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The top distilleries on the Tennessee Whiskey Trail

By: Margaret Littman

September 8, 2015

Kentucky gets all the fame for the brown gold in a bottle. For centuries people have coveted Kentucky bourbon and for a decade they’ve taken the Kentucky Bourbon Trail as a way to learn more about their favourite spirit. But Tennessee Whiskey is not a lesser stepchild (and, yes, there’s more to Tennessee spirits than Jack Daniels). The spirit of the Volunteer State has its own lore and traditions, and now, a new generation of makers and distillers. Tennessee whiskeys are made with charcoal, a process that mellows them after distilling. By definition, a Tennessee whiskey must be aged for two years in new oak barrels and made from least 51 per cent corn. As its name suggests, it must be made in the state.

Tennessee Whiskey Trail | Ole Smoky Moonsine
Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonshine © Flickr/IanIanister

Started in 2012, the Tennessee Whiskey Trail is an organized itinerary through the state’s signature distilleries. More than 700 kilometres long, the state of Tennessee is not one that can be driven in a day, and certainly not one that can be driven in a day if you’re stopping to sample whiskeys. But you can do them as a group, or just pick one or two to sample near your destination.

Tennessee Whiskey Trail
Corsair Distillery whiskey barrels © Corsair Distillery

Each one has its own taste, style and history. Some, like Nashville‘s Nelson’s Green Brier Whiskey, are resurrections of other brands. Others, like George Dickel, are household names that pre-date Prohibition. A state law changed in 2009, allowing more distilleries to pop up (up to 40 across the state), and has led to more drinks being distilled locally.

 

And while Tennessee whiskey goes beyond the legendary Jack Daniels, a selection of the state’s top distilleries wouldn’t be complete without it. Here’s a look at the best places to stop and sip on the Tennessee Whiskey Trail.

 

Corsair Distillery

Tennessee Whiskey Trail | Corsair Distillery
The Corsair Distillery in Nashville © Corsair Distillery

One of the country’s favourite new distilleries, Corsair Distillery makes small batch spirits including gin, absinthe and, of course, whiskey. Many varieties are limited editions, so you don’t know what you’ll find until you arrive, but the Triple Smoke whiskey is a go-to of mixologists across town. Also interesting are the Quinoa Whiskey and Ryemageddon.

 

Tours: Tuesday-Friday 3:30 p.m., 4:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m., 6:30 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday, 12:30 p.m., 1:30 p.m., 2:30 p.m., 3:30 p.m., 4:30 p.m. There’s also a taproom open longer hours, should you want to keep sipping.

Cost: $2 without tastings; $8 with samples

Region of the state: Central, Nashville

 

George Dickel Tennessee Whiskey

Tennessee Whiskey Trail | George Dickel Distillery
Soak up the scenery at the George Dickel distillery © George Dickel Tennessee Whisky

Visitors are advised to wear tennis shoes or other rubber-soled, closed-toe shoes because on this tour you’ll really get a look at how the distillery works from the ground up. You’ll get to see how corn whiskey is made, and sample some as well. Tours at Dickel tend to be less crowded than nearby Jack Daniels. Want to slow down the pace? Take a minute in the rocking chairs on the front porch.

 

Tours: Monday-Saturday, 9 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Cost: $10

Region of the state: South Central, between Nashville and Chattanooga

 

Jack Daniels

Tennessee Whiskey Trail Jack Daniels
Jack Daniels in the biggest and best known distillery in Tennessee © Flickr/cookbookman17

The granddaddy of Tennessee whiskey tours, Jack Daniels’ Lynchburg is know for its lemonade as well as its whiskey and full-on tourist experience (landscaped grounds and lots of memorabilia). You can get postcards to send home and pictures taken next to a sculpture of the man himself. Tours without sampling last a little more than an hour and are open to visitors of all ages.

 

Tours: Daily, 9 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Cost: Free

Region of the state: South Central, between Nashville and Chattanooga

 

Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery

Tennessee Whiskey Trail | NGBD
Andy and Charlie Nelson in the Green Brier tasting room © Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery

Two brothers (Andy and Charlie) decided to bring back the brand first distilled by their great-great-great grandfather Charles Nelson. Today, Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery‘s small batch beverages, including Belle Meade bourbon, are still made from family recipes.

 

Tours: Tuesday – Saturday, 11 a.m. – 6 p.m., Sunday, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Cost: $10

Region of the state: Nashville

 

Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonshine

Tennessee Whiskey Trail | Ole Smoky
Sample the Ole Smoky Moonshine at their Tennessee distillery © Ole Smoky Distillery

For generations the Smoky Mountains have been home to some private moonshine making, oft shared in a Ball Mason jar. Old Smoky captured that heritage, but made it fashionable for those in cities to drink moonshine (or top a drink with a moonshine cherry), all packed in those classic jars.

 

Tours: Monday – Saturday, 10 a.m. – 10 p.m.

Cost: Free

Region of the state: East, in both Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge

 

Pritchard’s Distillery

Tennessee Whiskey Trail
The recipes at Prichard’s can be traced back to the 1820s © wawri/Thinkstock/iStock

Pritchard’s first distillery opened in Kelso, Tennessee (in the central part of the state) in 1997, although the recipes and name go back to the 1820s. The second location at Fontanel, Barbara Mandrell’s former mansion, offers tours and samples of its small batches from the bucolic locations just north of Nashville.

 

Tours: Monday – Saturday, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m., Sunday, noon – 5 p.m.

Cost: Free

Region of the state: Nashville

 

Tenn South Distillery

Tennessee Whiskey Trail | Tenn South
Visit the new Tenn South Distillery in central Tennessee © Joe Marler

Brothers-in-law Clayton Cutler and Blair Butler started making spirits at Tenn South in 2013. Right now you can sample Abernathy Gin, Black Mule Vodka and Blackberry Shine (that’s moonshine to the uninitiated) while their whiskey ages.

 

Tours: Mondays – Saturdays, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Cost: Free

Region of the state: Central, an hour from Nashville

 

Header image © Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery

 

Our partnership with Delta means we can connect you to and from a wide range of destinations across the United States and Canada. Book a flight to Nashville and visit some of these top distilleries on the Tennessee Whiskey Trail.

 

Have you explored the Tennessee Whiskey Trail? Which of these distilleries is your favourite? Let us know in the comments section below.

 

Written by Margaret Littman

Margaret Littman

Margaret Littman [www.littmanwrites.com] is a Nashville-based journalist who covers small businesses, travel and all manner of other topics. She is the author of many travel guidebooks, including Moon Tennessee and the Moon Nashville, which will be updated for 2016. Since moving to Music City she has acquired a 1967 Ford pickup and a lot of pairs of boots, but still not the ability to carry a tune.

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