Fall is an exciting time in American whiskey. It’s “hunting season.” Limited time offerings, special releases and annual editions have enthusiasts camped out at their local retail shops and tailing wholesaler trucks. Tennessee is no different and special bottles of Tennessee products make brief appearances on shelves this time of year. Many are available only here within the state.
The makers of Tennessee whiskey are pulling older stock than ever before. The state’s spirits industry is no longer the two-man show of an extended Prohibition. More than ninety distillers, producers, and bottlers call Tennessee home. The oldest of the craft distilleries are boasting six and seven year old age statements while heritage distillers Jack Daniel’s and George Dickel are releasing bottles ten years old or more.
While Tennessee whiskey is the best selling whiskey in the world, it often takes a backseat to conversations revolving around our neighbors to the north. Recognition is pouring in for producers across the state from prestigious award shows such as Whiskies of the World Awards, The San Francisco World Spirits Competition, and International Wines & Spirits Competition, not to mention a couple of Icons of Whisky. In recent years, George Dickel earned both “Whisky of the Year” from Whisky Advocate and was the top-rated American Whiskey of 2019 by Wine Enthusiast. Uncle Nearest lays claim to “Most Awarded American Whiskey.” No small feats.
Tennessee is reclaiming its leadership position amongst the heavy hitters of American whiskey. Tennessee whiskey products are more mature, have more distribution, and are getting more recognition than ever before. Ahead of this weekend’s sold out Townsend Grains & Grits Festival, one of the few places to properly celebrate Tennessee’s spirit world, if you’re wondering where to start exploring…
Here’s what’s going on in Tennessee whiskey right now
Cascade Hollow Distillery
Nicole Austin continues to take her role as head of innovation strategies seriously. She’s had her head down in the lab, busily creating a handful of new and re-imagined products.
Blending two very different styles of rye whisky creates a one of a kind experience in this collaboration. Leopold Bros is celebrated for their revival of a historic method, Three Chamber Rye. And with this inaugural release, George Dickel reveals their very own traditional column still rye. These straight rye whiskies combine to create a new era for the heavy-bodied rye whisky of pre-Prohibition.
The combination “has its own zip code,” says Austin. “It’s different from anything else.”
The unique aging conditions of Cascade Hollow are being highlighted in both a 13 year old Indiana-distilled rye whisky and in a whisky that lost so much proof that it can no longer be labeled as whisky, even at barrel strength. Dickel 17 is also making a return, but this time without the guise of “lost barrels.” These are all limited releases and Tennessee definitely keeps the lion’s share of the LTOs. Head down to Tullahoma to the distillery for the best selection.
Austin’s release of Tennessee whisky labeled as Dickel Bourbon sent more than a few shock waves through the industry. First, because those barrels are no longer available as a source for many brands without aged stock of their own. And second, because it revived the Tennessee whiskey is bourbon conversation. Ignore all that and take in the fact that an 8 year old, age stated bourbon is out there on the shelves for $35.
Jack Daniel’s Distillery
The talented team led by Chris Fletcher and Lexie Phillips at Jack Daniel’s has been upping their game as well. This summer’s release of Jack Daniel’s 10-Year-Old Tennessee Whiskey saw fans lining the streets of Lynchburg for their chance to snag the brand’s first 10-year aged-stated whiskey in more than 100 years.
The annual Special Release Single Barrels quickly gained a similar stature to other highly sought after bourbon releases. Distillery gift shop lines, allocations, hoarding, and secondary markets are all now closely associated with Tennessee’s oldest distillery. The 2020 offering saw 200 single barrels of rye whiskey at barrel proof disappear before they ever had a chance to hit the shelves. 2021’s release faces a similar destiny.
While Dickel is showing off the magic of aging in the low hollows, Jack’s fourth annual special release hails from the top ricks of their highest hill. Coy Hill High Proof single barrels will range from 137.4 up to 148.3 proof, already being referred to as “Hazmat Jack” by loyalists. Catching on to the joke, the press release cautions, “the bottle should remain upright at all times unless being poured into a glass.”
