Inside Nashville’s Craft Distillery Movement

In one of Nashville’s more industrial corners, a neighborhood just a few blocks south of the State Capitol, two distilleries – Corsair and Nelson’s Green Brier – make whiskey in what was formerly the Marathon automobile factory. Their products can be found on liquor store shelves across the United States, but a mere decade ago their existence, or the existence of any other craft distillery in Tennessee, seemed a pipe dream. While Jack Daniels has propelled the “Tennessee Whiskey” category into a globally recognized household name, until 2010 only three distilleries operated in Tennessee post-Prohibition: Jack Daniels, George Dickel, and Prichard’s (which only opened its doors in 1997). State laws limited spirits production exclusively to dry counties (to this day a visit to Jack Daniels culminates with a glass of lemonade, not liquor), and permitting proved bureaucratically insurmountable. A state bill introduced in 2009 eased restrictions, paving the way for new entrants in the spirits world to set up shop in Tennessee’s wet counties. By early 2010, Corsair Distillery, founded just across the Kentucky border in 2008, opened a second location in Nashville, becoming Tennessee’s fourth distillery in production. Eight years later, an estimated forty plus distilleries now call Tennessee home, including five within Nashville’s Davidson County. The timing was ripe in the early 2010s for Nashville to embrace a craft spirits scene. The city’s most famous export – country music – further implanted itself into America’s aural landscape, with artists like Taylor Swift and Luke Bryan bringing the genre more mainstream. In the fall of 2012, ABC premiered the TV show “Nashville,” headlined by Connie Britton and Hayden Panettiere, drawing further attention to Music City. The local culinary scene also blossomed beyond the more traditional “meat-and-three” joints, attracting such nationally renowned chefs as Sean Brock and Jonathan Waxman. “Nashville has grown so much in the last few years, we now have so many artisans – and it’s not just musicians,” says Will Atkinson, brand ambassador for Corsair. With five distilleries in place, what spirits are being made in Nashville? For Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery, the focus has been on reviving old family traditions. Andy and Charlie Nelson grew up hearing periodic whispers of their family’s prior involvement in the whiskey business. One fortuitous day in 2006 brought them to a butcher shop in Greenbrier, Tennessee. After conversing with the butcher, they learned that their ancestor built the warehouse across the street. Some further investigation revealed Andy and Charlie’s great-great-great grandfather to be Charles Nelson, founder of what once was Tennessee’s largest distillery, before shutting down production at the onset of state Prohibition in 1909. Charlie Nelson recalls his epiphany moment when viewing his family relics on display at the Greenbrier Historical Society. “When I saw those bottles with my name on it, I had visions like, ‘Ok, I know what I’m here to do in life,” he says. Nelson’s Green Brier’s chief product today is their Belle Meade Bourbon, a whiskey aged in Nashville, but distilled in Indiana and the resurrection of one of their forefathers’ labels. Meanwhile, what is set to become their signature spirit, a Tennessee Whiskey , is ageing in barrel awaiting its inaugural release next year. Confusingly, all Tennessee Whiskeys are made in Tennessee, but not all whiskeys made in Tennessee are Tennessee Whiskey. Beyond originating in the Volunteer State, all Tennessee Whiskeys must essentially meet the same requirements as bourbon – namely, its mash must consist of at minimum 51% corn and it must be aged in new, charred oak barrels. But, Tennessee Whiskeys must additionally undergo what’s known as the “Lincoln County Process,” whereby the liquid is filtered through sugar maple charcoal. The technique is said to “mellow” out a whiskey, providing a smoother experience. Nonetheless, Tennessee Whiskey isn’t everybody’s focus. “We didn’t have that tradition, and we didn’t want to feign it,” explains Corsair’s Will Atkinson. On top of a portfolio that ranges from barrel-aged gin to pumpkin spice moonshine, Corsair looks toward innovation in their whiskey program. Their best seller is their Triple Smoke Whiskey – crafted from malted barley smoked by three different fuel sources: peat from Scotland, cherry wood from Wisconsin, and beech wood from Germany. The cherry wood brings a sweetness to the whiskey’s aroma, according to Atkinson, while the peat provides the smoky finish. In addition, Corsair releases an oat-based whiskey, as well as what they believe to be the first whiskey distilled from quinoa. Bruce Boeko, a forensic biologist who founded Nashville Craft in 2016, places his project within the larger farm-to-table movement. “There’s a national and international trend for buying local, minimizing your carbon footprint…We’re right in that,” he explains. Boeko makes a point to source his ingredients from nearby–his rye and heirloom corn for his whiskeys growing roughly forty miles north at Windy Acres Farm in Orlinda, Tennessee. Additionally, Boeko’s “Naked Biscuit” spirit is based on sorghum – a grain well suited to Tennessee’s climate, whose syrup historically has been used as a natural sweetener and a staple in old-school Southern cooking. The result essentially is a clear, unaged rum (although regulations define rum as being made with sugar cane), with a distinctively floral aroma and an almost feathery lightness of texture. Nashville Craft is located in the newly burgeoning Westwood-Houston, or “We-Ho,” neighborhood, as is Corsair’s second Tennessee location and headquarters. Boeko calls both his gin and Nashville “Crane City,” a testament to the ever-evolving cityscape. As Nashville continues to grow and develop, these distilleries look to further weave themselves into the city’s cultural fabric – one that can embrace traditions such as Tennessee Whiskey or the more Twenty-First Century quinoa whiskey alike. — Bryce Wiatrak Have you enjoyed any craft spirits recently? We want to see what you’re sipping! Scan the label or search by name to add your tasting notes on Delectable.

