Tennessee whiskey is the grown-up Kentucky bourbon. Basically, it’s a more refined version of the famed Kentucky expressions, making Tennessee whiskey an important part of the whole whiskey ecosystem. And a hell of a gift this Christmas season.
Before we dive in, Tennessee’s and Kentucky’s varieties of American whiskey have very similar histories and are required by trade laws to go through specific steps to be called what they are. Tennessee whiskey has to go through one more step than bourbon, and it’s a crucial one: The Lincoln County Process, wherein freshly distilled whiskey is filtered through sugar maple charcoal before aging in new American oak barrels. This adds an extra layer of refinement to the whiskey that many aficionados adore.
The ten bottles below are some of the best bottles of Tennessee whiskey on the market right now. Better still, you should be able to find them all fairly easily. We tried to keep the prices in the mid-to-low range, but we’ve thrown in a few bangers at the end. Okay, let’s dive in a find that perfect bottle to give as a gift next week!
GEORGE DICKEL WHITE #1
This white whiskey is the base for George Dickel’s #8, #12, and Barrel Select Tennessee whiskeys. The distillation of 84 percent corn, eight percent rye, and eight percent malted barley is filtered via the Lincoln County Process and then bottled without aging. While this whiskey will be pretty hot on the tongue, it’s a great way to understand how much refinement comes from Tennessee’s signature whiskey filtration process. Plus, it’s pretty affordable.
You’ll be greeted with sweet corn and alcohol upfront — this is unaged, remember. The alcohol drops away thanks to the Lincoln County Process while more corn carries through, with a hint of black pepper from the rye and a note of apple. The sip finishes with a clear rush of rich corn, rye spice, and a sharp warmth.
DAVIDSON’S RESERVE SMALL BATCH TENNESSEE SOUR MASH
Davidson’s Reserve is a specialty distillation from Nashville’s Pennington Distilling Co. The mash is 70 percent Tennessee white corn, 25 percent Tennessee white cereal rye, and five percent malted barley. The juice is then expertly barreled for at least four years, and then hand-selected for small batch bottling.
Crème brûlée, maple syrup, and dried red fruits open this one up. Hits of s’mores with a side of peach cobbler, caramel apples, grilled pineapple, and a wisp of old leather carry through the taste. The rye spice and sweetness from the corn meet with an echo of bitterness on the warming finish.
GEORGE DICKEL BARREL SELECT
George Dickel Barrel Select would be a great companion gift to the George Dickel White above. This expression is the same juice as the white whiskey that’s been aged in charred new American oak for ten to 12 years. Then only ten barrels are selected from the rickhouse to create this bottle of small-batch whiskey.
Oak, banana, and a wisp of bitter dark cocoa come through. Cherries, apples, vanilla, and wildflowers shine. The rye spiciness kicks in with a strong ping as the florals fade and the fruitiness builds towards a rich caramel apple end.
NELSON’S GREEN BRIER HAND MADE SOUR MASH TENNESSEE WHISKEY
Nelson’s Green Brier Tennessee Whiskey’s triumphant return to the mainstream after 110-year absence was one of the biggest stories in whiskey this year. The corn, wheat, and malted barley mash bill is a throwback recipe that adds a great layer of nuance by using wheat instead of rye. The sugar maple charcoal filtering and charred new American oak aging are dialed in and create a stellar example of the style.
The rich opening is full of apple stewed in cinnamon and caramel with a hint of vanilla. Brown sugar packed cinnamon rolls and caramel apples flourish throughout the palate with a nice hint of dark cocoa in the background. The apple shines through alongside that bitter cocoa as the sharp cinnamon spice peaks and then a whisper of black cherry arrives on the sweet and lush end.
BENJAMIN PRICHARD’S TENNESSEE WHISKEY
Benjamin Prichard’s in the only Tennessee whiskey that doesn’t have to legally go through the Lincoln County Process thanks to a grandfathered exemption. Instead, the white corn-heavy juice is aged in “alligator” charred new American oak — that’s a barrel so heavily charred that the wood takes on the look of an alligator’s skin. The juice mellows in those barrels and used rum casks for ten years before being cut with Tennessee limestone water from a nearby spring and then bottled.
