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Leiper's Fork Distillery

With his new venture at Leiper’s Fork Distillery, proprietor Lee Kennedy is aiming to tell the story of Williamson County spirits.

Written By:  Chris Chamberlain

Photographers:  Christen Clemins

According to Lee Kennedy, as early as 1850, there were seven registered distilleries in the county, and that’s only counting the legal ones.

“Over on this side of the county, where there are so many hills and valleys to hide in,” Kennedy explains, “just about every farm had their own still to make whiskey out of their crops.”

Colonel Henry Hunter was the original owner of the property where Leiper’s Fork Distillery operates today, and he ran a small distillery on Old Highway 96. The 27-acre tract of land has been in Kennedy’s family for years, but, as the small hamlet of Leiper’s Fork nearby began to attract new residents—and some actual tourist traffic—a germ of an idea began to hatch in the entrepreneur’s mind.

“I’ve been fascinated by distilling since I was in college, when I first read the Foxfire books and began to think of moonshining as a fine art,” Kennedy recalls. “You couldn’t look in the encyclopedia to figure out how to distill, and we didn’t have the internet back then, so I began to study any information I could find. At the end of the day, distilling is just a chemistry project.”

By 2013, Kennedy was ready to jump in with both feet and put down a deposit on a 500-gallon still from Vendome in Louisville. While waiting for the custom still to be fabricated, he began to convert a 200-year-old cabin into a retail store and built a gorgeous new barn to house his distilling operations. When the still arrived, it was indeed a piece of art, made from polished copper, with a graceful swan neck in the old-Scottish style. “I always believed that more copper exposure leads to a softer spirit,” Kennedy explains. “We can go straight to the barrel in one distilling run, because we’re getting such a clean spirit off of this still.”

Tours and Tastings

Tuesday – Saturday, beginning at 10 a.m. at the top of every hour, with the last tour beginning at 4 p.m. For groups larger than 10, the distillery encourages you to call ahead.

The first products released from Leiper’s Fork actually never go into barrels at all. Kennedy’s Old Natchez Trace line of spirits are clear and untouched by oak, a nod to the tradition of frontier whiskey that would have been the first whiskeys distilled in Williamson County. Old Natchez Trace Tennessee White Whiskey and Tennessee Rye both have a higher percentage of barley in the recipe than most whiskeys, resulting in products that are reminiscent of Scottish and Irish whiskeys.

Kennedy shares his rationale: “I’m using barley as a flavoring element, not just to provide enzymes to start up the production of alcohol, like most other distilleries.”

All the grains come from Middle Tennessee, so the products really are an expression of the local terroir. In a nod to the tradition of Tennessee whiskey, Leiper’s Fork does pass its two white whiskeys through sweet-maple charcoal to satisfy the Lincoln County Process regulations that qualify the products to be labeled as “Tennessee Whiskey.” Even the spiciness of the rye holds up to the charcoal mellowing, despite Kennedy’s fears that the three-and-a-half feet of charcoal filtering might strip away some of the grains’ spiciness.

>>> Nashville's Local Distilleries

Leiper’s Fork Distillery’s next release will be an homage to the original distiller and entrepreneur who worked on the property. Hunter’s Select Barrel Whiskey is a 9-year-old whiskey, which has been distilled and aged in Tennessee at another facility. Kennedy personally selected 20 barrels of this premium whiskey to blend and bottle at a higher alcohol level of 95-proof. The high rye recipe is a bold and spicy whiskey, especially when experienced at the elevated proof level. Best enjoyed neat or with a splash of water, Hunter’s Select Barrel is a sign of what Kennedy hopes to create himself at Leiper’s Fork.

He has already started to lay down his own Tennessee whiskey and rye in 53-gallon barrels for a long, oaky nap, while the spirits take on the nuances of vanilla and maple from the wood. We’ll have to wait at least 4 to 5 years before we can discover what magic is going on inside those casks, but Kennedy has plans to construct a 2,700-barrel rickhouse to hold his 500-barrel-per-year production. So, by the time the brown liquor begins to flow, there should be more than enough to go around. Until then, drop by the distillery for a tour and a tasting session to discover the history and future of Williamson County distilling.

3381 Southall Rd., Franklin, 615-465-6456; leipersforkdistillery.com

Jan 2017


Get recipes to try in the January issue of Nashville Lifestyles magazine!

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