If you've walked down the liquor aisle recently, you might have noticed an explosion of choices not only in type of spirit, but also in the distilleries producing them.
According to the American Distilling Institute, the number of federal permits to operate a distillery has risen from only 560 in 2010 to 1,825 in 2016. More than 1,000 of them are craft distilleries.
10Best set out on a mission to find the best craft and small-batch spirits producers – family-owned distilleries, grain-to-glass operations or distillers using only the best local ingredients in their products.
We recruited a panel of craft spirits experts including bartenders, spirits journalists and judges to help us nominate 20 distilleries in each of the following categories: whiskey, rum, vodka, gin, tequila and specialty spirits. For the past four weeks, our readers have been voting for their favorites. Click on each category below to see the full winners lists.
Best Craft Gin Distillery: St. Augustine Distillery in St. Augustine, Fla.
New World Gin, made in small batches at St. Augustine Distillery in Florida, exhibits citrus and spice notes from botanicals like cassia bark and angelica around the flavor of juniper. In summer of 2016, the distillery began offering two limited release gins, a Sweet Red Barrel-Aged Gin and a Sweet White Barrel-Aged Gin, both rested in vermouth barrels.
Best Craft Rum Distillery: Wicked Dolphin in Cape Coral, Fla.
Founded in 2012, Wicked Dolphin Distillery uses 100-percent Florida-grown sugarcane to create small-batch rums in a traditional copper pot still. The spirit then gets aged in used American white oak Kentucky bourbon barrels for a minimum of one year (and up to 14 years).
Wicked Dolphin also produces a silver rum, coconut rum (made from real coconut water) and RumShine, a 100-proof spirit made from fresh local strawberries.
Best Craft Whiskey Distillery: Balcones Distilling in Waco, Texas
When you pick up a bottle of Balcones whiskey, you'll notice it has been individually stamped in wax and labeled with a handwritten batch number.
Balcones Distilling's whiskey lineup includes a Texas Single Malt, Baby Blue blue corn whiskey and Brimstone Texas Scrub Oak Smoked corn whiskey. Limited-release single-barrel whiskeys highlight unique variants and experimental whiskeys found nowhere else.
Best Craft Vodka Distillery: St. Louis Distillery in St. Louis
Cardinal Sin Vodka and Cardinal Sin Starka, made by St. Louis Distillery, are both hand-crafted using a custom-built still imported from New Zealand. The vodka is made from a base of toasted two-row malted barley that is distilled only once to preserve its delicate flavor. Cardinal Sin Starka gets aged in medium-charred virgin Missouri white oak barrels for a complex flavor profile characteristic of aged vodkas.
Best Craft Tequila Brand: T1 Tequila Uno
Master distiller Germán Gonzalez, the man behind T1 Tequila Uno, uses only mature blue agave from the Jalisco highlands to craft his spirits – a process he oversees from harvest to bottle. There are four tequilas in the line, ranging from an Ultra Fino Blanco to a 24 month-aged Añejo.
Best Craft Specialty Spirits Distillery: Vikre Distillery in Duluth, Minn.
Local grains, wild botanicals, oak barrels handcrafted in Minnesota and clean Lake Superior waters go into the distilled spirits from Vikre Distillery. The owner's Norwegian roots shine through in the aged and un-aged Aquavits, made from malted barley, fermented, distilled and infused with warm Scandinavian spices.
Congratulations to all our winning distilleries! Visit 10Best daily to vote in new Readers' Choice categories.