Southern spirits are on the rise

Here are some of the best distilleries, bars and cocktails


Ask just about anyone what spirit best embodies the South, and chances are they'll say "bourbon."

Ask just about anyone what spirit best embodies the South, and chances are they'll say "bourbon." The vast majority of it comes from Kentucky, which boasts a tradition of bourbon-making that stretches back centuries.

A rising appreciation for domestic craft products and southern-made food and drink has helped drive a strong American thirst for bourbon.


Often viewed as America’s other whiskey

A category of aged liquor second in stature (and sales) to bourbon.

But these circumstances are a stubborn leftover of the 20th century, and in the modern era they’re rapidly shifting, especially in the South.

Here, a determined band of craft-minded blenders, distillers and mixologists are repositioning the savory spirit, named after the primary grain used to produce it.

It’s a comeback story centuries in the making.

Tennessee whiskey

Whiskey has a long history in Tennessee.

Cascade Hollow has operated since 1878. And Jack Daniel’s is the most popular American whiskey brand by a large margin.

But the story of Tennessee whiskey is still being written.


Mystery is part of the culture of amaro

A wide-ranging group of herbal liqueurs with roots in the Middle Ages.

Amari, plural for amaro, means "bitter" in Italian. Distillers often keep the makeup of their bittersweet liqueurs secret, though many include common botanicals such as mint, gentian and elderflower.


Although gin doesn’t have a lengthy legacy in the South, the oft-overlooked spirit is now starting to rise in popularity.

Upstart distilleries have broadened the parameters of the category, pushing the botanical complexities well beyond the obligatory juniper berry.

Regional bartenders, in turn, are taking these experimental elixirs and layering atop all sorts of exciting tones and textures.


Many distilleries in the state have made the spirit their mission. Producing rum connects them to the state’s history.

Agricole-style rum, made from fresh-pressed sugarcane juice and typically produced in the French West Indies, preserves the fresh, grassy flavor of sugar cane.

Louisiana is one of the three states, along with Florida and Texas, that produce cane sugar.


The history of American-made fruit brandy is as old as Colonial America.

Seventeenth-century land advertisements touted orchards' suitability for brandy, by definition a distilled fruit spirit, and fermented apple cider.

Apple brandy was big business. And then it simply wasn't. Now, Southern farmers are planting the types of heirloom apple trees best for spirits and cider. Brandy is back.

Specialty spirits

The South may be steeped in tradition, but it is also looking forward.

Distilleries across the region are experimenting with native ingredients like sorghum and sotol.

And the South's growing diversity has introduced liquors from around the world.


Though it's a bestseller worldwide, vodka is perhaps best distinguished by the fact that it's not particularly distinctive.

At Le Loup in Nashville, beverage director Kenneth Vanhooser said its neutrality makes it the perfect blank canvas for infusing it with flavor.

"If you can wow someone with vodka, you've pulled them in," he said.

Simple syrup & mocktails

Bartenders and mixologists across the South are adding creative mocktails to their menus that rival traditional cocktails.

The secret ingredient? House-made syrups that elevate these “zero-proof” libations to a whole new level.

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