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A Tour of American Distilleries

Written by SeeSharp Group on . Posted in .

I was recently invited to be part of a trade delegation to the United States on a 16 day tour with the Australian Distillers Association and Spirits & Cocktails Australia.

The aim of the tour was to gain insights into the spirits industry in the US and of course to discover some mighty fine American whiskey along the way.

We visited a dozen distilleries from Illinois, Tennessee, Kentucky then over to Washington and Virginia, with each distillery offering unique perspectives and knowledge that we can use to enhance the quality and production of Station Lane Distillery.

Here are some of the highlights from the many stops we made:

FEW Spirits in Chicago: This is where the journey commenced, a small yet dynamic team mirroring Station Lane Distillery in spirit and production volume. They’ve been in operation since 2011, a comparable story to our start-up journey.

Judson & Moore Distillery: Established in 2017, this was remarkable for its elegant layout and matured spirits. The strategy of sourcing spirit while waiting for their distillery to be built resonated with our business approach. 

KOVAL Distillery: In contrast, the visit to KOVAL Distillery, operational since 2008, provided an understanding of a mature craft whiskey business. Their focus on research and development and significant production output was enlightening.

CH Distillery: a larger-scale producer of various spirit lines, blurring the line between craft and contract manufacturing.

Delilah’s Whisky Bar: A much-needed relaxation point in the journey, a beloved establishment turning 30 this year and a treasure trove of fine whiskies from across the globe. A must visit when you are in Chicago.

Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) Conference: A great platform for the Australian distillers, demonstrating first hand the global appeal of Australian spirits.

Binnies Beverage Depot: One of the most memorable stops was Binnies Beverage Depot spread over 2000 square metres of retail space, this ultra large-scale bottle shop presented the sheer diversity of spirits available in the market. Many marketing and branding ideas gathered here. 

Binny’s World of Whisky Trade Tasting Show: In the evening I attended this annual show with over 200 suppliers showing 1500 whiskies. A real snapshot of the scale of American whiskey.

Michter’s Distillery in Louisville, KY: Their commitment to detail was simply inspiring. This was the first of the big producers and everything they do is impressive.

The following days were spent exploring distilleries like Angel’s Envy, known for their wine barrel finished whiskey, and Starlight Distillery, a seven-generation family-owned distillery embodying a paddock-to-glass philosophy.

Buffalo Trace Distillery: The grandeur of this distillery, operating since 1805, and the meticulously crafted bourbons it houses left an indelible impression. Interesting to see how each of their brands had maintained its own look and feel. Jaw dropping, impressive. 

Independent Stave Company in Lexington: A special mention deserved here, this is where the lifecycle of a whisky barrel was observed, right from the harvesting of a 100 year old mature White Oak to its transformation into a barrel. Their practice of sustainable timber harvesting was far more advanced than I had ever dreamed.

University of Kentucky’s James B. Beam Institute for Kentucky Spirits: This offered a rare look into the academic side of spirits production and was a fountain of technical knowledge. 

Old Pepper Distillery: A visit to the place that holds the oldest distillery license in operation, and the massive Jim Beam product innovation distillery, demonstrated the range of the scale in whiskey production.

Mount Vernon Distillery: Established in 1897, a testament to the timelessness of distillation. George Washington’s transition from tobacco to grain cultivation for whiskey production due to profitability offered an interesting historical perspective.

The distillery tour presented a comprehensive view of the American whiskey industry, from small-scale craft operations to large-scale industrial production, all contributing to a diverse and vibrant spirits market.

Each distillery was a chapter in the book of American whiskey, and each had lessons to share that will certainly contribute to the development of Station Lane Distillery and Coburns Whisky.

21 days, 3000 miles, 11 States, 12 distilleries, one white oak forest, a stave mill, a cooperage, a University and numerous whisky bars visited.  

A huge thank you to the Australian Distillers Association and Spirits & Cocktails Australia for investing your resources into the creation of this tour.

I returned home with a clear vision that Australia is building a truly exceptional spirits industry, something the rest of the world is going to be delighted to drink.

Become a barrel owner today with Coburns Whisky and be part of bringing world-class Australian whisky to the world, while enjoyed fixed returns.