Whiskeys of New England
January 25, 2023 –––––– Shaun Tolson
As autumn's cooler temperatures drift over New England, travel to the region heats up. Vacationers may have flocked to New England’s beaches and coastal destinations during the summer, but in fall they focus farther inland, where the vibrant display of autumn foliage blankets much of the region.
Vermont-based WhistlePig’s blender Meghan Ireland.
Yet there’s more reason to travel to New England in the fall than just those treebound pops of color—or for the apple and pumpkin festivals that inject a bit of revelry into many of the region’s quaint towns. Distilling in New England is back in a big way. Making spirits here can be traced back to the 17th century, and although rum was the primary product for centuries, whiskey production has come on strong over the past two decades, which means there’s no shortage of great whiskey distilleries to see and experience.
Here we spotlight eight New England distilleries that make carefully crafted—and in some cases unique—whiskey. So venture forth with these New England destinations in mind, knowing that as the mercury drops and cardigans are donned, you’ll be well prepared to find a whiskey to complement the season.
Shoreham, Vermont• FOUNDED 2007
When WhistlePig burst onto the spirits scene with its first bottle in 2010, the Vermont-based distillery initially offered only a house blend of exceptional 10 year old rye whisky sourced from Alberta Distillers Ltd. in Canada. Fast forward 12 years, and the one-time small producer is now a major player in the industry, offering a slew of expressions, some of which comprise that same sourced whiskey (albeit in more mature form), while others showcase the distillery’s efforts to create its own liquid distilled from estate-grown rye. Most notably, WhistlePig’s lineup is dedicated to unique barrel finishes—a passion of the brand’s late master distiller Dave Pickerell— and its Old World 12 year old, a blend of ryes finished in port, madeira, and sauternes casks, is what established WhistlePig as a player when that expression was unveiled in 2015.
WhistlePig’s distillery, which is set on a 500-acre farm, is not open to the public, though occasional contests posted on WhistlePig’s social media channels offer loyal customers the opportunity to win a trip there, which includes overnight stays at the property’s farmhouse. Forty-six miles away, the WhistlePig Whiskey Parlour offers visitors a chance to learn more about the brand and its products. Set on the second floor of a historic mill in the town of Quechee, the Parlour can accommodate as many as 18 guests at a time (reservations are strongly encouraged), and tasting flights or individual whiskey pours predictably dominate the menu. Due to state regulations, however, the Parlour is limited to serving guests a single ounce per visit.
89 15 year old Vermont Estate Oak Straight Rye,46%, $260
Vanilla, cinnamon, fresh orange peels, baking spice, and dark fruits
If You Go
STAY The 142-room Woodstock Inn & Resort abuts the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park and is comfortably elegant in its décor and ambiance. The property is also pet-friendly.
EAT & DRINK Comfort food is the name of the game at Worthy Kitchen in Woodstock, an eatery that also emphasizes farm-to-table cooking.
UNIQUE EXCURSION Next door to WhistlePig’s Whiskey Parlour is Simon Pearce’s flagship store, a gallery featuring elegant glassware, not to mention a glassblowing workshop and an upscale restaurant. You’ll find plenty of whiskey glasses there—in 10 different styles, no less—including one designed in partnership with WhistlePig.
Newport Craft Brewing & Distilling
Newport, Rhode Island • FOUNDED 1999
With a change of management in 2016, Newport Craft Brewing & Distilling also changed its focus. Up until then, the company’s distillation efforts largely centered on rum, but new ownership began laying down whiskey. Today those efforts are paying dividends, as Newport Craft’s whiskey, called Sea Fog in both straight rye and single malt expressions, is nuanced, elegant, and—in the case of the brand’s single malt—pleasingly Scottish in style.
“One of the things that makes New England different from other whiskey regions in the U.S. is being on the water,” explains CEO Brendan O’Donnell. “There’s a lot of salt in the air, and we let our windows stay open year-round on the production level. We get that salt air into the barrel, and over 7 years it does a lot to the whiskey.” Newport Craft’s single malt is also a blend of pale, peated, and smoked whiskeys that all age in separate barrels for separate lengths of time. That adds to the whiskey’s scotch-like character.
Looking ahead, the company plans to build out a 10,000-barrel library in a nearby bonded warehouse, where its whiskey will be finished in unique casks, including sought-after wine barrels from first-growth producers in Bordeaux. The first expressions in that lineup, known as the Voyage series, will be available this fall. In time, Newport Craft will also unveil a bourbon, though it’s still a few years away.
