Nicole Austin, an innovative, smart and feisty industry veteran, is taking over the helm at the distillery formerly known as George Dickel in Tullahoma, Tennessee. Read More
Book your international travel for now if you want to snag one of these “Travelers’ Exclusive” bottles from Jack Daniels! The newest line extension of the familiar Tennessee Whiskey, a Bottled in Bond expression, will ship to major international airports and points of departure in the summer of 2018.
100 Proof, 120 Years
February 28th, 2017, New York: Kings County Distillery, one of the country’s leading craft distillers and New York City’s oldest and largest whiskey distillery, announces the first release of its Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon, which will be available in allocated quantities in New York, New Jersey, Maryland, DC, Delaware, Oregon, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Read More
The Tennessee Distillers Guild announced today that Old Forge Distillery General Manager Kris Tatum has been elected President of the 2-year-old group that promotes and advocates for the state’s distilled spirits industry. Read More
Tennessee craft whiskey is going through a strong growth cycle, with a surge in new distilleries since 2010.
Tennessee craft whiskey is beginning to pop up all over the state, from the Mississippi River to the Great Smoky Mountains. Several hundred distilleries dotted Tennessee’s landscape before Prohibition, with more than 60 in Davidson County (Nashville) alone. But the state’s once booming industry was almost extinct until recently.
The “Distillery Law” that went into effect in 2010 created a swell of Tennessee applications to the Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), increasing Tennessee’s distilled spirits plants (DSPs) from three to over 40 in only six years. Tennessee’s newest generation of distillers is looking beyond whiskey, dabbling in everything from vodka and gin to moonshine, rum, brandy, and cordials. I talked to a dozen of the newest wave of distillers in Tennessee about how they define “craft” and where the category of Tennessee spirits is headed.
The American Craft Spirits Association defines “craft” as independence within a DSP and a relatively small annual production of 750,000 proof gallons or less. With these parameters in mind, almost all Tennessee distillers currently qualify as being craft producers.
Tim Piersant, owner of Chattanooga Whiskey, described craft as “establishing a niche with philosophy, ingredients, and process.” Charlie Nelson of Nelson’s Greenbrier Distillery echoed those sentiments, adding that, to him, craft is “thoughtful and intentional, with love going into it. There is an inherent craft in [making] whiskey.” Billy Kaufman of Short Mountain Distillery distinguishes that “small doesn’t equal craft.”
Heath Clark, owner of H Clark Distillery, sold his first bottle in May of 2015, and was heavily involved in the legislative efforts to pass the Distillery Law. Clark commented on the future of Tennessee’s spirits, saying “it’s in a honeymoon phase right now. Tennessee has such a great spirits tradition… I think we’re headed towards reclaiming our broad depth in this craft. This is an exciting time to be in the business.” Jeff Pennington, owner of Speakeasy Spirits and President of the Tennessee Distillers Guild, agrees. Pennington hopes to see the industry “growing nationally and internationally. We have a franchise here that gives us an advantage over other states’ craft spirits and I’m excited to see where that goes.”
While not all Tennessee distilleries have a whiskey on the market, the quiet business of filling barrels to age is in full force. Many distillers produce some type of unaged spirits to help with cash flow until the wood and whiskey have the appropriate time to mingle. In the next two to four years, expect to see the Tennessee whiskey category gain its own section in liquor store aisles as these craft distillers begin to bottle their matured spirits.
What exactly is Tennessee whiskey? Google it and a link to Chris Stapleton pops up. Depending on your search habits, you may have to scroll down through several entries involving lyrics, chord diagrams and Justin Timberlake before discovering results pertaining to the beloved spirit. Even then, definitions of the term are a bit muddy. Is it bourbon? What is mellowing? Does it have to be made in Lincoln County?
The easiest answer is that Tennessee whiskey meets the federal definition of bourbon with the additional requirements of being made and aged in Tennessee as well as passing the new make through maple charcoal, known as the Lincoln County Process. Tennessee Code Annotated (TCA) Section 57-2-106 formally defines the requirements of Tennessee whiskey.
The issue of definition became important after the distillery bill passed in 2009. That law opened the door for dozens of Tennessee counties to allow for the manufacturing of spirits where only three were eligible in the 75 years since the national repeal of Prohibition. Permitted Distilled Spirits Plants (DSPs) jumped from 3 to over 40 since the passage.
The enormous industry boom came with a few growing pains. A majority of Tennessee distillers, represented by the newly formed Tennessee Distillers Guild, urgently felt the need to protect the tradition and heritage of Tennessee whiskey. The “Tennessee Whiskey law” passed, and Governor Bill Haslam signed it into law on May 13, 2013. Efforts to repeal TCA Section 57-2-106 were thwarted in both the 2014 and 2015 legislative seasons.
It’s impossible to talk about Tennessee whiskey without mentioning the iconic Jack Daniels. Jack Daniels is the oldest registered distillery in the United States, celebrating their 150th anniversary this year. It is widely recognized as the world’s top selling whiskey at 11.7 million cases sold internationally in 2014. The classics- Old No 7, Gentleman Jack, and Single Barrel Tennessee whiskeys- are being joined by a new rendition. The Single Barrel Barrel Proof is a “variation on our original Single Barrel whiskey, but we only filtered the whiskey and left it uncut. The result is the purest form of Jack Daniels you can get it a bottle,” explains Master Distiller Jeff Arnett.
Jack’s close neighbor, George Dickel, also produces Tennessee whisky, and these two brands made up the entire category for decades until Prichard’s joined the scene in 1997. Today, several varieties are available from craft distilleries including brands like Tenn South’s Clayton James, Collier & McKeel, Cumberland Cask, and Davy Crockett. The category will soon expand further with offerings from many more distilleries including Southern Pride, Speakeasy Spirits and an organic version from Short Mountain. Nashville Craft Distillery, Sugarlands and Tennessee Hills also have plans to start producing a Tennessee Whiskey.
When asked about the future of the Tennessee whiskey category, Clayton Cutler, Chief Distiller of Tenn South Distillery, mimicked the sentiments of many, “The best thing we can do is offer more choices. We are fully capable of providing diversity within the scope of the law. I’m excited, personally, to see what the next few years provide us with.”