Field Trips: Nashville Distilleries
All photos by Devon Trevathan.
Tennessee spirits extend far beyond the realms of Jack Daniels and George Dickel. In the heart of Music City, four distilleries operate full-sized production facilities, offering a range of products. No two are exactly alike, and their proprietors are as varied as the libations they produce.
(Marathon and Wedgewood-Houston Locations)
When Darek Bell and Andrew Weber first decided to open their own distillery, the word “craft” was more closely associated with children’s camp activities than the production of spirits. It was 2008, and America had just suffered a major financial crisis. The idea of pouring one’s savings into the business of booze probably seemed downright mad. An even bigger hurdle for the Nashville natives was that Davidson county did not yet legally allow distillation. Fast forward ten years and Corsair is
one of the most highly awarded craft distilleries in the country (including gold medals in the 2017 NY International Spirits Competition and 2017 Berlin International Spirits Competition). Go for the Triple Smoke or Tennessee Single Malt and stay for the affable bartenders and glorious distillery cats.
Situated just down the street from Corsair’s Marathon location, Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery is home to Belle Meade Bourbon, their very successful offering that took the city by storm in 2015. Greenbrier is the kind of distillery with an origin story as interesting as their whiskey is drinkable. Brothers Charlie and Andy Nelson resurrected the label started by their great-great-great grandfather in the late 19th century, using public records and private archives for guidance. Sticking to their traditional heritage, Greenbrier offers a family of bourbons in different finishes, a Tennessee whisky, a white whiskey, and a coffee caramel pecan liqueur called Louisa’s that was named for the woman who ran the distillery from 1891 to the start of Prohibition.
The youngest of Nashville’s distilleries, Nashville Craft opened in March of 2016. Theirs is a traditional craft model: unaged spirits released first while their whiskey sits in 53-gallon barrels to mature. Founder and distiller Bruce Boeko came from a science background 一 he previously worked as a DNA laboratory director 一 and he enjoys getting technical with his tours. “Because I am a scientist and I haven’t seen it as much in tours elsewhere, I just think it creates diversity,” says Boeko. Their current lineup includes a sorghum spirit called Naked Biscuit (cleverly named because of their decision to locally source their sorghum, leaving a thousand biscuits and more around Nashville without proper dressing), Crane City Gin, and Nashville Honey Spiced Honey Liqueur. Boeko is passionate about sourcing as much of his raw materials as locally as possible, and it shows in the freshness of his offerings.
It’s not often that a cream liqueur is the flagship brand of a craft distillery, but such is the case at Pennington Distilling Company. Whisper Creek Tennessee Sipping Cream was released by Jeff and Jenny Pennington at the end of 2011, back when the company was called SPEAKeasy Spirits, and was wholeheartedly embraced by consumers in the area. Since that time, the label family has expanded to include Davidson Reserve whiskey, Pennington’s Flavored Rye, and the very popular Pickers Vodka line.
Visiting the Distilleries and Goings On About Town
All of the distilleries included in this list offer tours, tastings, and tasty cocktails 一 check their websites (just click on their names above) for dates and times, and stop by if you find yourself on the Nashville scene. If you're still thirsty after your tour, here's a list of some great cocktail bars in town. Don't want to drive? Now you can book a bus with Mint Julep Tours!