Powder 8s: Libation Nation

Ski town-made spirits are just what the good doctor ordered

Pull on your cleanest flannel and let's go get a drink. PHOTO: Tahoe Moonshine Distillery & Speakeasy
Pull on your cleanest flannel and let’s go get a drink. PHOTO: Tahoe Moonshine Distillery & Speakeasy

PBR is second in purity only to holy water. But remember what your doctor told you last time? “Lay off on the cheap beer.” And while she also said “more vegetables,” you and I both know what she really meant was “more whiskey.” There’s nothing better for promoting general heartiness and overall vigor than some fine, local spirits made with mountain water. So take your next après to a friendly neighborhood distillery, or stop in “avant” to bring something nice home, something much more space-efficient than pocket-beers. Here’s a list of eight ski town distilleries well worth your visit.

1. Appalachian Gap: Middlebury, Vermont

This solar-powered distillery was founded in 2010 with a mission to delight the senses. A stop on the Midd Tasting Trail, a treasure map for made-in-Middlebury liquid refreshments, the distillery offers two national award-winning whiskeys. The distillery also specializes in coffee liquors, one of which is charmingly dubbed with the Swedish name Kaffevän, meaning “coffee friend.” Their java liquors are inspired by a traditional Swedish process called “Kaffekask,” which involves placing a coin at the bottom of a china cup and adding coffee until the coin disappears, then “diluting” the drink with clear liquor until the coin becomes completely visible once more.

2. Breckenridge Distillery: Breckenridge, Colorado

Though bourbon has its roots in the deep and dirty south, the Breckenridge Distillery—billed as the “world’s highest distillery” at 9,600 feet— proves that anything you can do, skiers can do better. Their bourbon, which won three gold medals at the 2011 International Wine and Spirits Competition, is one of the world’s best, even though it’s aged only a few years. The secret is the magical Colorado snowmelt used for proofing. You treat your body like a temple, and as someone on the Internet commented, “Breck is my Mecca for bourbon.” Sounds like a call to prayer.

3. Glacier Distilling Company: Coram, Montana

This watering hole was founded by Nicolas Lee, a North Carolina boy who majored in chemistry, married a Montanan, and later found himself in a riverside cabin with snow piling up outside while the whiskey supply dwindled. The friends gathered at the cabin that night began brainstorming survival strategies, should the storm kick off the end of days. The crew knew they’d need their own source of the good juice if they were to hole up in the snowy Canyon near Glacier National Park while the rest of the world burned. Then and there, Lee pledged to start his own distillery—apocalypse or no. Five years later, his most popular whiskey is the Wheatfish, a slightly sweet elixir with a nose of honeysuckle and ripe pear.

4. High West Distillery and Saloon: Park City, Utah

Utah has a bad rap for maintaining some of the nation’s weirdest liquor laws, but when the state voted to end Prohibition in 1933, a Utah delegate defended his American right to booze by declaring, “No other state shall take away this glory from Utah!” It took a few decades for someone to really deliver on this proclamation—High West claims that when it opened in 2007, it was the Beehive state’s first legal distillery since 1870. High West is also the world’s only ski-in distillery and gastro-saloon. It offers 13 whiskeys as well as other specialty spirits like the new Yippee-Ki-Yay!, a “not disgustingly sweet” rye whiskey that tastes of cinnamon, blackberries, and herbs after being aged in wine barrels.

5. Montanya Distillers: Crested Butte, Colorado

This woman-owned distillery taps into a rum-drinking tradition begun in Crested Butte by miners over a century ago. Originally inspired by a high-altitude distillery in Belize, founder Karen Hoskin’s rums fall more in line spiritually with the beverages native to mountainous Central America than a tropical paradise. The spirits are minimalist, clear, and simple, and have been recognized internationally. The operation produces three premium craft rums containing four ingredients: spring water sourced from a well 350 feet under the facility, yeast, Louisiana sugar cane, and trace amounts of Colorado honey.

6. Port Chilkoot Distillery: Haines, Alaska

These spirits hail from the Last Frontier but have been recognized the world-round for their quality. After sipping on the 50 Fathoms Gin, which is prepared by head distiller Heather Shade in a London Dry style, the editor of a travel magazine had an epiphany: “I realize what gin is supposed to taste like now!” he reportedly exclaimed. The gin is made with hand-harvested spruce tips, juniper berries, cinnamon, and coriander. Shade also produces a rye and bourbon crafted “with the same attention to detail that a boat-maker brings to his trade.” Swings in barometric pressure common to Southeast Alaska squeeze and release the barrels, which add depth and nuance to the aged flavors.

7. Tahoe Moonshine Distillery & Speakeasy: South Lake Tahoe, California

Though Jeffrey VanHee, this business’ founder, got his distilling start by making ethanol for fuel, his shine is perfectly fit for consumption—it’s even carried by Whole Foods. Though the crowd favorite is VanHee’s smooth corn whiskey, the small operations permit frequent adventures into handcrafted vodka with unexpected flavor profiles like Peanut Butter and Hot Stinking Garlic.

8. Your new chairlift friend’s mystery flask

Because nothing is better than truly small-batch hooch enjoyed with the thrill of not knowing whether your next sip will make you go blind.