Back in October of 2015, I took a business trip to Nashville, TN where I had lived in 2008 and 2009 while working in the music industry. This was my first visit since moving back home to Kansas, and I was eager to fit in a distillery visit or two while I was in town. The first distillery I visited was Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery which is located just west of downtown Nashville. This isn’t your standard Tennessee distillery such as Jack Daniel’s or Cascade Hollow which sit on sprawling sites out in the country, but instead an urban distillery capable of, I assume, fewer gallons of distillate a week than these larger distilleries will create in an hour.
I walked in and was greeted by a nice entryway that led into the distillery gift shop where I would, of course, pick up a couple bottles of bourbon for myself.
*Nelson’s Green Brier had yet to bottle any of their own aged Tennessee Whiskey at this time and was solely selling MGP sourced bourbon and their unaged distillate.
I waited for a short time before the tour began and busied myself reading about the history of this family distillery, once located about an north of Nashville in Greenbrier, TN, and about how brothers Andy and Charlie Nelson began this new distillery. If you’d like to read more about their story, you can find it here.
Before you arrive at the rear of the building where the grain is milled, turned into mash, distilled, and then aged you walk through the bar area behind the gift shop. The area has a great display cabinet with a few 100-plus-year-old bottles of original Nelson’s Green Brier whiskey, as well as some new bottles of Belle Meade that won the distillery its first bit of notoriety when Belle Meade Bourbon and the Belle Meade Bourbon Sherry Cask Finish both won Double Gold at the 2015 San Francisco World Spirits Competition.
The first thing you tend to notice in any distillery is the still. In this case, it is a 750-gallon copper hybrid still made by Vendome that dominates the room when you first walk in.
The tour was short, but sweet since the distillery is a small craft operation and the mashing, distilling, and aging all happen within this one building. Most interestingly though is the little barrel you can see directly to the left of the still in the above photo. This 53-gallon cask is what the distillery uses to charcoal filter their Tennessee Whiskey.
As you may already know, Tennessee Whiskey has the same rules as bourbon; the mash bill must be made up of 51% corn, it must come off the still no higher than 160 proof and be barreled at no higher than 125 proof, and the bottle proof must be 80 proof or more, but to be Tennessee Whiskey it needs two additional things, first, and most obviously, it must be distilled and aged in the state of Tennessee, and second, the distillate must be charcoal filtered before the aging process begins. This is now known as the Lincoln County Process due to superior marketing by the folks over at Jack Daniel’s, but they were not the first to use this method.
If you have ever had a chance to visit one of the two major Tennesse Whiskey distilleries, either Jack Daniel’s or Cascade Hollow Distilling (formerly named George Dickel Distillery), you will get a kick out of just how small the charcoal filtering setup at Nelson’s is, but it speaks to the true startup nature of this company.
Finally, as with any distillery tour, we ended at the aging room where barrels of whiskey sit to age for years before they are bottled.
Interestingly, Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery is listed as the 5th Disterlly in Tennessee, a throw-back to the founders original charter.
If you look closely at the pictures above you will notice that the barrels on the back side of the wall, framing the state flag of Tennessee, are not your standard 53-gallon barrels that fill most of the space. I can only assume that these barrels make up the first 108 30-gallon barrels that Nelson’s Green Brier has aged for two years and bottled as the first Nelson’s Tennessee Whiskey. These bottles are 375ml bottlings like their white whiskey and are meant to act as a stop-gap before the company releases their first bottlings of four-year Tennessee Whiskey that has been aged in the more standard 53-gallon casks.
I look forward to swinging back to the distillery next time I am in Nashville and hope to pick up some more bourbon while I’m there. Unfortunately, the Belle Meade brand is not available in the state of Kansas, so I need to do a little traveling to resupply my shelves.