By Clare Goggin Sivits On December 6, 2022

The 9 Best Drinking Cities Picked by Craft Distillers

What you drink matters without a doubt. But where you drink could matter more. Think about it: if you’re drinking bourbon, wouldn’t you prefer to have it in Louisville, Kentucky? Or if you want the best martini you’ve ever had, maybe travel to Manhattan, the location of origin.

However, when it comes down to the question of the best city for drinking, it’s hard to come up with an answer. As an alcohol marketing agency, we put our heads together and even we had a hard time choosing. Luckily, we know a lot of liquor companies too.

We reached out to the craft distillers in our Rolodex and asked them: what’s your favorite drinking city? They told us and we got a pretty great list of distillers’ favorite drinking cities.

1. Rome, Italy

Catherine Faulconer of Queen Bee Distilling

The capital city of the entire boot-shaped peninsula, Rome attracts people of all ages for a lot of different reasons. It’s got history, gorgeous architecture, incredible dining options, art and probably a bunch of stuff we’re not thinking about right now. But what draws Catherine Faulconer, co-founder of Queen Bee Distilling? Aperol Spritz.

It’s not just any Aperol Spritz, mind you. “Nobody — and I mean nobody — can make an Aperol spritz like the bartenders at the Hassler,” Catherine tells us. Whenever she visits, whether she’s with her grown kids or just having a romantic getaway with her husband, she makes a point to stop at the Hassler Hotel.

Catherine goes to the hot spot at the top of the Spanish Steps for the cocktail but she stays for the location. “The bird’s eye view of the ancient, yet vibrant city is spectacular,” she explains. So let’s make plans to meet there in the new year and raise an Aperol Spritz to great things to come!

2. Madison, Wisc.

Beau Bunce of Dancing Goat Distillery

While not quite a European capital city, it is the capital of Wisconsin — and that’s still a pretty big deal. Wisconsin’s reputation typically revolves around beer. After all, Miller Brewing originated in Milwaukee and since then, countless breweries have taken root statewide and in Madison, too. However, according to Beau Bunce of Dancing Goat Distillery, it’s also a pretty stellar destination for a cocktail, too.

When describing his favorite drinking city, Beau says, “It’s smooth, it’s intricate, its approachable – just like my favorite cocktail.” The city offers a unique environment for drinkers navigating the streets and visiting the many bars around town. Even on cold nights, you’ll find a warm welcome at the bar and a good group of people always willing to have a conversation over a few drinks.

There’s a surprising quality that Beau points to as well: the beauty of this city that often goes overlooked. He points out, “It’s completely unexpected how powerful the people, place and views are in Madison. When you’re on the Isthmus, no matter where you look you can’t help but think, how beautiful.”

3. Portland, Ore.

Brandy Pieper of Oregon Spirit Distillers

Full disclosure: we here at High-Proof Creative are Portlanders. It might make us a little biased. But it has to be said that no matter what side of the Willamette you’re on, you’re bound to find a great cocktail in Portland. Brandy Pieper, Production Manager at Oregon Spirit Distillers took notice of that as well and told us that she considered Portland her favorite city to drink in.

There’s something about the maker community in Portland that inspires people to craft their own beverages, from beer to kombucha. Access to fresh and flavorful ingredients probably has a lot to do with it and the city’s location in the fertile Pacific Northwest definitely contributes to that. It means distilleries are opening left and right and bartenders can incorporate more local spirits.

As Brandy points out, “[There are] so many distilleries and so many cocktail bars making amazing and innovative cocktails!” Order up a cocktail in Portland and it will not disappoint.

4. Philadelphia, Penn.

William Lawver of Copper Bonnet Distillery

The name comes from the Greek words for love (phileo) and brother (adelphos) which is why it’s called the City of Brotherly Love. It also served as the center of the American Revolution. Both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were signed within the city limits. That’s a lot to celebrate so it’s no surprise that William Lawver of Copper Bonnet Distillery considers it a great drinking city.

As a resident of the city himself, William recognizes the atmosphere and people that contribute to it being such a great place to have a beverage. He sees Philadelphians head to the bar for celebrations and remembrances and everything in between. “We hit the bar to for any of life’s victories; we go the bar when we must mourn the loss of a brother or sister, he explains. “The bar is essential to our culture; it is as important as the kitchen table.”

