still ongoing -- part of U.S. history," said Frommer's editorial director. "Points along the trail make prime destinations for a leisurely road trip in some of the most charming parts of the country."

Probably the most popular destination on the American Whiskey Trail is George Washington's distillery at Mount Vernon in Virginia. George Washington was the new country's first large distiller and his reconstructed distillery demonstrates the complete distilling process. Other points on the Whiskey Trail are located in a number of states as well as in the Caribbean.

In 1777, as commander of the Continental Army, George Washington worried in writing about the morale and condition of his troops. To comfort them "when they are marching in hot or Cold weather, in Camp in Wet, on fatigue or in Working Parties," Washington said it was "so essential" that troops have "moderate supplies" of whiskey.

After the War of Independence, the new country needed revenue and placed an excise tax on whiskey. However, federal tax collectors were attacked in Pennsylvania by citizens outraged that the whiskey they had been making for years, much of it for their own consumption, was being taxed. Washington sent about 13,000 militia to end the rebellion.

By the late 1700s, whiskey was overtaking rum as the most popular spirit in America, in part because sugar and molasses, products of the British West Indies essential in making rum, were hard to come by and had the taint of political incorrectness at the time. Washington's farm manager persuaded him to build a distillery. Around that time there were about 3,500 distilleries in Virginia. However, at its peak, Washington's was the largest in the United States.

In the isolated frontiers west of the Appalachian Mountains, settlers used surplus corn and other grains to make whiskey, which was much cheaper to transport to market. Locally, it was used as a medium of exchange or a barter commodity in the absence of gold, silver or reliable currency.

In the 1830's the average American aged 15 or older consumed over seven gallons of absolute alcohol (resulting from an average of 9 1/2 gallons of spirits - primarily whiskey-, 1/2 gallon of wine, and 27 gallons of beer), a quantity about three times the current rate.16

The American Whiskey Trail is an enjoyable way to learn about our national past. It includes these historical sites:

  • George Washington Distillery Museum, Mount Vernon, Virginia. George Washington was one of the new country's largest and most successful whiskey distillers. Archaeological excavations at Mount Vernon demonstrate that Washington was a highly inventive entrepreneur and a reconstruction of his whiskey distillery has been completed along with an interpretive museum.
  • Frauces Tavern Museum, Manhattan, New York. The Tavern is best known as the site where Washington gave his famous farewell address to his officers in 1783 and toasted them with whiskey.
  • Gadsby's Tavern Museum, Alexandria, Virginia. Prominent patrons of the tavern included George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and the marquis de Lafayette.
  • Woodville Plantation, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. The plantation was built by General John Neville, a friend of both Washington and Lafayette, and a major defender of the U.S. Constitution in the Whiskey Rebellion.
  • Oscar Getz Museum, Bardstown, Kentucky. The museum includes a collection of rare whiskey artifacts dating from the Colonial period through post -Prohibition times. Abraham Lincoln's 1833 liquor store license is on display.61
  • West Overton Museums, Scottdale, Pennsylvania. The museums contain an 1838 whiskey distillery set within an intact pre-Civil War village.
  • Oliver Miller Homestead, South Park, Pennsylvania. Because the Miller family was so heavily involved in the Whiskey Rebellion, the house was declared a National Historical Landmark in 1936.

Operating whiskey distilleries open to the public are part of The American Whiskey Trail. They are:

  • Jim Beam, Clermont, Kentucky
  • Maker's Mark, Loretto, Kentucky
  • Wild Turkey, Lawrenceburg, Kentucky
  • Woodford Reserve, Versailles, Kentucky
  • George Dickel, Tullahoma, Tennessee
  • Jack Daniel's, Lynchburg, Tennessee

Also included are two rum distilleries:

  • Bacardi, Catano, Puerto Rico
  • Cruzan, St. Croix, Virgin Islands

Whiskey Facts and Trivia

  • Whiskey and whisky both refer to alcohol distilled from grain. Whiskey is the usual American spelling, especially for beverages distilled in the U.S. and Ireland. Whisky is the spelling for Canadian and Scotch distilled beverages.
  • "Whiskey" is the international aviation word used to represent the letter "w."
  • When re-arranged, the letters in "whiskey" spell "key wish," those in "spirits" spell "sip it sir," and those in "moonshine" spell "in no homes."
  • Distilled spirits (whiskey, brandy, rum, tequila, gin, etc.) contain no carbohydrates, no fats of any kind, and no cholesterol.
  • The body or lightness of whiskey is primarily determined by the size of the grain from which it is made; the larger the grain, the lighter the whiskey. For example, whiskey made from rye, with its small grain size, is bigger or fuller-bodied than is whiskey made from corn, with its large grain size.
  • Unlike beer and wine, all spirits are originally completely clear and colorless; their golden browns and other hues are the result of the aging process.
  • The term "brand name" originated among American distillers, who branded their names and emblems on their whiskey kegs before shipment.
  • Rye was the first distinctly American whiskey. It is distilled from a combination of corn, barley malt, and at least 51% rye.
  • Bourbon whiskey is the official spirit of the United States, by act of Congress.
  • Heavy taxes, which more than double the price of a typical bottle of whiskey, rum or other distilled spirits beverage, encourages the production and sale of dangerous bootleg alcohol."
  • The first Kentucky whiskey was made in 1789 by a Baptist minister.
  • Martha Washington enjoyed daily toddys. In the 1790s, "happy hour" began at 3:00 p.m. and cocktails continued until dinner.
  • President Lincoln, when informed that General Grant drank whiskey while leading his troops, reportedly replied "Find out the name of the brand so I can give it to my other generals."
  • Abraham Lincoln operated several taverns.
  • The Manhattan cocktail (whiskey and sweet vermouth) was invented by Winston Churchill's mother.
  • The favorite cocktails of several former Presidents are reported to include:
    • Gin and tonic (Gerald Ford)
    • Martini (Herbert Hoover)
    • Rum and coke (Richard Nixon)
    • Bourbon whiskey (Harry Truman)
  • President Jimmy Carter's mother said "I'm a Christian, but that doesn't mean I'm a long-faced square. I like a little bourbon."
  • Desi Arnaz's ("I Love Lucy") grandfather was one of the founders of the largest rum distillery in the world.
  • It is estimated that the federal government takes in 14 times more in taxes on distilled spirits than producers of the products earn making them. That does not include what states and localities additionally take in taxes on the same products.

Don't Be Fooled -- Be Safe

Few people realize that the alcohol content of a standard drink of beer, dinner wine, or distilled spirits (either straight or in a mixed drink) are equivalent. They are all the same to a breathalyzer.

A glass of white or red wine, a bottle of beer, and a shot of whiskey or other distilled spirits all contain equivalent amounts of alcohol and are the same to a Breathalyzer. A standard drink is:

Standard Drinks and Alcohol Equivalence

Learn what they are and why they'’re very important.

  • A 12-ounce bottle or can of regular beer
  • A 5-ounce glass of wine
  • A one and 1/2 ounce of 80 proof distilled spirits (either straight or in a mixed drink)

The health benefits associated with drinking in moderation are also similar for beer, wine and spirits. The primary factor associated with health and longevity appears to be the alcohol itself.

Knowing about equivalence can help you drink in moderation. For example, you won't be fooled by the misleading term "hard liquor," which implies that drinking distilled spirits leads more quickly to intoxication than other alcohol beverages. Moderation is in the drinker, not the beverage.

Learn more about the attractions found on the American Whiskey Trail.


