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Small Spirits, Big Flavors

Sometimes good things come from small producers.

During the past decade, the beverage industry has seen a surge in innovative, entrepreneurial startups as new microbreweries, microdistilleries and estate wineries have opened in cities and states across the country. For travelers who enjoy tasting these products and learning about how they’re made, these small producers offer great opportunities to visit.

If your group includes, beer, wine or spirits enthusiasts, consider incorporating a tour of one of these sites on your next trip.

Firefly Distillery

Wadmalaw Island, South Carolina

On an island off the coast of South Carolina, a group of friends who previously worked together in the wine business decided to launch a new venture, blending their passion for distilling with the signature flavor of the South. The result was Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka, a spirit that has won acclaim for its innovative flavor and become a favorite for cocktail aficionados throughout the region.

Groups can hear all about the Firefly story during a tour of the South Carolina distillery. Tours showcase the entire distillation process and feature samples of several varieties of Firefly products. After the tour, travelers can order cocktails in the tasting room or relax on the front porch to enjoy the live music, food trucks and other fun often on-site during popular seasons. The distillery is scheduled to move to a larger venue near Charleston with more amenities this spring.

New Belgium Brewing Company

Fort Collins, Colorado

Back in 1988, Kim Jordan and Jeff Lebesch took a bike trip through Belgium and fell in love with the local beer. The experience inspired them to try their hands at brewing Belgian-style beer at their home in Fort Collins, Colorado, and they named their first product Fat Tire after the bikes they used during their European adventure. In the three decades since, Fat Tire has become a signature Colorado craft beer, and New Belgium has grown to produce numerous other varieties at three breweries.

Groups interested in learning more about the New Belgium story and sampling its products, can tour the brewery at the company’s Fort Collins headquarters; tours are also available at the company’s location in Asheville, North Carolina. Basic tours last 90 minutes and give an overview of the brewing. Interested groups can also arrange more in-depth tour experiences.

Chateau Ste. Michelle

Woodinville, Washington

Like other West Coast states, Washington enjoys an abundance of great wineries, many of which produce their products on a limited scale and offer tour and tasting opportunities for visitors. In Woodinville, just outside Seattle, a winery called Chateau Ste. Michelle offers visitors a sense of grandeur and the best traditions of European winemaking.

The Woodinville winery is one of two locations owned by Chateau Ste. Michelle and produces white wines exclusively. Guests can explore the French-style chateau for which the winery is named and choose from a variety of tour and tasting experiences. Basic tours give an overview of the winery and offer opportunities for tasting flights. Other options include programs called Wine 101, Winemaker for a Day and Sensory Sojourn. Several other options pair Chateau Ste. Michelle wines with gourmet food.

Watershed Distillery

Columbus, Ohio

Columbus, Ohio’s Watershed Distillery was started in 2010 by two friends who were passionate about spirits and left their stable jobs to open a distillery where they could experiment with classic liquors and new concepts alike. The distillery makes a gin that includes four different kinds of citrus peels, in addition to straightforward vodka and bourbon with ingredients sourced from local farms. They also have more inventive options, such as a bourbon barrel gin; an Old Fashioned, which blends bourbon with bitters, raw sugar and Ohio cherry juice; and nocino, a sweet Italian liquor made from walnuts.

When groups visit Watershed, they get private tours that showcase the stills, as well as the bourbon aging area and other parts of the production. Then, they get to sample the lineup of products, learning how classic techniques and new innovations are used to create distinctive flavors. Many groups also include a meal in the on-site restaurant, Watershed Kitchen and Bar.

Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery

Hammondsport, New York

In 1957, a scientist named Konstantin Frank planted some vinifera vines on a hilly plot of land on the southwestern side of Keuka Lake in New York’s Finger Lakes region. He hoped the area’s cool climate would prove ideal for growing grape varieties such as riesling, pinot noir and rkatsiteli. His experiment proved successful. Today, Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery is one of more than 100 wineries around the Finger Lakes.

When groups visit the winery, they can learn about Frank’s winemaking experiments and choose from a variety of tasting experiences. The 1962 Reserve Tasting gives guests access to the winery’s 30 products. The Terrace at 1886 offers wine and cheese pairings with beautiful views of the lake below. The full Food and Wine Experience features an in-depth wine education session and a gourmet meal.

Sprecher Brewing Company


Milwaukee has a long and illustrious brewing history. But before 1985, there were no microbreweries in the city. That changed when Randy Sprecher, then a third-shift employee at the Pabst Brewing Company, decided to start making beers like those he had discovered during his military service in Germany. Soon, the Sprecher Brewing Company was born. Today, Milwaukee’s original craft brewery offers numerous experiences for visitors.

Basic tours showcase the brewhouse, where guides demonstrate how Sprecher fire-brews craft beers and sodas. The tour also includes stops at the fermentation cellar, the bottling line and the indoor beer garden and taproom for tastings. Other tour options include the Drinking Age Only Tour, which includes a commemorative beer-tasting glass for visitors to take home, and the Reserve Tasting Tour, which features tastings of 10 Sprecher beers paired with artisanal cheeses.

Corsair Distillery

Nashville, Tennessee

Friends Darek Bell and Andrew Webber began their journey together as hobbyists making beer and wine in their homes. But after they decided that distilling whiskey would be more satisfying, they focused all their attention on creating craft spirits. In 2010, their Corsair Distillery opened its first location in Nashville, Tennessee; a second Nashville location opened in 2016. In addition to its signature Triple Smoke Whiskey, Corsair produces a gin and a pumpkin spice moonshine.

At the original Nashville location, visiting groups can choose from a variety of tour experiences. The basic public tour lasts 30 minutes and offers a behind-the-scenes look at the stills, the fermentation vessels and the blending tanks used in the distillation process, as well as a tasting of five spirits. Other options include a master distiller’s tour and a cocktail creation course.

Four Peaks Brewing Company

Tempe, Arizona

The building that houses the Four Peaks Brewing Company in Tempe, Arizona, was never designed to be a brewery. When it was constructed in 1892, before Arizona’s statehood, it served as the F.A. Hough Ice Factory. Throughout the coming decades, the Mission Revival structure went on to house a dairy creamery and, later, a recording studio used by artists such as Stevie Nicks and the Gin Blossoms. Then in the mid-1990s, a group of friends opened the Four Peaks Brewing Company in the historic facility.

Guests learn all about this history when they take a tour at Four Peaks. Tours also highlight the brewing process and all the science that goes into it. Visitors learn about the company’s laboratory testing, the water treatment process and the barrel-aging program before sampling its signature beers. Groups can finish the experience with classic and innovative bar fare in the on-site restaurant.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.