This is a bold whiskey. Christmas spices mingle with fresh red berries, vanilla, and cracked peppercorns. Dark cherries, black pepper, bitter espresso notes, dark chocolate, and tart apples mingle. Finally, the spice mounts with a hint of the bitterness and brings about a dry yet rich end.
JACK DANIEL’S SINGLE BARREL SELECT
Jack Daniel’s is one of the most recognized whiskeys in the world, by far. The Tennessee whiskey is perfectly good in the base expressions but really starts to shine when you get into the upper levels of the rickhouses where their Single Barrel Select comes from. This is a single barrel bottling of the best of the best from Jack Daniel’s deep selection of barrels and always worth seeking out.
Toasted oak dominated the opening of this sip with hints of maple and cinnamon. The oak carries on with a rich layer of vanilla and a clear presence of ripe and sugary bananas. Fruity notes lurk in the background as the spice kicks up and leads to the warm embrace of a finish.
COLLIER & MCKEEL TENNESSEE WHISKEY
Nashville’s Collier & McKeel is a small-time distiller that still uses a hand-hammered copper still to make their whiskey. The mash bill of 70 percent corn, 15 percent rye, and 15 percent malted barley and limestone-filtered water from the Collier Farm in the fermentation make for a unique spirit. The next nuance is that the distillers then slowly pump the juice through sugar maple charcoal instead of letting it gravity drip through. This technique is said to help the filtration draw more impurities from the spirit. Finally, the whiskey is aged in a small-format barrel of only 15 gallons (a standard barrel is 53 gallons). This allows for faster aging to occur as there’s less surface area.
Bright apples, sweet corn, vanilla, and oak open this one up. Those apples turn to baked apples with a nice dose of sharp Christmas spices alongside plenty of brown sugar, oak, and caramel corn. The end embraces the spices and peaks with a warm and slightly fruity finish.
UNCLE NEAREST 18566
Nathan “Nearest” Green — a former slave — taught Jack Daniel’s how to distill whiskey. Uncle Nearest celebrates that history. This Tennessee spirit is expertly aged in charred new American oak after going through the Lincoln County Process.
Maple-infused caramel apples, rye spice, bales of hay, and an orchard full of ripe peaches and apricots greet you. Those caramel apples take on a dusting of Christmas spices as grains, dried fruits, and more maple combine to create an oatmeal cookie feel with a spicy edge. That spice carries through with a wisp of wildflowers and a final note of vanilla.
JACK DANIEL’S SINATRA SELECT
Okay, we’re into some pretty hefty price tags now. Still, this expression from Jack Daniel’s cannot be denied. Since Frank Sinatra was such a fan of JD that he was buried with a bottle, the Tennessee whiskey distillers decided to make a bottle to honor ol’ Blue Eyes. Sinatra Select is distilled according to Jack Daniel’s specifications from his era. Then the juice is mellowed in specially made toasted barrels with deep grooves carved into them, allowing a deeper transference between the wood and liquid as it ages.
Apple brandy, fresh honey, and ripe orchard fruit greet you. Then it opens up. Notes of black pepper, rich vanilla, caramel apples, and sweet and ripe banana dance through the taste. Finally, a spice kicks up in with a wisp of warming smoke and a hint of toasted oak as the warmth slowly fades away with another whisper of fruit at the very end.
HEAVEN’S DOOR TENNESSEE BOURBON AGED 10 YEARS
Do you know someone who loves whiskey and Bob Dylan? Then this is the bottle for that person. This whiskey is also a great bottle to please a bourbon lover since it is called a bourbon but made in accordance with Tennessee whiskey standards, including sugar maple charcoal filtering. Plus, this bottle comes with lyric sheets from two Bob Dylan songs, Maggie’s Farm and Subterranean Homesick Blues.
That’s just an extra layer of cool for any gift, if you ask us.
This subtle sip opens with toasted oak, creamy nougat, and fire-roasted pineapples. The spice kicks into Christmas cake territory with a good billow of rich tobacco smoke and that leads to a pecan pie spiked with peppercorns. The sweetness edges towards baked peaches with all that spice remaining as the smoky pipe tobacco ushers in a sweet and warm finish.