Experience the heritage and history of the state’s unique spirit(s).
Story by Chris Chamberlain
In the years between the end of Prohibition and the beginning of the 21st century, the world of Tennessee spirits was pretty much dominated by two big names: Jack and George, as in Jack Daniel’s and George Dickel, the major players in the Tennessee whiskey category. In fact, state law dictated that alcohol could only be distilled in three counties of the state, two of which happened to be homes to the long-time whiskey stalwarts.
That all changed in 2009 when the legislature altered some of the old laws that had served as a barrier to entry for new distilleries and allowed a host of new players to enter the game. Since then, more than 30 production facilities have opened, distilling spirits that range from moonshine to gin to exotic malted grain whiskeys. Even in the face of this expansion, the state is still best known for its eponymous product, Tennessee whiskey.
According to the federal government, Tennessee whiskey can be considered bourbon, as it satisfies all the qualifications of ingredients, production and aging that are required to be called bourbon. In fact, Tennessee whiskey goes an extra step that makes it unique: It undergoes what is known as the “Lincoln County Process.” This involves filtering the whiskey through charcoal made from sweet maple between the time that it exits the aging barrel and when it is finally bottled for consumption. Tennessee whiskey producers feel that this extra step “mellows” the whiskey, rounding off the sharp edges of the spirit.
Whatever it does, fans are crazy for Tennessee whiskey, and Jack Daniel’s is always among the top-selling liquors worldwide. Aficionados have made the pilgrimage to tiny Lynchburg to visit the distillery for years, and a recent development should tremendously expand distillery tourism across the state.
Members of the Tennessee Distillers guild have banded together to create the Tennessee Whiskey Trail, an itinerary of more than 30 distilleries that are open for visitors. Ranging from tiny boutique operations that produce single barrels of whiskey, gin or vodka to huge facilities that can pump out as much alcohol in an hour as the little guys do in a year, the stops on the Tennessee Whiskey Trail represent the diversity of the Guild’s membership.
Whether you’re a fan of the flavored moonshines produced in the mountains of East Tennessee or the famous Tennessee whiskeys that have traditionally been made in the central region of the state, the Tennessee Whiskey Trail will point you in the direction of new spirited discoveries.
Plan A Trip
After several years growing a reputation as the premier tour operator on the vaunted Kentucky Bourbon Trail, Mint Julep Tours has expanded to Tennessee where it currently offers two itineraries utilizing vehicles of various size to carry guests in comfort and safety between downtown Nashville and distilleries around the mid-state. You can either take a trip to the biggest players at Jack Daniel’s and George Dickel or opt for an itinerary that features newer and smaller upstarts like Corsair, Leiper’s Fork and H Clark Distillery. All Mint Julep Tours include a trained driver and a personal tour guide.
If you’d rather be your own driver and guide, it’s important not to overbook yourself since there are plenty of options across the state and tastings available at each stop. Fortunately, the Tennessee Whiskey Trail has already created a 10-day itinerary that covers most of the state and can also be easily subdivided into shorter legs that cover a specific region.
During the Coronavirus pandemic, many venues are limiting public access and events with safety in mind. Please call to confirm visitor details in advance. We anticipate that regular operations will resume as soon as possible. In the meantime, wash your hands frequently, stay safe, and keep calm.