Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery
The modern-day Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery releases its first Tennessee whiskey.
Written By: Chris Chamberlain
Photographers: Christen Clemins
Almost as soon as Nashville brothers Andy and Charlie Nelson discovered the site of the old Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery, they started to enact a plan to bring their family’s legacy as distillers out of mothballs and into the modern age. Closed since Prohibition, Nelson’s Green Brier had fallen from memory, despite being one of the dominant producers of Tennessee whiskey during the late 1800s and early 20th century.
The Nelsons recognized that there would be several steps along the way to ramping up to full-time production. Because most people prefer their whiskey with a little age on it, the Nelsons began by purchasing barrels from another distiller and then blending multiple recipes into a signature Belle Meade Bourbon product. Belle Meade Bourbon earned fans across the country, and the Nelsons’ reputation as talented blenders and finishers of whiskey began to spread.
Next, they experimented with special cask finishes, moving their bourbon from its original new oak barrels to previously used European sherry, cognac, and madeira casks. The nuanced products won awards at a number of spirits competitions. From there, it was time to start producing their Tennessee whiskey in-house at the Marathon Village facility, which opened in 2014.
They release some of their distillate in small bottles as a “white” whiskey, unaged and clear as water, offering a taste of the same raw material that they had also started barreling to age. Bold and spicy, the unaged version is best suited as an ingredient in cocktails. But what’s been aging—the first batches went into smaller, 30-gallon barrels; the rest has been going into traditional 53-gallon casks—is finally ready to be released.
>>> two Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery recipes in the July issue!
“While this Nelson’s First 108, the 30-gallon barrel release, is the same mash bill as the future 53-gallon barrel release, the size and age of the barrels has an impact on the taste of the whiskey,” Andy Nelson says. “The first flavor that we’ve picked up is a nice caramel note—and that’s what we’re going for here,” he adds. “There will be a difference in the two releases, but a special magic to each one.”
While those larger barrels take a little more time to reach the desired flavor profile, the first barrels (there are 108, hence the name) will be available starting July 4. Coincidentally, 108 is also the number of years since Nelson’s Green Brier released its last Tennessee whiskey, before closing as the result of Tennessee’s state Prohibition, a decade before federal law took the rest of the country dry with national Prohibition.
“This is about more than just whiskey,” Charlie Nelson says. “It’s about history, heritage, family, culture, and community. There’s no way we could have gotten to this point without the incredible support of our surrounding community, family, and friends. We can only hope that the original Charles Nelson is smiling in anticipation of the family brand being brought back to life.”