Continuing our tour of Tennessee whiskey country, we head on to the distillery that is the polar opposite of Jack Daniel’s monolithic magnificence…
Andrew Webber at Corsair Artisan Distillery is like a kid in a candy shop amidst his stills and barrels and grains. Five gallon barrels contain all kinds of experimental concoctions. Bottles line the shelves, filled with all manners of strange things. Lagered quinoa? Why not? Their biggest hits to date include a cocktail-friendly unaged rye whiskey and an American “single malt” featuring three varieties of smoked barley – one smoked with American cherry wood, one with Scottish peat, and one with German beachwood. A recent experimental batch steeped cacao hulls (not the bean, but the shell) in bourbon for an intensely nutty, dark chocolatey depth.
Corsair Artisan was basically the first micro-distillery to pop up once Tennessee’s distillery laws opened up, and they split up their operations between Nashville, Tennessee, and Bowling Green, Kentucky. It’s yet another untraditional choice that shows these guys aren’t afraid of doing things differently. The Nashville distillery and taproom sits in a gorgeously revitalized old Marathon Motorworks auto factory on the rough edges of downtown, industrial chic at its best. Old brick, doors large enough to fit a semi through, ghosts of production lines long gone.
Inside, the science lab mentality is in full effect. The beautiful old copper stills are tricked out with modern gadgets, mechanical eyes and agitators, to help manage the distillation. Even the barrels themselves are part of the experimentation – small barrels from Black Swan Cooperage feature staves with grooves and honeycomb shapes carved into them (inside the barrel) to allow for greater interaction between the spirit and the wood. Supposedly, 10 months in one of the 5 gallon barrels gives you a similar level of interaction as 15 years in a 52 gallon barrel. And for a nimble little distillery that likes to play with lots of things, that fast “aging” makes a big difference.
The guys at Corsair also have a brewer’s approach to the craft… they like playing with the mash, sourcing unusual grains, trying different roasts and smokes. There’s cherry-smoked barley, chocolate-roasted rye, red winter wheat, oatmeal, quinoa. It sounds like the bulk isle at a progressive natural foods store. But Corsair has proven they can make great things out of unusual grains.
There’s no “tour” per se at Corsair, but if you call them up and they have some free time, they’re more than happy to share the ins and outs of the distillery with interested fans. And the taproom, formerly occupied by Nashville’s Yazoo Brewing Company, is still a great place to grab a beer at the end of the day. Meanwhile, outside Nashville, you can find Corsair Artisan’s lineup of regular and seasonal craft products (there are lots of interesting rotating options, like Pumpkin Spice Moonshine!) at bars and liquor stores alike. Just call up your favorite place to see what they have in stock.
Corsair Artisan in images, continues below…
And while you’re here, also check out all the stops on our Tennessee whiskey tour.