Another factor that lends to William’s opinion about Philadelphia is the very design of the city. “Philadelphia is a ‘City of Neighborhoods,’” he says. “Each neighborhood has its respective bars, where the folks from the neighborhood like to go. Within these neighborhoods, there are varying communities and they all have their own bars. An example would be a cop or firefighter bar, or a Polish bar, and so on.”

To really underline his argument that Philadelphia is a great drinking city, William points out that there’s a bar that charges only $.80 for a mug of PBR — a pretty unheard-of price for any of us who regularly drink in bars.

5. New Orleans, La.

Sean Dotson of Dancing Goat Distillery & Craig Bryan of Reverb Distilling

Most people in the craft spirits industry know New Orleans as a city that can throw a party. One of the most famous Mardi Gras celebrations takes place along the city’s streets — and has been a tradition since at least the 17th century. And one of the most highly anticipated events for our industry, Tales of the Cocktail, happens in New Orleans annually.

We figured at least one of our distillers would point a finger at New Orleans as a great drinking city — possibly two — and we were right! Both Sean Dotson of Dancing Goat Distillery and Craig Bryan of Reverb Distilling called out this destination.

For Sean, it’s not just the Hurricanes and buy-one-get-one-free Bud Lights on Bourbon Street that appeal to him. “New Orleans is my absolute favorite place for a cocktail,” he declares. “The history is deep but the culture of bartenders and chefs alike create an amazing, shared experience through food and drink [that] is so uniquely awesome.”

Craig is on the same wavelength as Sean. “It is the perfect blend of culture, history, great food and drinks — and people,” he adds. “The city is the most European American city blended with southern charm. The blend allows for simple cocktails to very complex non-traditional cocktails.” He goes on to say that his favorite simple NOLA cocktail is bourbon milk punch.

6. New York City

Lorna Conrad of Corsair Distillery

A city that never sleeps has to entertain nearly 19 million people for all twenty-four hours in a day. New York City manages to do it without hesitation. Restaurants, bars, lounges, clubs and pubs across all five boroughs live up to that standard and impress industry veterans who visit all year round. It certainly caught the attention of Lorna Conrad, Head Distiller at Corsair Distillery.

Cocktails in the big apple set the standard for bartenders around the world. After all, this is the place where the Martini was invented. Plenty of mixologists carry on that tradition, as noted by Lorna. “There is an endless amount of good cocktail bars that always have interesting experimental drinks to offer,” she says. “I could never get tired of going out and exploring what the city has to offer.”

It’s no doubt an exciting destination for a beverage and the craft spirits trends that develop behind New York City bars influence producers worldwide. Definitely a great addition to this list!

7, 8 & 9. Austin, Tex.; Aspen, Colo. & Charleston, S.C.

Kim Martin of Queen Bee Distilling

When it comes to a drinking city for Kim Martin of Queen Bee Distilling, the answer to the question, “What’s your favorite drinking city?” is seasonal. “They are all great for different times of the year,” she insists. “Fall in Austin, Apres Ski for the Winter in Aspen and Springtime walks in the gardens and the history in Charleston!”

We’ll start with Austin. The capital of Texas represents a state that spans nearly 270,000 square miles. A college town, it buzzes in the fall with football but also offers a wide range of culinary and nightlife options. For Kim, the best spot for a cocktail in the whole city is Dumont’s Down Low. She highly recommends ordering the Lavendar Bee to really get a taste of what Austin has to offer on the cocktail front.

Next: Aspen, Colorado attracts skiers to its mountains. Many of those skiers are thirsty after a trip down the slope which is why this city also offers a wide range of delicious restaurants and bars as well. Kim suggests that the best option for anyone visiting the city is The Monarch, a steak house that calls upon historic traditions while also serving up impressive cocktails, like the Violet Beauregarde.

Finally, Charleston, South Carolina delivers southern culture in spades. The largest city in the state, this place blooms quite literally in the spring. Gardens of all sizes and shapes occupy spaces all over the area, around historic homes and elsewhere. It’s something Kim pointed out about this city after telling us to visit The Dewberry. Within the hotel, two bars serve up Kim’s favorite cocktails in town. The Living Room mixes a mean spicy margarita and a signature Old Fashioned. But don’t leave without having a Margarita at the Citrus Club.

Clare Goggin Sivits

As a marketer with a strong writing background, Clare Goggin Sivits has worked in the beer, spirits, and wine industries for nearly a decade. She oversaw digital marketing for a small wine startup as well as a craft brewery and distillery with a nationwide footprint. A Florida ex-pat, Clare now lives in Portland, Oregon, and continues to write about craft beverage marketing and the industry as a whole.

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