Touring Tennessee Whiskey Country

In the hills and hollows around Lynchburg and Lincoln County, Tennessee, clear spring water and corn come together with sugar maple charcoal and charred white oak barrels to make some of the world’s most famous whiskies. Tennessee is a state rich in whiskey history, a pioneering state, a moonshining state, and, until a few years ago, a state with some of the most absurd laws possible regulating the opening and operation of distilleries.

The big boys – Jack Daniel’s and George Dickel – have been around since 1866 and 1870, respectively, though have both been through some twists and turns along the way, most prominently Prohibition (which started ten years early in Tennessee, in 1910) and mandatory shutdowns during World War II.  Jack and Dickel are about 15 miles away from each other as the crow flies, one in Lynchburg and the other in Cascade Hollow outside Tullahoma. They share rich histories, locations based on access to good water and corn, and similar charcoal mellowing techniques – “the Lincoln County process.” They also managed to get in early enough to have favorable consideration in Tennessee’s distillery laws, which made it near impossible for any new distilleries to open in the state in the twentieth century. Prichard’s, who opened up about 20 miles down the road from Lynchburg in Lincoln County about a decade ago, was the lone exception. Those laws were finally changed about two years ago, and we’re now seeing the results of that change – with Corsair Artisan jumping to a quick start in Nashville after being founded in Kentucky, Ole Smoky setting up in Gatlinburg, Collier & McKeel joining the Nashville scene, and more distilleries in the ramping up phase across the state.

We recently visited the distilleries that make their home in the state’s capital or in the nearby green rolling hills of central Tennessee. The differences among these are dramatic, from the nonstop small-batch experimentation in a converted old auto factory at Corsair Artisan, to the steady voluminous flow of whiskey over charcoal at Jack Daniel’s and their touring hordes of visitors from around the world. What all these distilleries share is a passion for making something great in the state of Tennessee. Today, we’ll give you the (very) short version on visiting them; and, in the next two weeks, we’ll follow up with individual features on each distillery. Enjoy the trip:

If you like the idea of a Whiskey Disney, with guides who are straight out of central casting delivering polished storytelling and a cute little town that was literally built on whiskey, go to Jack Daniel’s in Lynchburg. No tasting allowed in this dry county, unless you’re buying a full single barrel, which runs about $10,000.

If you like a humble sense of history, tranquil beauty, and a refreshing dose of honesty served up in an out-of-the-way honest-to-goodness Tennessee country hollow, go spend some time at George Dickel & Co. in Cascade Hollow outside Tullahoma. No tasting available with the tour or at the distillery, either.

If you want to visit a small family of dedicated distillers making the most of a country garage (actually school and community center) turned small batch distillery, and to taste a range of fine rums and whiskies that will expand your appreciation for Tennessee spirits, go to Prichard’s Distillery in Kelso. Call ahead.

If you favor madcap experimentation and geeky enthusiasm in a beautifully restored and converted old auto factory turned “creative community” on the fringe of downtown Nashville,  stop by Corsair Artisan’s taproom and distillery. Please call ahead, distillery visits by appointment only.

Finally, if you want to see firsthand a brand new take on traditional small batch Tennessee whiskey, which happens to be right next door to Corsair Artisan in that wonderful old building in Nashville, check out Collier & McKeel. Also by appointment only.

Check out our Tennessee Whiskey Tour for more on each of these fine Tennessee distilleries. Click here to see a map showing the location of the distilleries, as close as three and a half hours from Atlanta.


10 Replies to “Touring Tennessee Whiskey Country”

  1. A nice story about the Tennessee Whiskey community. I’ve been to the Jack Daniels Distillery and my first studio was in that old car factory. I’m happy to hear that the creative spirit lives on in that old building. Your next stop will be in Bourbon County?

    1. Thanks Tony. Love that building in Nashville. And, yes, hopefully some day soon will make it up to Kentucky, been trying to for quite a while and the calendar never seems to line up right.

  2. Great stuff once again! Looking forward to your recap of Prichard’s. I haven’t tried the rum yet (saw they have it at Giant Toco this weekend), but I’m intrigued.

  3. I bought a bottle of Collier and McKeel yesterday with an eager, open mind. As a Tennessee boy born and bred, I’m going to file a petition with the great state of Tennessee to legally have “Tennessee Whiskey” removed from the label of Collier and McKeel as this whiskey is a poor, bastardized excuse for Tennessee whiskey. Guys (and girls), don’t waste your time, money, or taste buds on this stuff. This poison is schwill of the lowest degree. For college kids on a budget, dig in and tell me I’m wrong. You’re about all that will appreciate (or buy) this crap. This is yet another opportunist claiming to have a romantic age old pre-civil war recipe while setting up shop in a chic and artistic part of Nashville. Don’t buy the hype.

  4. About to make my first trip across Tennessee and want to stop at a distiller and get a sense of how the good stuff is made. Want a classic, not Disney, experience and would love to be able to buy and take some home with me. Prefer something I won’t find on the shelves in California. Thanks for any specific recommendations.

Comments welcome, y'all!