There’s a tremendous history of former soldiers opening distilleries, dating as far back as 1797 when George Washington himself began commercial distilling out of Mount Vernon.
In fact, by 1799, George Washington had become one of the largest whiskey producers in the United States and still to this day, Mount Vernon produces each of their spirits using 18th-century distilling methods and techniques.
Now, of course, there are so many more opportunities for former soldiers to open up small businesses, and distilleries are just one of many different types of Veteran-owned businesses that have started popping up all across America.
Here are 6 Veteran-owned distilleries you should try:
1. Hotel Tango, Indiana
Travis Barnes, like so many others, felt the call to enlist in the Marines following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. He left school at Purdue to become a Marine, where he served three tours in Iraq, received multiple combat medals, and incurred a Traumatic Brain Injury following multiple IED attacks. Barnes didn’t let that stop him, though. He went on to graduate law school, marry the love of his life, and pursue a new passion: distilling.
In 2014, Travis and his wife, Hilary, decided to open Hotel Tango — a distillery named using their initials in the NATO phonetic alphabet (Hotel for Hilary, Tango for Travis). While Hotel Tango crafts bourbon, whiskey, vodka, rum, cherry liqueur, orangecello, and limoncello, their gin is a crowd favorite.
You can find Hotel Tango spirits in grocery, liquor, and spirits stores nationwide, as well as military Exchanges across the globe. Search their website for the closest retailer near you, or simply buy online and have it shipped right to your door!
2. Justice Label Distillery, Texas
Justice Label Distillery LLC opened in 2015 as the first moonshine, Texas whiskey, and Texas bourbon whiskey distillery in South Texas, but its roots go back further than that. According to Justice Label Founder and U.S. Army Veteran, Jason Justice, there have been a total of three generations of Veterans actively involved in the distillery.
The original recipe belonged to Army Air Corps Veteran, Jackie “Papaw” Justice and has “worked its way down from the hills and hollers of West Virginia to South Texas” over the course of 80 years. Jason’s father and U.S. Army Veteran, Jack Justice, helped to refine and construct most of the distilling equipment that is used today.
Popular moonshine flavor combinations include Papaw’s Apple Pie Moonshine, Boushae’s Orange Lemonade, and Papaw’s Red Hot Shine; but moonshine isn’t all that’s on the menu! Justice Label also crafts a pecan wood infused whiskey and a 17-times distilled vodka which may just be one of the smoothest vodkas on the market.
If you’re craving a taste of Texas-sourced moonshine, whiskey, and vodka, be sure to check their website for a retailer near you. If you want to sip straight from the source, stop in to Justice Label Distillery in Sinton, Texas for a taste test — but don’t forget to ask for the tour!
3. Dragon Distillery, Maryland
Founded by U.S. Navy Veteran, Hirad Yaldaei, Dragon Distillery is a unique and quirky distillery specializing in hand-crafted, premium, artisan spirits using locally-sourced, natural ingredients.
Hirad and Dragon Distillery President, Tania Lambert, are huge fans of Dungeons & Dragons and all things geeky — role- playing games, fencing and science-fiction/fantasy books and movies. So, if you find yourself wanting to embrace your inner nerd, stop by their location in Frederick, Maryland for a delicious bite to eat, spirit tastings, axe throwing, and games.
Dragon Distillery has a wide range of spirits for every taste bud, including whiskeys, vodkas, gins, rums, brandy, and canned cocktails. Some must-try spirits are their original Basilisk Bourbon, Dragon Dog Frederick Rye Whiskey, Longbow Lemon Vodka, and Imperial Reserve Pear Brandy. See their full list of spirits online or find them at a liquor store near you.
4. Have A Shot Of Freedom Whiskey Co., California
Owned and operated by Zach Hollingsworth (U.S. Marine Corps) and Scott Brown (U.S. Air Force), Have a Shot of Freedom Whiskey Co. started in 2011 after Zach’s unit’s Senior Staff NCO shouted, “Marines, enjoy this day! For those who fight to protect it, freedom has a flavor the protected will never know!”
The pair linked up with an up and coming distillery out of Spring Valley, California to create their signature Small Batch Bourbon, and the rest is history! Currently, they have two spirits available: Have A Shot Of Freedom Whiskey Co. Small Batch Bourbon and Freedom Barrel Rested Gin.
Have A Shot Of Freedom Whiskey can be found in fourteen U.S. states and online via third-party retailers.
5. Black Patch Distilling Co., Alabama
Co-founded by lifelong chemist Gary Cooper, and his son, U.S. Army Veteran Clayton Hinchman, Black Patch Distilling Co. is a small, family-owned distillery in Madison, Alabama that opened in June of 2018.
During his service, Clayton served in Iraq with Task Force 17, also known as Task Force Ghost. Due to the secretive nature of their work, Clayton’s unit did not use standard issue Army patches. Instead, they wore only two patches, an American flag and a black patch, which is what provided the inspiration for the name of their distillery. Unfortunately, Clayton lost his leg in combat, so to honor his sacrifice, Black Patch Distilling Company donates a portion of every bottle sold to Veteran charities.
Their lineup of spirits includes bourbon whiskey, rye whiskey, cinnamon-flavored whiskey, agave-flavored whiskey, and blue agave. If you ever find yourself in the Madison, Alabama area, be sure to sign up to take a tour of their distillery, where you can meet the owners and sip on custom curated cocktails like their H.E.A.T. Red Cream Soda! Until then, you can shop their spirits online and have them delivered straight to your door!
6. Leatherwood Distillery, Tennessee
Founded by U.S. Army Veteran Andrew Lang, Leatherwood Distillery is a Veteran-owned and operated distillery based out of Pleasant View, TN that all started with a Meal Ready to Eat (MRE).
During his time in Kuwait, Andrew told an Army buddy that he could make wine out of items in his MRE, so he boiled some water, melted a pack of MRE Skittles, and added a crushed piece of bread. Then, he let it ferment. He told Main Street Nashville, “It tasted horrible, almost like Skittles bread. A whole bunch of people tried it, but no one cared what it tasted like at that point.”
Without any business experience, Andrew continued to make spirits using whatever ingredients he could find and eventually, a friend convinced him to open a distillery. Now, more than 25 years after that first MRE concoction, Leatherwood Distillery is an established Veteran-owned brand known for their rums, ryes, bourbons, and moonshines.
If you’re in Tennessee, stop by Leatherwood Distillery for a tour, tastings, happy hour, and live music! Or, fill up your liquor cabinet by purchasing Leatherwood’s spirits online.
We hope you join us in raising a glass to these six entrepreneurs and consider supporting one of these small Veteran-owned businesses next time you’re shopping for birthday, Christmas, or anniversary gifts!
Have you tried one of the Veteran-owned distilleries on our list? Share any Veteran-owned distilleries you know in the comments below!