Blackberry Farm sits amongst the bucolic hills of eastern Tennessee, a retreat for lovers of rustic elegance and the ideals of farm-to-table Southern goodness. Enough has been said elsewhere about the excellence of their hotel and restaurant – Blackberry Farm has been rated the #1 resort, small hotel or country inn in the U.S. many times over- so we’ll concentrate on their incredible bar program, and, more specifically, their bourbon collection. Now, we must preface this by saying that one must be a guest at the hotel to access the bar – this is no neighborhood hangout. And staying at the hotel requires a small fortune (or a large fortune, depending on your point of view). Nevertheless, once you’re settled in to the cozy confines of Blackberry Farm, especially on a cold winter day, the bourbon beckons.
While the wine list is one of the most ambitious in the Southeast, the whiskey selection is inherently closer to the ideals of this Southern farmstead. They say: “After all, we are surrounded by the core of American whiskey production. Of course our collection is comprised of both American and international whiskies. However, the one closest to our hearts are the ones produced closest to our homes. We like to believe that our region is at the forefront of the American whiskey revival, and the amber glow that emanates from within our bars clearly represents our passion for brown spirits. … our selection of artisan American whiskies demonstrates the skill, craftsmanship, and traditions of American Master Distillers.”
There are close to a hundred selections of American whiskey on the menu, ranging from a $5 pour of George Dickel #12 Tennessee Whiskey to a taste of rare experimental batches from Buffalo Trace (or equally rare A.H. Hirsch of W.L. Weller aged bourbons) that will set you back a very pretty penny. There are Pappy Van Winkle bottles hand selected for Blackberry Farm’s beverage manager and mixologist, Andrew Noye. There are multiple vintages of single barrel releases. It is a veritable bounty of bourbon.
On a recent cold and blustery December night, we were guided through the bourbon offerings by Jesse behind the bar, a knowledgable bourbon guide if there ever was one. He discussed Blackberry Farm’s intentions to be a bourbon nirvana, and they are certainly getting close. We opted to go for two bourbons we hadn’t tasted before – a Black Maple Hill 21 year old and an A.H. Hirsch 16 year old that was originally set in barrels back in 1974 by Michter’s Distillery in Pennsylvania – plus a good ole Elmer T. Lee single barrel. It was an interesting lineup – the Elmer T. Lee’s nose just about knocks you out with butter caramel popcorn, the A. H. Hirsch is laden with spice and vanilla, and the Black Maple Hill 21 presents a complex and deep puzzle of aged mysteries. Choosing a favorite among them was nigh impossible, as each one was completely unique and full of character.
Like that Black Maple Hill, Blackberry Farm’s bourbon library is full of mystery, with only a few lucky souls able to explore it in depth. It is a rare opportunity to venture back in time, to savor some American artistry in the shadows of the Great Smoky Mountains.