By the end of the first quarter of 2023, the distillery will feature a sprawling hospitality area that offers views of downtown Newport. For now, private guided tours are available, if they’re booked in advance.
90 Sea Fog Straight Rye, 45%, $75
Rich and full-bodied, with lemon pie, espresso, herbs, peat, and barrel char
If You Go
STAY Located in downtown Newport, The Vanderbilt, an Auberge Resorts property, embraces Newport’s Gilded Age in numerous ways, including serving punch from punch bowls in The Parlour and The Library.
EAT & DRINK Blind-tasting dinners define the culinary experience at Cara restaurant, which is located inside The Chanler at Cliff Walk hotel.
UNIQUE EXCURSION A tour of the mansions along Bellevue Avenue is a must. The Breakers, a summer retreat for the Vanderbilt family, is the most stunning.
Sons of Liberty Beer & Spirits Co.
South Kingstown, Rhode Island • FOUNDED 2011
When Sons of Liberty Beer & Spirits Co. opened its doors in 2011, it did so by introducing whiskey drinkers to Uprising, an American single malt distilled from a stout beer base. Two years later, the company unveiled Battle Cry, also an American single malt, this one crafted from a Belgian saison-style ale. This was always the distillery’s goal—to not only specialize in whiskey but to make it from distinctive, foundational beers.
The whiskeys that Sons of Liberty now produces, including newer releases of the brand’s two flagship expressions, are more impressive today simply because they’ve had more time to mature in the barrel. When the distillery launched, it did so by selling bottles of a single malt whiskey that were less than a year old. Now, the blending recipes for those expressions include whiskeys that have aged in oak for more than 4 years. In time, the distillery hopes to tap into a stock of 53-gallon barrels that are all between 5 and 7 years old.
Tours and tastings aren’t currently available at the Rhode Island-based distillery, but the facility does include a retail shop that’s open Thursday through Saturday. There, visitors might find occasional special releases; however, whiskey enthusiasts searching for rarer offerings would be wise to check local retailers’ shelves, since some shops might still have a bottle or two of the brand’s oldest spirits produced thus far— bottled in bond releases of Uprising and Battle Cry, which were released at 5 and 6 years old, respectively.
Uprising American Single Malt, 46%, $50
Cocoa, oak, vanilla, and sweet malt (no rating)
If You Go
STAY Comprised of only 16 rooms and suites, The Break is a boutique hotel, with brightly colored “beach-chic” décor. It features a saltwater swimming pool, though guests are also provided complimentary backpack beach chairs and bikes for easy treks to nearby beaches along Point Judith.
EAT & DRINK Set along the shores of Potter Pond, Matunuck Oyster Bar specializes in local shellfish. (Insider tip: order the lobster pizza.)
UNIQUE EXCURSION Catch a show at Theatre by the Sea, a venue for live stage performances that dates back to the Great Depression and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
New England Distilling
Portland, Maine• FOUNDED 2011
It may not be much to look at, but the production facility for New England Distilling is one that will enrapture whiskey enthusiasts, even those who know their way around a distillery. The spirits company released its first whiskeys in 2011 and is committed to old-fashioned flavor profiles across its entire line. Hour-long tours are offered Monday through Friday and cover all aspects of production, including insight into the brand’s direct-fire distillation.
According to owner and distiller Ned Wight, New England Distilling’s house style is rooted in the past. It’s a signature boldly displayed in the brand’s pre-Prohibition style bourbon, which showcases strong roasted grain notes, as well as its Maryland-style rye. The distillery’s commitment to direct-fire distillation—an uncommon and inefficient approach—heats the bottoms of its two pot stills to as much as 1,000 degrees, which produces a uniquely flavored distillate. “You’re promoting caramelization reactions and Maillard reactions, which create a depth of flavor,” Wight explains. “Those deep, rich flavor reactions that you’re getting at high temperatures are the same types of flavors that you get when you sauté or grill food.”
Over the course of a year, the distillery is barreling as much as 4,000 cases of whiskey, and while its bourbon and rye are available throughout the year, New England Distilling’s Rack series—a limited release of spirits distilled from locally brewed craft beer—is harder to get. Only one or two barrels are bottled each year, one in the spring and another just ahead of the holidays.
89 Tidewalker Bourbon, 44%, $55
Milk chocolate, mint, candied pecans, oak, and vanilla
If You Go
STAY Located in the city’s Old Port district, the Portland Harbor Hotel is a boutique property that’s within easy walking distance to a bevy of shops, art galleries, theaters, and restaurants.
