When I was a younger man, the notion of driving from Washington DC to Chattanooga to Louisville by way of Nashville in the span of two days would not have fazed me. But I am not the man I once was. The Truckin’ Bozo is no longer with us to keep me up through the wee small hours of driving, and Coast to Coast A.M. hasn’t been the same since Art Bell left. But every now and then, I can find motivation to keep me going. For this trip, the motivation was visiting Corsair Artisan Distillery in Nashville. It’s not an easy place to find. The distillery, I mean; not Nashville. It’s difficult not because it’s nestled in some backwoods hollow. It’s in a big, well-known building in an industrial part of the city. But it is a very big building, and there are no signs to tell the thirsty traveler exactly which part of it houses Corsair. Fellow sojourners commenting online are oddly unhelpful, with most of the comments being, “It’s hard to find.”
So let me do you a service: the distillery is housed in the far end of the historic old Marathon Motor Works, right at the corner of Clinton St. and 12th Ave. North, nearest I-65. Look for the taco truck. I hear it spends a lot of time parked outside the distillery entrance.
Once you’ve found your way, there are three pieces to Corsair Distillery experience. There’s the distillery itself, operating out of a space that used to belong to local heroes Yazoo Brewery; there’s the tap room, with a nice selection of craft beers and friendly bartenders; and there’s the spirits room, where Corsair pours (and sells) what they distill. They’ll probably shake you a cocktail, too, if you want one. I was there for all three, but it was the whiskey that brought me to Nashville, so let’s start there.
Darek Bell and Andrew Webber started out as homebrewers and occasional winemakers before deciding that it was more fun to make whiskey. The chronicle of their growth as whiskey makers was actually recently published in the book Alt Whiskey, a collection of dozens of whiskey recipes ranging from the traditional to the utterly confounding. The fruit of their labor and their current foundation spirit, Triple Smoke, garnered immediate attention. It continues to rack up awards. They’re a unique distillery in that they operate two facilities, in two different cities, in two different states. The whiskey comes from Nashville. Just over the border in Bowling Green, Kentucky, their second facility handles gin and vodka.
Tours are informal — so informal that if you happen to be drinking a beer in the tap room (where your tour begins) when the tour starts, you are welcome to bring it with you. It’s a one-room operation, with everything from malting to distilling to aging happening in the same space. The still is an antique: pre-Prohibition, in fact, and at one time used to make illegal booze (though, ironically, not during Prohibition). If you want to see the real nitty gritty of what goes into craft distilling, I can think of no better place. It’s hectic. It’s not picturesque, but the beauty of craft distilling (besides the end product) is in its adaptability to its surroundings. And right there in front of you is the entire process. Touring the distillery itself can take anywhere from twenty minutes to an hour depending on how curious your group is (if there even is a group).
After that, it’s off to the spirits room for a sample or two. Or three. Part of the versatility of craft distilling includes the ability to experiment and try out weird new ideas. And if Alt Whiskey taught ything, it’s that the guys at Corsair are no strangers to experiments and weird ideas. So not only did we sample the Triple Smoke (with which I was already pretty familiar), but we also tried their new quinoa whiskey (fantastic), as well as Rasputin, a hopped whiskey. If you are lucky (and ask nicely) they might also have a non-production experiment or two on hand for you to sample (oatmeal stout whiskey, you need to be a product).
Much like the A-Team, if you have a problem (you aren’t drinking whiskey), and if you can find them (man, that building is big), visiting Corsair’s Nashville distillery is a little bit like visiting a classroom on craft distillation.