By Leslie Kelly
September 06, 2015

There's never been a better time for booze enthusiasts as innovative micro-distilleries across the nation are taking spirits to the next level, crafting bourbon from smoked grains, going hyper-local to create distinctive single malts and stoking civic pride along the way. Here are three to watch, and taste, of course.

1) Westland

This Seattle-area distillery takes sustainability seriously, sourcing its barley from tulip farmers in Skagit Valley who grow that grain as a nutritious cover crop for the flowers. The barley is malted at a brand new facility in that farming community, an ambitious operation that promises to revolutionize spirits and beer making in Washington state. Yeast and Seattle tap water are the rest of the ingredients in Westland's quest to make single malt whiskey in small batches, using various wooden barrels made from Oregon oak. Savvy spirits fans love Westland, and the good will flows both ways on cool collaborations with bars to create cask-aged cocktails.

Westland Distillery in Seattle makes American single malt whiskey with barley grown nearby. Photo by Leslie Kelly

2) Headframe Spirits

Find this gem in Butte, Montana, on a sweet corner spot in the once booming mining town. Owner John McKee and his wife, Courtney, love the city, nicknamed Butte, America, and showed their civic pride by joining the growing movement to revitalize the historic downtown with this project. McKee developed a state-of-the-art system for distilling small batch spirits more quickly than the standard pot still. He and his team now manufacture and sell those slick stills, along with producing an extensive lineup of clear and brown liquor that can be sampled in the super charming tasting room. Don't miss the Montana Mule. Call ahead if you want a tour of the production facility, which is decorated with vintage mining tools.

Headframe Spirits in Butte, Montana, uses state-of-the-art stills designed by owner John McKee. Photo by Leslie Kelly

3) Corsair Distillery

The owners of this Nashville distillery were making beer before shifting to small-batch spirits that joyously push the boundaries of what whiskey means. They play around with smoking grains and come up with an ultra-complex sipper. They use quinoa instead of the traditional corn and age spirits in smaller barrels for more intense flavors. Watch the short video below to hear more about Corsair's secret weapon. The operation is expanding to get back in the beer making business. The popular tasting room is often packed, with crowds sometimes spilling out onto the cool brick courtyard.