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Sample These Top Veteran-Owned Distilleries and Breweries

Community, giving back to service charities and great booze are all on tap from these veterans

spinner image a woman stands with a drink in her hands at a distillery
Beth Bechtel, owner of Bear Island Brewing.
Angie Smith

Veteran-owned distilleries and breweries are popping up across the U.S. as those who have taken off their uniforms for the last time opt to serve in a different way.

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You can subscribe here to AARP Veteran Report, a free e-newsletter published every two weeks. If you have feedback or a story idea then please contact us here.

Here are six establishments where you can raise a glass or two to our country and to those who have fought for it.

American Freedom Distillery

St. Petersburg, Florida

Horse Soldiers Bourbon takes its name from the Green Beret warriors who rode into battle in Afghanistan just weeks after 9/11. Among the founders are Mark Nutsch and Bob Pennington, who were horse soldiers in Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA) 595, fighting alongside the CIA’s Team Alpha and Northern Alliance forces to recapture the city of Mazar-i Sharif in November 2001.

Their story was immortalized in the movie 12 Strong, and the pair recently cowrote a book about their exploits. Along with fellow Special Forces veterans Scott Neil and Rob Schaefer and others, they established American Freedom Distillery and presented their first aged spirit in 2018. As well as its St. Petersburg, Florida, distillery and stillhouse, the team has broken ground on a second stillhouse in Somerset, Kentucky, and has other distilleries in Kentucky and Ohio. Connecting their product with their military roots, the American Freedom Distillery hosts Whiskey and War Stories events.

They have created the Veterans Artisan Distillers Guild, which helps other veteran entrepreneurs learn the business. “From the hills of Afghanistan to the valleys of Somerset, Kentucky, we've learned that you are only as good as the company you keep,” Neil told AARP Veteran Report. “We have built Horse Soldier Bourbon on true American values. It’s these same values that led us to build and grow while all the time living the American dream we were defending.”

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Bear Island Brewing

Boise, Idaho

Husband-and-wife team Beth and Steve Bechtel were explosive ordnance disposal technicians in the U.S. Navy before returning home to Boise, Idaho, to begin Bear Island Brewing in their two-car garage. They recently expanded to a brewhouse and taproom in an old firehouse, fueling their desire to honor first responders and those who served in the military. Everyone who works at the brewery is either a veteran or related to one.

Bear Island’s taproom features the brewery’s foundational beers — Idaho Potato Ale, Bearfaced Brown, Prime In and Brewhouse #6 — as well as rotating taps of seasonal, specialty and guest pours.

Oakhurst Spirits

Oakhurst, California

Mike Benbrook retired as a chief petty officer after 20 years in the U.S. Navy. He and his late wife, Ally, owned a company that manufactured window shades and an art gallery. They founded Oakhurst Spirits, close to Yosemite National Park, in 2017 and were soon named one of the “25 Top Distilleries to Try” in California.

Using locally sourced ingredients and supplies from local businesses, Mike creates Oakhurst’s craft vodkas, rum, brandy, bourbon and whiskeys in small batches to achieve one-of-a-kind tastes. Ally died in 2019 at age 67. An internationally recognized watercolorist, her artwork is on display at the distillery.

Talea Beer Co.

New York, New York

LeAnn Darland graduated from the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis and spent five years as a signals intelligence officer, mostly stationed in San Diego, heart of the West Coast’s craft beer boom. A taproom close to her apartment planted the seed, and after an MBA and a job at Google, she entered the world of booze. Today, she and her business partner, Tara Hankinson, are at the helm of New York’s only women-owned brewery, Talea Beer Company, a moniker created by merging each of their first names.

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What started out as a brewery that hand-delivered its beers quickly turned into a brick-and-mortar spot in the hipster neighborhood of Williamsburg. Now there is Talea Cobble Hill and Talea Grand Central. On offer are coffee, tea, cocktails, wine and, of course, beer.

spinner image a man stands behind a bar with bottles of alcohol in front of him
Courtesy Gorget Distilling Co.

Gorget Distilling

Lugoff-Elgin, South Carolina

Hugh Thomas, who served as a U.S. Air Force F-111 crew chief during the Gulf War, and his wife, Nikki, the daughter of a Vietnam veteran who spent 26 years in the U.S. Navy, are head distiller and operations manager respectively of Gorget Distilling.

Opened in 2015, Gorget crafts its rum, vodka, whiskey and bourbon in small batches using grains from local farms. Recently released products include Black Cherry Rum, SilveRum, Root Beer Rum and Stumphole, a 100-proof corn whiskey.

Broken Strings Brewery

Orlando, Florida

A new type of brewery opened in Orlando when Broken Strings came to town. Co-owner Adam Peyrouse brought logistics experience from his time as an enlisted member of the U.S. Air Force to his role as taproom manager of Broken Strings, which bills itself as a place that serves “the best beer and some crazy awesome music.”

The brewery features its own craft beers, with inspired names like Rebel Yell, Social Graces and Liquid Vinyl. Live music is performed in the taproom.

You can subscribe here to AARP Veteran Report, a free e-newsletter published every two weeks. If you have feedback or a story idea then please contact us here.

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