American Whiskey

American Whiskey Trail

The American Whiskey Trail is a cultural heritage and tourism initiative of the Distilled Spirits Council in cooperation with historic Mount Vernon. It provides an educational journey into the history and cultural heritage of distilled spirits in the United States.


Whiskey and other distilled spirits, such as rum, played an important role in both the American colonies and in the new American federal union. As early as 1657, a rum distillery was operating in Boston. It was highly successful and within a generation the production of rum became colonial New England's largest and most prosperous industry.

When the British blockade prevented the importation of sugar and molasses, and thereby disrupted the production of rum, a substitute was sought to meet the demand for spirits in general and for provisions for the Rebel Army in particular. It was found in whiskey.

Even before the war of independence, whiskey had become the preferred way to use surplus grains in the frontier settlements west of the Appalachian Mountains. The expansion of a corn belt in Kentucky and Ohio had created a corn glut. There were no roads in the region and most transportation was by packhorse. It cost more to transport corn or grain than it could bring on the eastern markets, so farmers distilled it into "liquid assets" that could easily be shipped or bartered. Practically every farmer made whiskey and it became a medium of exchange. (See the History of Bourbon Whiskey article).

A tax on whiskey led to the first test of federal power, the Whiskey Rebellion in 1794, put down with federal troops ordered in by President Washington. After serving as president, George Washington became probably the new federal union's largest whiskey distiller.

By 1810, there were at least 2,000 distillers producing more than 1.76 million gallons of whiskey. Annual absolute alcohol consumption (including wine, beer, etc.) may have been as high as 8 gallons per person, a level over four times the current rate.

The trail

The American Whiskey Trail consists of historical sites and operating distilleries open to the public:

Operating whiskey distilleries open to the public:

Also included are two rum distilleries:

Sites along the American Whiskey Trail can be visited in any order or sequence desired.

A related trail, The Kentucky Bourbon Trail is a patchwork of paths that lead to eight well-known Bourbon distilleries in Kentucky: Buffalo Trace (Frankfort, the oldest continually operating distillery in the United States), Four Roses (Lawrenceburg), Heaven Hill (Bardstown), Jim Beam (Clermont), Maker's Mark (Loretto), Tom Moore (Bardstown, producer of the 1792 brand), Wild Turkey (Lawrenceburg), and Woodford Reserve (Versailles).



  • Barr, A. Drink: A Social History of America. New York: Carroll & Graf, 1999.
  • Grimes, William. Straight Up or On the Rocks: A Cultural History of American Drink. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993.
  • Lender, Mark E., and Martin, James K. Drinking in America: A History. New York: The Free Press, 1982.
  • Popham, Robert E. The Social History of the Tavern. In: Israel, Yedy, er al. (eds.) Research Advances in Alcohol and Drug Problems. New York: Plenum, 1978. Volume 4. Pp. 255-302.
  • Rorabaugh, William J. The Alcoholic Republic: An American Tradition. New York: Oxford University Press, 1979.
  • Rorabaugh, William J. Alcohol in America. Magazine of History, 1991, 6, 17-19.
  • Roueche, Berton. The Neutral Spirit: A Portrait of Alcohol. Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1960.

External links

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