10 Tennessee Distilleries, 400 Miles, 2 Days: A Whiskey Run for the Ages
Milk may be the official drink of Tennessee, but it isn’t the state’s best known beverage. That title goes to Tennessee whiskey.
Home to big-name whiskey distillers and one of the most unique distilling styles in the world, a devoted sipper could easily get lost in Tennessee’s maze of bourbons, ryes, and moonshines—and that’s not accounting for its sour mash. But fear not, we’ve outlined a 48-hour itinerary that hits 10 distilleries in 400 miles. Prepare yourself for an epic tour of Tennessee’s liquid gold.
Rising Stars and Tennessee Titans
Start your tour in Music City, home to a trio of small distilleries, each with its own distinct philosophy. Then, head south to find two of the largest whiskey distilleries in the nation, if not the world.
It runs in the family: Brothers Andy and Charlie Nelson revived their great-great-great-grandfather Charles’s distillery in 2009—exactly 100 years after Tennessee’s statewide Prohibition shut its doors.
That old-timey spirit: Pick up a bottle of the Belle Meade Bourbon, a maple-sweet bourbon with a high-rye kick inspired by Charles’s original recipe.
Tours? Yep. Just make sure to reserve a spot at least an hour ahead of time.
The mad scientists: As Whisky Magazine’s Dave Broom mentioned in our craft-distiller roundup, Corsair’s most distinguishing characteristic is its drive to experiment. The distillery has incorporated a wide range of grains into its spirits with rousing success.
The true Great Experiment: Its most successful creation to date is undoubtedly the earthy Quinoa Whiskey, but there’s always something new to check out.
Tours? Yes. They fill up fast, though, so make your reservations a week beforehand.
Rooted in history: Fearing a new federal tax after Pennsylvania’s Whiskey Rebellion 1790, William Collier and James McKeel moved west to Tennessee, where their whiskey became a form of local currency.
Classic Tennessee: The sour-mash whiskey is filtered through sugar-maple charcoal, a mellowing technique known as the Lincoln County Process—the unofficial hallmark of Tennessee whiskey.
Traditional tipples: Some of Prichard’s bottles exemplify classic American whiskeys, while others channel Benjamin Prichard’s moonshine, or irish malt by way of the Appalachians.
A bourbon beyond: Don’t walk away without sampling the Double Barreled Bourbon, which is twice aged in charred-oak barrels and praised as a “classy, effortless delivery” in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2009.
Tours? Yes. But if you’d rather stay near Nashville, check out their second facility in Fontanel instead.
First Among Equals: Many of the state’s distilleries have adopted the Lincoln County Process, but its name comes from Jack Daniel’s original location. Although the county lines have since shifted, Jack Daniel’s still employs the method and creates all its charcoal onsite.
More than Jack and Coke: Pick up a bottle of the Single Barrel Select, made with an extended aging process responsible for its deep-red color and smooth, oaky flavor.
Tours? Yes. But because Lynchburg is in a dry county, the distillery can’t sell whiskey on the premises. It can, however, give whiskey away as free samples during tours.
A glass from the past: When master distiller Ralph Dupps reopened the distillery in 1958, he used George Dickel’s actual manuscripts to guide his mash bill and process.
A different drink: Though most Tennessee whiskeys are closely related to bourbon, George Dickel’s rye has gained attention for its smooth, spicy flavor from its filtration through 13 feet of sugar-maple charcoal.
Tours? Yes. Standard tours are free, and tasting tours are $10 each. You don’t even need to call ahead of time, unless you’re bringing a large group.
~ 6 distilleries down, 4 to go~
Moonshine in the Mountains
As you head into the mountains to the east, you’ll see moonshine aging in the same barrelhouses as standard whiskey—and even find distillers dedicated wholly to the historically illicit spirit.
Old methods, new principles: Organic farmer Billy Kaufman and his brothers started making moonshine as a way to support Woodbury’s local farmers.
Something sweet to sip: Locals recommend Short Mountain’s Prohibition Tea, a cocktail made with sweet peach tea and moonshine made from locally grown, stone-milled corn.
Tours? They run twice a day on Fridays and Saturdays and include a shot glass for tastings.
Historic ingredients: Despite the name, the mill that provides Old Forge with its corn has been grinding grains continuously since 1830, making it 80 years older than the distillery itself.
Filled with flavors: Pick up a jar of moonshine infused with coffee, blackberry, or french toast, or try a purer distillation of that stone-ground corn in the 8-year-old single-barrel bourbon.
Tours? No, but Old Forge is open for public visits.
Shining bright: Ole Smoky is among the few nationally recognized moonshiners, thanks to a lineup of spirits ranging up to 128 proof.
Beyond the moon: If you see Ole Smoky in the wild, it’s going to be moonshine. So while you’re visiting, why not try one of the distillery-only whiskeys?
Tours? Ole Smoky’s earned its claim to fame as “America’s most-visited distillery” with an open-door policy.
Moonshine with a whiskey base: The shines build off sour-mash and rye foundations, which are more commonly used in whiskey distillation.
What to try? With so many flavors, you can’t go wrong. So grab whatever you can from the complimentary Sippin’ Posts.
Tours? Free tours of the distillery can be reserved any time, but they go above and beyond with live musical entertainment and nature hikes into the mountains.
Inline images courtesy of Jack Daniels and Green Briar Distillery