Tennessee Craft Whiskey Coming of Age

Davidson Reserve Straight Rye Whiskey from Pennington Distilling Co. Hits Shelves This Week

On the third anniversary of its first barreling of Tennessee Whiskey, Pennington Distilling Co. celebrated with a re-branding, a huge party, an expansion announcement, and the launch of their first aged spirit, Davidson Reserve Rye.


Established by co-founders Jeff and Jenny Pennington in 2011 as SPEAKeasy Spirits, Pennington Distilling Co. is a craft distillery in Nashville. Whisper Creek Tennessee Sipping Cream, Pickers Vodka, and Pennington’s Flavored Rye are some of the original brands of the SPEPDC+NoticeAKeasy label. While these products have been on the market for a few years, the distillery has quietly been putting away barrels of Tennessee whiskey, bourbon, and rye.

The choice to allow their own spirits to age rather than purchasing sourced product is an expensive one, likened to writing a check and putting it on a shelf for a few years. Jeff Pennington explains, “We’re proud of all the products we’ve developed, but now that we’ve waited so long to release our first brown liquor, we want to put our name on it. That’s why we created Pennington Distilling Co.”

The distillery will continue to offer blending, private labeling, bottling, rectifying and marketing services to other brands under SPEAKeasy Spirits.

The Party

Over 1,000 enthusiasts gathered at Pennington’s Hardest Harvest Party on October 17th.  Local music, beer and cuisine were on hand, but the star of the night was the Davidson Rye. It was on the 17th day of October that the Penningtons’ first barrels were filled with whiskey in 2014. Go ahead and put this date on your calendar for next year; we can expect 10/17 to be the launch of new projects (and more parties) from this distillery.

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Pennington Distilling Co. remains in the same location where they began, but the growing neighborhood and the Tennessee Whiskey Trail launch earlier this year have the Penningtons preparing for an influx of booze travelers. Pennington Distilling Co. is one of 26 stops currently on the Trail. Jenny Pennington comments, “This is all about the 1_exterior_render_doors_open.jpggrowth of the company and the neighborhood. Up until now we’ve been all about production and keeping our heads down to focus on work. Now that The Nations has blossomed and our company is doing so well, we want to open up our doors and invite people in to see what’s happening around here.”

Next Spring, a new visitor experience constructed of shipping containers will include space for multiple tasting areas, private events, and a rooftop bar with views of downtown Nashville. Live music, cocktails, local beer, and a large retail shop will await visitors at the conclusion of distillery tours.

Davidson Reserve Rye

Now the good stuff- the whiskey! The initial release of Davidson Reserve Rye (named after the county where the distillery is located) are numbered and dated, 100 proof, single barrel bottles. With an ambitious mash bill of 100% cereal rye from a local family farm, the Davidson Reserve is a softer, sweeter rye than most offerings in the category. The spice is subdued by allowing the mash to ferment an extra day before distillation.

2017-09-08 Pennington's_Davidson Rye-47“We are really pleased with the rye, and we’re banking that authenticity matters. We could have avoided waiting three years by purchasing whiskey, but we decided to make a quality product that we can stand behind as our own.” -Jeff Pennington

On a recent visit with Jeff, I had the opportunity to taste through a number of single barrel, cask strength samples. Varied barrel locations produce clear differences in taste, color, strength, and nose. Until this product moves to a small batch bottling, consumers will have the opportunity to collect a number of flavor profiles with each single barrel.

The first bottles of Davidson Reserve were sold at the launch party. Local Tennessee retail shelves will be stocked this week before nationwide distribution begins.

The Future

Many more aged spirits from Pennington Distilling are on the horizon. While the team felt that the rye was ready to bottle at a little more than two years old, additional brown waters will hang out in the rick houses a bit longer. A traditional Tennessee Whiskey and a bourbon will join their line up as well as some more experiential whiskeys, possibly including a non-charcoal filtered Tennessee whiskey and a wheat whiskey.

Each whiskey will be released as it’s ready, and there’s no magic formula for that. As partner Tommy Bernard said, “We’ve got to drink this whiskey the rest of our lives; we better make it good.”