EAT & DRINK There’s no dining experience in Portland more unique than a meal at Fore Street, which features a brick and soapstone hearth equipped with a wood-burning oven, grill, and turnspit. Much of the restaurant’s fare is cooked over hardwood fires.
UNIQUE EXCURSION A ferry ride to Peaks Island, population less than 1,000, brings you to a serene isle where you can kayak around the bay in peaceful solitude.
Portland Harbor Hotel
Nantucket, Massachusetts• FOUNDED 2000
Although the distillery was founded in 2000, Triple Eight’s origins can be traced back to the early 1980s, when two of the company’s five owners planted 10 acres of grapes and set out to build a winery. The creation of that winery set in motion a sequence of events that first included the construction of a brewery (Cisco) in 1995 and eventually the expansion into distilling. In fact, at the turn of the millennium, Triple Eight was one of only a handful of American craft distilleries since Prohibition to earn a federal distilling license.
The home of Cisco Brewers and Triple Eight Distillery. Photo by Cary Tozer Today, Triple Eight’s lineup of products is long and varied— the company is perhaps best known for its vodkas—yet the distillery also produces a collection of exceptional single malt whiskeys, as well as Nor’Easter, a blend of several straight bourbons, some coming from other states (Kentucky, Indiana, Tennessee, and Missouri), as well as one made on Nantucket, albeit in small amounts. The distillery also experiments with secondary maturation, and it coopers and toasts its own wine barrels for use in its whiskey program. “We’re stocking the pantry with blending tools to make really good stuff,” says head distiller Bryan Jennings.
The distillery is open seven days a week, offering live music and food trucks daily. For that reason, visitors may need to pay a cover fee to enter the property, though there is a free shuttle from the center of town. Public tours are given daily. Private tours can also be arranged, which offer the opportunity to taste more whiskeys, including products that haven’t yet been released.
89 Nor’easter Blended Bourbon, 44.4%, $60
Roasted corn, dried dates, candied almonds, oranges, cinnamon bark, and oak
If You Go
STAY A stay at The Wauwinet on the northeastern shore of Nantucket is a proper reward for the journey required to reach the island. This Relais & Châteaux resort has welcomed guests since 1875 and offers a mix of traditional guest rooms, suites, and cottages.
EAT & DRINK On an island as small as Nantucket, most restaurants will serve exceptional seafood. But if you want to taste what many believe to be Nantucket’s best clam chowder, you have to snag a table at Breeze. Don’t forget to ask about the lobster tacos, too.
UNIQUE EXCURSION Renting bicycles is a great way to get around the island, but don’t overlook a stop at the Whaling Museum. Among the things you’ll learn is the real-life story of the Essex, which inspired Herman Melville to write “Moby-Dick.”
Berkshire Mountain Distillers
Sheffield, Massachusetts • FOUNDED 2007
For the first seven years of its existence, Berkshire Mountain Distillers operated on the farm of its owner and founder, Chris Weld, though that meant that the facility wasn’t open to the public. But eight years ago Weld built a 7,500 square-foot distillery in Sheffield, Massachusetts, complete with a tasting room. Today, Berkshire Mountain features a pavilion with plenty of outdoor seating, and Weld grows a variety of botanicals on-site in greenhouses, which he uses to craft two gins and also to make more than a dozen cocktails offered on a rotating schedule.
The company’s whiskeys remain the best sellers, especially the bourbon and rye—both of which are bottled at around 4 years old from extremely clean cuts off the still, though Weld says he’ll soon be bottling a 10 year barrel of bourbon. Berkshire Mountain’s corn whiskey, on the other hand, is, according to Weld, “the dirtiest of our spirits, in a good way,” which means the white oak and cherry-matured whiskey is ideal for cocktails.
Visitors seeking even more unique whiskey can look for bottles within the brand’s Craft Brewers Project, which feature distillates made from beers sourced from craft breweries located throughout the northeast. In particular, Weld points to whiskeys produced from Long Trail’s Unearthed American stout and Ommegang’s Three Philosophers Belgian-style quadruple ale as ideal pours for the fall season.
88 Race Brook Rye, 43%, $45
Fruity and viscous, sweet banana, baking spices, vanilla, and lavender
If You Go
STAY Set in the heart of the Berkshires, Hampton Terrace Inn is a bed and breakfast that offers two distinct lodging experiences. The guest rooms in the main building reflect the property’s late 19th-century origins, whereas rooms in the antique carriage house (rebuilt in 2000) and suites in a new building deliver a more modern aesthetic.