  • Baldwin, Leland. Whiskey Rebels: The Story of a Frontier Uprising. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1939.
  • Boyd, Steven R. The Whiskey Rebellion: Past and Present Perspectives. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1985.
  • Business Week. Along the Great American Whiskey Trail. Business Week, July 23, 2007. Online Extra.
  • Cooke, Jacob E. The Whiskey Insurrection: a re-evaluation. Pennsylvania History, 1963, 30, 316–364.
  • Cowdery, Charles K. Bourbon, Straight: The Uncut and Unfiltered Story of American Whiskey. Chicago: Made and Bottled in Kentucky, 2004.
  • Crowgey, Henry G. Kentucky Bourbon: The Early Years of Whiskeymaking (Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky), 1971.
  • Dabney, Joseph E. Mountain Spirits: A Chronicle of Corn Whiskey from King James' Ulster Plantiation to America's Appalachians and the Moonshine Life. NY: Scribner, 1974.
  • Frommer's names American Whiskey Trail top tourist destination for 2008. PRNewswire, March 26, 2008.
  • Getz, Oscar and Bilow, Irv. Whiskey: An American Pictorial History. NY: McKay, 1978.
  • Harris, Richard. The Book of Classic American Whiskeys. Peru, IL: Open Court, 1995.
  • Hogeland, William. The Whiskey Rebellion: George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and the Frontier Rebels Who Challenged America's Newfound Sovereignty. Scribner, 2006.
  • Howe, John. Antique Whiskey Bottles: A Whiskeyana Guide. San Jose, CA: 1967.
  • Kennedy, Margaret A. The Whiskey Trade of the Northwestern Plains. NY: P. Lang, 1997.
  • Kohn, Richard H. The Washington administration's decision to crush the Whiskey Rebellion. Journal of American History, 1972, 59, 567–584.
  • MacLean, Charles. Whiskey. NY: DK, 2008.
  • Mainwaring, W. Thomas (ed.) The Whiskey Rebellion and the trans-Appalachian frontier. Topic: A Journal of the Liberal Arts, 45, Fall 1994.
  • Masterson, Kent, et al. Bourbon and Kentucky: A History Distilled History. DVD video. Lexington, KY: Post Time Productions, 2008.
  • Muller, Edward K. The Whiskey Rebellion, World Book Encyclopedia, Volume 21, 2006, p. 282.
  • Murray, Jim. Classic Bourbon, Tennessee & Rye Whiskey. London: Prion Books, 1998.
  • Quickel, Danny L. The Whiskey Rebellion: A Significant Event in American History. Thesis. East Stroudsburg University, 1973.
  • Rieser, James, et al. George Washington and the Whiskey Rebellion: Testing the Constitution. DVD video. St. Louis ,MO: Phoenix Learning Group, 2008.
  • Rothbard, Murray N. The Whiskey Rebellion: A Model for Our Time? Free Market, 1994, 12(9).
  • Slaughter, Thomas P. The Whiskey Rebellion: Frontier Epilogue to the American Revolution. NY: Oxford University Press, 1986.
  • Whiskey Rebellion Bicentennial, Inc. The Whiskey Rebellion Bicentennial, 1794-1994. Whiskey Rebellion Bicentennial, Inc., 1994.
  • Zoeller, Chester. Bourbon in Kentucky: A History and Directory of Distilleries in Kentucky. Louisville, KY: Butler Books, 2009.


  • Roueche, Burton. The Neutral Spirit: A Portrait of Alcohol. Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1960, p. 84.
  • Talk Like a Pilot. Syracuse, NY: Hancock International Airport, n.d., p. 1.
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture nutrition tables, 2003, p. 15; Prange, M. Plan to keep your drinking safe. The Record (Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario), 12-10-03.
  • Ford, G. Ford's ABCs of Wines, Brews, & Spirits. Seattle, WA: Gene Ford Publications, fourth ed., 1996, p. 146.
  • Limon, E. M. Tequila: The Spirit of Mexico. New York: Abbeville Press, 1009, p. 34;
  • Roueche, Berton. Alcohol in Human Culture. In: Lucia, Salvatore P. (Ed.) Alcohol and Civilization. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1963. Pp. 167-182.
  • Defining "Bourbon." The State (Columbia, SC), 5-1-02, p. D1.
  • See "Moonshine is Risky"
  • Lender, Mark E. and Martin, James K. Drinking in America. New York: Free Press, 1982, p. 33; Grimes, William. Straight Up or On the Rocks: A Cultural History of American Drink. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993, pp. 52-53.
  • Haught, R.L. Distilling the truth about George. Oklahoman, 2-20-03.
  • Cowdery, Charles K. Abraham Lincoln, Bourbon Country's Native Son. The Bourbon Country Reader, 1988, 3(6), p. 1.
  • The spirit of Washington. Elk Grove Citizen, 2-19-03.
  • Elliott, P.T. 100 Proof: Tips and Tales for Spirited Drinkers Everywhere. New York: Penguin, 2000, p. 4.
  • Lopex, M.H. Demonizing the alcohol industry: Center for Science in the Public Interest. Organization Trends, May, 1999, 1, 3-5

Filed Under: Fun Facts