After Master Distiller Jeff Arnett abruptly announced his departure from Jack Daniel’s last year, he often posted cryptic photos on Instagram from the Smokies. In April we learned that he teamed up with Heath Clark and Kris Tatum to form Company Distilling. Company Distilling will first open a 4,000-square-foot tasting room and restaurant in Townsend, Tennessee followed by the opening of their primary distillery and manufacturing plant in Alcoa.
This 20,000-square-foot refurbished space will include a “tasting room, restaurant, brewery, and retail store along with ample outdoor activities and entertainment on the property’s 31 acres including a live music venue, corn hole, pickle ball courts, bonfire pits, and open access to greenway trails.” Company’s tagline is “Gather Around” and this will be easy instruction to follow at the spaces they’re creating.
Arnett has some experience with finishing mature whiskey in maple wood and brings this barrel technology with him to the first Company Distilling bourbon release. Until they build the distillery and have aged stock of their own, Arnett & Clark sourced bourbon for the new venture.
Their approach was simple, “take a good liquid and make it better.” They applied what they called the 3-2-1 formula: 3 different distillates, 2 different woods made into 1 small batch. Three wheated bourbons, one of which is pot distilled, are blended together after aging in oak barrels before being finished with toasted maple staves. These bottles are finally hitting shelves in Tennessee this week.
Pennington Distilling Co.
Pennington Distilling Co. began distilling their own whiskey in Nashville on October 17, 2014. Since 2018, on the anniversary of that date, they release a little of that bourbon (1,017 bottles) under the Davidson Reserve label called Genesis. This whiskey not only marks their history, it also shows their progress as the whiskey and the distillery both mature.
The Davidson Reserve Small Batch line up now includes a Sour Mash Tennessee Whiskey, Four Grain Bourbon, Rye, and Bourbon in addition to the annual Genesis release.
Pennington Distilling is also shaking up the visitor experience. Distillery tours and tastings are not the only options available to visitors. The Davidson Reserve Blend Your Own Bottle Experience offers participants a glimpse into the sensory world of barrel assessment and blending. Choosing between Tennessee Whiskey, Rye, or Bourbon, the guests receive a number of single barrel samples and a bit of expert instruction before they’re set loose in their own mini-lab. After creating a custom blend, the distillery provides guests with a personalized bottle of their very own, one of a kind, Davidson Reserve (extremely) Small Batch.
Sazerac Tennessee is one of the most searched article on this sight. Everyone is wondering what they’re up to and what happened to the Murfreesboro property and, most importantly, when we’ll see some whiskey- and maybe a brand name– from the dynamic duo of John Lunn and Allisa Henley.
Well, I don’t have much news for you there. I can tell you that the La Vergne location is fully operational and not at all temporary. Barrels and stills and fermenters from the Newport distillery are all re-homed in middle Tennessee, along with some new additions. A new column still was installed earlier this year and all the stills are now running.
Lunn and Henley are working on more than just Tennessee whiskey in La Vergne. While the plans have changed location, the plan for premium Tennessee whiskeys remains steadfast. But have patience. We’re still a couple of years from seeing these whiskeys bottled under a yet to be revealed brand.
Nearest Green Distillery
After a hugely successful visitor’s center opening on Juneteenth, the crew behind Uncle Nearest quietly broke ground on their still house. Easily seen by the 300,000 annual pilgrims to Jack Daniel’s from the main drag between Interstate 24 and Lynchburg, the beginnings of the distillery are starting to take shape.
Plenty of other Tennessee whiskey distillers are making big moves as well. Leiper’s Fork Distillery released its second Bottled In Bond product, a Tennessee bourbon. Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery continues to tease their loyal fans with distillery-only barrel finished bourbons. Old Dominick Distillery is finding cult success with their R&D series. All The Cookies, a beer-barrel finished bourbon bottled at 107 proof, drops this week at their Memphis distillery. On the other side of the state, Sugarlands Distilling Company in Kodak is now home to the largest pot still in the country. With a 4,500 gallon capacity, we should expect to see a lot more Roaming Man Whiskey!
There’s a lot going on in and across Tennessee and you can always find the latest Tennessee whiskey news here!