EAT & DRINK Vibrant Mediterranean flavors abound at Alta, a restaurant in nearby Lenox that also boasts an extensive international wine menu.
UNIQUE EXCURSION Stretch your legs on many of the trails that wind through the Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary. Or take a tour of The Mount, the early 20th-century home of American author Edith Wharton, which now operates as a historic museum and cultural center.
Litchfield, Connecticut• FOUNDED 2014
Earlier this year, Litchfield Distillery in north-central Connecticut benefited from a 7,000 square-foot expansion, including a new rickhouse that can store about 1,000 barrels. By contrast, eight years ago barrels were aging along the far wall of the warehouse space, opposite Litchfield’s combination pot-and-column stills and fermentation tanks. Although a stark (and necessary) change, the recent expansion is not the only way the distillery has evolved.
A tour at Litchfield Distillery. Photo by Tony Vengrove When Litchfield first launched, it did so with 6 year old sourced bourbon that was aged for an additional two years on-site. Doing so helped the company to keep its lights on while it waited for its own stock of bourbons and rye whiskeys (crafted from Connecticut-grown grain) to fully mature. Today, its 5 year old double-barreled bourbon—a style that reintroduces the whiskey to the barrel after it’s been brought down to proof—is a reflection of the distillery’s commitment to crafting every aspect of its spirits in-house. “It’s a little smoother, with a little extra flavor,” Tony Vengrove, Litchfield Distillery’s head of brand says of the double-barrel technique. “All of the proofing water takes on characteristics from the barrel.”
In the beginning, Donald Snyder (formerly of Buffalo Trace) served as a consultant, and James McCoy worked as the company’s first master distiller. Today, David Baker—one of three brothers who co-own Litchfield Distillery—serves as its master distiller. All three of them are also known to lead the hour-long tours that are offered seven days a week.
88 Litchfield Distillery Batchers’ Straight Bourbon, 46%, $50
Black pepper, chocolate, and coffee with sugar
If You Go
STAY Best described as a New England country manor, the Mayflower Inn & Spa offers guests an idyllic retreat from bustling city life. Built on 58 acres, the boutique hotel and destination spa is comprised of sophisticated guest rooms and suites that deliver contemporary motifs behind one door and more classic aesthetics behind the next.
EAT & DRINK After more than three decades, West Street Grill continues to impress with its New American cuisine. In particular, the restaurant takes inspiration from French and Italian cooking, weaving that into rustic bistro and trattoria fare.
UNIQUE EXCURSION If you’re up for some leaf-peeping, consider taking a stroll down many of the trails at the White Memorial Conservation Center.
Tamworth, New Hampshire • FOUNDED 2015*
The roots of Tamworth Distilling can be traced back to the mid-19th century—at least in so much as the distillery’s inspiration is concerned. Influenced by New England-born transcendentalism, Tamworth focuses only on what surrounds it. That is to say that it relies solely on locally grown house-milled grain, water from the White Mountains, garden-grown fruits and vegetables, and herbs and botanicals foraged from nearby forests. All of these ingredients are used to produce the distillery’s eclectic array of spirits. It’s whiskeys include bottled in bond bourbons, straight ryes, and unusual concoctions like Deerslayer, a venison-infused whiskey.
A visit to Tamworth Distilling, which is nestled in the foothills of the White Mountains, is ideal in the fall, as the small town of less than 3,000 people epitomizes pastoral New England, with its white-steepled churches and clapboard farmhouses. The distillery is open Thursday through Sunday and tastings are available; however, visitors should also visit Tamworth Lyceum just down the road, where unique bottles and bar supplies are sold, not to mention that special cocktail workshops and guided spirits tastings can be arranged.
86 Eau de Musc Castoreum-Flavored Whiskey, 44%, $65
Piney, sweet, and spice with sage, eucalyptus, grape Kool-Aid, and Red Hots
Tasting outdoors at Tamworth Distilling. Photo by Jenn Bakos
If You Go
STAY The Pickering House Inn, circa 1813, is one of the oldest buildings in nearby Wolfeboro and opened as a charming bed and breakfast in 2018.
EAT & DRINK Wolfetrap Grill & Rawbar, set on the shore of Back Bay in Wolfeboro, offers a relaxed clam-shack atmosphere, but serves a few unexpected items, like bouillabaisse provençal and lobster poutine.
UNIQUE EXCURSION Exploring the hiking trails through the White Mountains can bring you to waterfalls, scenic lookouts, and mountain summits.