A Taste of Home at Prichard’s Distillery, Kelso, Tennessee

Continuing our tour of Tennessee whiskey

A visit to Prichard’s Distillery in little bitty Kelso, Tennessee, is like a visit to someone’s home. It’s a family affair. Phil Prichard, his wife Connie, his son, his friends, everyone seems to be pitching in. It’s decidedly un-corporate, and the fact that the distillery sits in the town’s old schoolhouse and community center just reinforces the feeling. The basketball goals are still up in the gym that now houses bottles and labels and empty boxes waiting to be filled with fine rum and whiskey. The disco ball still hovers in the air, calling to mind all the dances and good times that must have happened here in the heart of tiny Kelso. Prichard’s Distillery is certainly keeping the flame, as much a product of Kelso as all the kids who walked through the schoolhouse’s doors years ago.

Prichard’s has been turning out award winning rums for over ten years now, a bridge between the old stalwarts of Tennessee distilling and the new breed. While their image is not as edgy and progressive as Corsair Artisan up in Nashville, they are certainly not slackers when it comes to pushing the envelope and trying out new things. There’s a long line of rums (including a Key Lime version), an array of whiskeys (from a “single malt” to a “double barreled” to a “Lincoln County Lightning”), and experimental bottles of things like aquavit, cranberry liqueur, and chocolate-infused bourbon sit on the old school desks that sit in what is now Prichard’s office. There are even small custom barrels filled for progressive bars and liquor shops around the country (ever hear of The Violet Hour in Chicago? I happened to see a barrel with their name on it).  Prichard’s is a small batch craft distillery when it comes down to it, with two beautiful Vendome pot stills that do most of the heavy lifting, and that small batch mentality is a perfect precursor to trying new things.

While rum has been Prichard’s calling card for many years, the whiskey line-up is what seems to be gaining steam and is an increasing focus for the distillery. A new rye is on its way, and time in the barrel is the main thing that sits between some Prichard’s whiskey and a large number of thirsty fans. True to their roots, Prichard’s prefers to use a local white corn that has a particularly nice sugar content, ground at the historic Falls Mill down the road in Old Salem. That Lincoln County Lightning gets bottled fresh out of the still, and boasts a tremendous corn character that reflects the fine local ingredients. Phil Prichard is a storyteller at heart, and he shared a few cocktail names he has for his Lincoln County Lightning. A Bloody Mary becomes a Bloody Bubba, and his name for a white lightning-based spin on a Margarita is almost enough to make a bootlegger blush (I won’t share that one here, but would love to hear your guesses in the comment section below!).

Prichard’s is definitely worth the stop if you’re heading up to their much bigger neighbors up the road a bit. Jack Daniel’s is just a bucolic, fifteen mile jaunt, but Prichard’s is indeed a world away. Be sure to call ahead, though, if you’re interested in visiting. You wouldn’t want to make an unexpected house call, after all.

Prichard’s Distillery in images, continues below… 

And while you’re here, also check out all the stops on our Tennessee whiskey tour.

and out onto the roads of Lincoln County…

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.