Nelson's Green Brier Distillery

First 108 Hand Made Sour Mash Whiskey

This half-bottle release is essentially a preview of the Nelson’s Green Brier’s signature Tennessee Whiskey to come. This first product was aged in smaller than normal vessels – 30 gallon barrels versus the full-sized 53 – to more rapidly advance its development. The result is a whiskey that already achieves impressive concentration – an explosive combination of flavors ranging from dried apricot and caramel to skillet cornbread and smoke. — 8 months ago

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Corsair

Triple Smoke Small Batch American Malt Whiskey

Corsair’s Triple Smoke Whiskey is their best selling product and is crafted with malted barley smoked by three different fuel sources. The cherry wood from Wisconsin offers a sweet, floral aroma; the peat from Scotland brings with it a smoky finish; and the beech wood from Germany purportedly unites everything together. Brand ambassador Will Atkinson describes it as a spirit “for somebody looking to get into Scotch Whisky, but isn’t quite there yet.” While the peaty flavors certainly shine through, there’s a gratifying fullness to the whiskey, as well as a subtle bacony, charcuterie character. — 8 months ago

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Fugitives Tennessee Artisan Spirits

Grandgousier Tennessee Whiskey

A collaboration between Nashville Craft and Fugitives Artisan Spirits, Grandgousier is a welcome entrant to the blossoming Tennessee Whiskey category. The mash for Tennessee Whiskey must by law consist of at minimum 51% corn, but Grandgousier's clocks in at a high 89% from sustainably grown heirloom varieties. You can taste it too in the whiskey's warming breadth and gratifying sweetness - flavors of walnut peel and char meet crème-brûlée crust and honeycomb. — 8 months ago

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Nelson's Green Brier Distillery

Belle Meade Sour Mash Whiskey Straight Bourbon

Nelson’s Green Brier sources the liquid for their Belle Meade Bourbon from Indiana, and now the ageing process is completed in Nashville. Each batch is a proprietary four-barrel blend with a 30% rye content. The rye shows itself on the finish, bringing earth tones and length alongside a red pepper flake spiciness. The palate is juicier, tasting of ripe nectarines, vanilla and butterscotch. — 8 months ago

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Nelson's Green Brier Distillery

Louisa's Liqueur

Named after the Nelson family's pre-Prohibition matriarch who helped keep the business afloat upon her husband's death, Louisa's Liqueur is Nelson's Green Brier's latest release. A satisfyingly sweet digestif without being saccharine, this easy sipper tastes like a slice of pecan pie aside a cup of café au lait. — 8 months ago

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Corsair

Gin-Head Style American Gin

Corsair’s gin is still made at their first facility in Bowling Green, Kentucky, and remains a personal favorite in their portfolio. There’s an appealing oiliness to the gin’s texture – tasting of lemon and orange extracts. Brand ambassador Will Atkinson describes it as an Americanized Hendrick’s, namely for the inclusion of cucumber along with the botanicals. The cucumber’s freshness helps soften the spirit’s finish, which otherwise offers a sumptuously juicy expression of gin. — 8 months ago

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Nashville Craft

Crane City Gin

Bruce Boeko crafts his gin from scratch, distilling the base spirit himself three times before adding a recipe of seven botanicals for the fourth. Juicy and palate coating, it tastes of juniper, jasmine, and lavender. The name is Boeko's own epithet to Nashville, the "Crane City" a reference to its explosive growth. — 8 months ago

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Nelson's Green Brier Distillery

Belle Meade Bourbon Finished in XO Cognac Casks

Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery offers a series of Belle Meade Bourbons finished in different used casks. The Cognac finish helps reign in the bourbon’s flavors and choreography, coming to a narrower, cleaner point as it leaves the palate. Its aroma was described to me as “eggnog,” a descriptor I find hard to shake. The spirit does find a beautiful combination of suave, warming flavors – cream, cinnamon, clove – as well as a gentle magnolia blossom florality. — 8 months ago

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Corsair

Quinoa Whiskey

This is, to Corsair’s knowledge, the first ever whiskey derived from quinoa – although a handful of additional distillers have followed suit. In actuality, it tastes like, well, quinoa – capturing the grain’s earthy flavors and a certain grassy dryness, like some pastoral windblown field. Not surprising to this San Franciscan, the quinoa whiskey reportedly sells well in California. — 8 months ago

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Nashville Craft

Naked Biscuit Sorghum Spirit

An authentically Southern creation, the name is both a reference to the spirit's absence of oak aging as well as how you'll jokingly be forced to eat your biscuits sorghum-less after Bruce Boeko buys up all the ingredient for distillation. To call a spirit "rum," it technically must be derived from sugar cane, but Nashville Craft's Sorghum Spirit is in essence an unaged white rum. There's an almost gin-like floral character to the aroma - honeysuckle and butterscotch - and the palate finds a softness of texture that tastes lighter than air. — 8 months ago

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