The American Whiskey Trail (A Top Travel Destination)

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.

I.   Overview

II.  Distilleries

III. Other Attractions

IV.  Fun Alcohol Trivia

V.   Resources

Frommer’s has rated the American Whiskey Trail one of the top travel destinations.

“We picked the American Whiskey Trail because it highlights a fascinating part of U.S. history,” said Frommer’s editor. “Points along the trail make for a leisurely road trip in some of the most charming parts of the country.”

I. Overview: American Whiskey Trail

George Washington’s Distillery

American Whiskey Trail
George Washington’s reconstructed distillery.

Probably the most popular destination on the American Whiskey Trail is George Washington’s distillery at Mount Vernon. 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, Washington worried about the morale and condition of his troops. To comfort them he said it was “so essential” that they have adequate supplies of whiskey.

Whiskey Rebellion

American Whiskey Trail
Whiskey Rebellion

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. They were outraged that the whiskey they had been making for years 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 this was because sugar and molasses were products of the British West Indies. Thus they 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. This was much cheaper to transport to market. Locally, it was a barter commodity used 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 per year. It came from an average of 9 1/2 gallons of spirits, 1/2 gallon of wine, and 27 gallons of beer. That’s a quantity about three times the current rate.

II. Distilleries

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

Also included are two rum distilleries:

III. Other Attractions

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

  • George Washington Distillery, Mount Vernon, VA. George Washington was one of the new country’s largest and most successful whiskey distillers. Archaeological excavations at Mount Vernon show that Washington was a highly inventive entrepreneur. A His reconstructed whiskey distillery has an interpretive museum.
  • Frauces Tavern Museum, Manhattan, NY. The Tavern is where Washington gave his famous farewell address to his officers in 1783 and toasted them with whiskey.
    Gadsby’s Tavern Museum
  • Gadsby’s Tavern Museum, Alexandria, VA. Prominent patrons of the tavern included George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and the marquis de Lafayette.
  • Woodville Plantation, Allegheny County, PA. The plantation was built by General John Neville, a major defender of the U.S. Constitution during the Whiskey Rebellion.
  • Oscar Getz Museum, Bardstown, KY. 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 Museum, Scottdale, PA. The museums contain an 1838 whiskey distillery set within an intact pre-Civil War village.
  • Oliver Miller Homestead, South Park, PA. The house became a National Historical Landmark in 1936.

IV. Fun Alcohol Trivia

Did you know that Abraham Lincoln operated several taverns? That the first Kentucky whiskey was made in 1789 by a Baptist minister? Or that in George Washington’s White House, “happy hour” began at 3:00 p.m. and continued until dinner?

Discover more alcohol trivia to enjoy and share with family and friends.

Here’s a general guide: Alcohol Trivia Resources (& Links to Alcohol Trivia).

Don’t Be Fooled

A glass of wine, a bottle of beer, and a shot of whiskey or other distilled spirits all have the same amount of pure alcohol. A standard drink is a

  • 12-ounce bottle or can of beer.
  • 5-ounce glass of dinner wine.
  • Shot (1.5 ounce) of spirits.

The health benefits associated with drinking in moderation are also similar for beer, wine and spirits. The major factor causing good health and long life is the alcohol itself.

V. Resources: American Whiskey Trail

General Appreciation

Bryson, L. Tasting Whiskey: An Insiders Guide. North Adams, MA: Storey, 2014.

Luntz, P. Whiskey and Spirits for Dummies. Hoboken: Wiley, 2013.

Yaffe, D. Drink More Whiskey: Everything You need to Know about Your New Favorite Drink. San Francisco: Chronicle, 2013.

Cocktail Recipes

Cate, M. and R. Smuggler’s Cove: Exotic Cocktails, Rum, and the Cult of Tiki. Berkeley: Ten Speed, 2016.

Foley, R. The Rum 1000: The Ultimate Collection of Rum Cocktails. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, 2008.

Gin: Classic & Contemporary Cocktails. London: Hamlyn, 2018.

Harris, J. Rum Drinks: 50 Caribbean Cocktails, from Cuba libre to Rum Daisy. San Francisco: Chronicle, 2011.

Hutson, L. ¡Viva Tequila!: Cocktails & Cooking. Austin: U Texas Press, 2013.

Schmid, A. The Old Fashioned: A Guide to the Original Whiskey Cocktail. Lexington: U Press Kentucky, 2013.

______. The Manhattan Cocktail: A Modern Guide to the Whiskey Classic. Lexington: U Press Kentucky, 2015.

Simonson, R. The Martini Cocktail. Berkekey: Ten Speed, 2019. 

Sipsmith London. Sip: 100 Gin Cocktails with Only 3 Ingredients. London: Beazley, 2019.