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The Best Tennessee Whiskeys To Sip This Fall

Tennessee whiskey is poised to make a massive comeback on the whiskey market. The brown juice from the Volunteer State used to be the gold standard of American whiskeys. It was more refined than bourbon and has held a special place in the minds of everyone from artists to rock stars. Hell, it’s hard to imagine Frank Sinatra or Keith Richards or Lemmy without a bottle of Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 Tennessee Whiskey in their hands when a mic or guitar wasn’t.

There was good reason Tennessee whiskey was so revered. The local elixir has similar requirements to Kentucky’s bourbon with one major difference. Like bourbon, it needs to have a 51 percent corn mash bill and must be aged in new charred American oak, but the brown stuff from Tennessee is also mandated to take an extra filtration step — called the Lincoln County Process.

The Lincoln County Process is a step between distillation and aging wherein the white dog (raw, unaged whiskey) passes through charcoal made specifically from sugar maple wood. This adds a layer of refinement to the proto-whiskey that sets it apart and elevates it. Think of it this way, great gins and vodkas live or die by their filtration before they go in the bottle. So why then wouldn’t the same be true of of a corn-based distillate?

Obviously, bourbon is dominating the conversation in American whiskey right now. And that’s all fine and well. But as palates expand, Tennessee whiskey will be the first place adventurous drinkers go. So we’re calling out ten best Tennessee whiskeys worth tracking down right here and now, before the boom hits.

NELSON’S GREEN BRIER TENNESSEE WHISKEY

Story:

This might be the bottle that makes you fall in love with Tennessee whiskey at last. There’s a pedigree here that’s hard to deny. The Nelson brothers have spent the last 13 years toiling to get to this very point. As of October 1st, 2019, Nelson’s Green Brier Tennessee Whiskey will be widely available for the first time since 1909. This wheated whiskey has been painstakingly recreated from Nelson’s original recipe which helped elevate the style over 100 years ago. This is the bottle to put your shelf.

Tasting notes:

I was lucky enough to try the test run of this expression a little while back and it’s a gamechanger. The sip opens with rushes of cinnamon and caramel with green apple, while hints of oaky vanilla lurk in the background. Wet brown sugar arrives with tart apple covered in state fair caramel. The malts come through with a yeast-risen feel of a cinnamon roll cut with extra cinnamon and a hint of nutmeg. Finally, a whisper of dark cocoa bitterness brings the sip home as more caramel, vanilla, and apple lead towards a ripe, lush black cherry finish.

JACK DANIELS SINATRA SELECT TENNESSEE WHISKEY

Story:

Jack Daniel’s is a stone-cold classic Tennessee whiskey. Old No. 7 is always a good place to start and handy bottle to have on hand — especially if you’re in the mood to rage against the machine. For a little more refined experience, their Sinatra Select takes the standard whiskey and elevates it to new heights. The ripple here is in the aging. The newly charred American oak is scored on the inside, allowing more surface area to be exposed to the juice.

Tasting notes:

That extra exposure to the wood really opens this one up. You’re greeted with fresh honey and ripe peaches right away. Then a rush of caramel and oak-driven vanilla hit hard while spicy black pepper cuts through. Echoes of wildflowers and fatty fruits bounce around in the background. Then, right at the end, there’s a spicy nature that leads towards a distant wisp of smoke from a grill with a big, bone-in steak sizzling on it.

HEAVEN’S DOOR STRAIGHT TENNESSEE BOURBON

Story:

Technically, all Tennessee whiskey is bourbon but not all bourbon is Tennessee whiskey. Unless the Lincoln County Process is utilized, it cannot be “Tennessee whiskey.” That’s why Bob Dylan’s signature whiskey is both Tennessee whiskey that they can 100 percent call bourbon (for brand recognition). This is a high-quality whiskey, treated well, and bottled with care.

Tasting notes:

The sip opens with vanilla that leans more towards an egg-heavy pudding sweetened with maple syrup and brandied cherries. The oak char comes in with an almost cedar wood feel. Spicy cloves and nutmeg alongside more vanilla and a syrupy nature lead towards a mellow finish.

COLLIER & MCKEEL TENNESSEE WHISKEY

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Collier & McKeel’s Tennessee Whiskey is hand-crafted from a mash bill of corn, rye, and malted barley. The juice is then distilled in hand-hammered copper stills before going through the long Lincoln County Process. This is whiskey that takes its time and that effort comes through in every bottle.

Tasting notes:

The sip opens with big notes of caramel and vanilla. That’s followed by hints of dry cocoa, leather, roasted espresso beans, and butterscotch. A crème brûlèe fattiness and sweetness comes into play as the spices kick in towards a warm finish.

CLAYTON JAMES TENNESSEE WHISKEY

Story:

Tenn South Distillery takes its time with this whiskey. The whiskey is cut so only the heart of the distillate goes through the Lincoln County Process — in essence, that means the distiller is throwing away the first and last sections of the spirit coming off the still and keeping the good stuff in the middle. That then means that the best part of the distillate is filtered through the sugar maple charcoal. So the wood doesn’t have to bother with filtering impurities and is instead purely infusing the spirit with sugar maple.

Tasting notes:

Apple, apricot, and pear orchards bursting to life with ripe fruit greet you. Those notes are supported by a caramel that feels like it was cut with agave. Rosewater, vanilla, oak, wildflowers, and echoes of smoke all come into play on the sip. Finally, rich vanilla leads to a tartness before the spice kicks in on a dry finish.

UNCLE NEAREST 1856 TENNESSEE WHISKEY

Story:

Uncle Nearest celebrates the legacy of Nathan “Nearest” Green, a freed slave who’s the first African American master distiller on record — a man who also happened to be crucial in the perfection of the Lincoln County Method. It’s rumored that Nearest even taught Jack Daniel how to distill. This whiskey is dedicated to that history with expert mash selection, fermentation, distilling, sugar maple filtration, and barreling.

Tasting notes:

Bales of dry hay, peach, and apricot orchards hanging heavy with ripe, sun-kissed fruit, and maple-infused caramel corn straight from the kettle open this sip. It’s a lot! That caramel is cut by hefty cinnamon and allspice warmth before wildflowers in full bloom take over. Hints of dried fruits and maple wood steer the sip towards an oatmeal cookie flourish before the vanilla and spice finish the sip off with one last echo of maple syrup.

BENJAMIN PRICHARD’S TENNESSEE WHISKEY

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Story:

Prichard’s is a true outlier in the world of Tennessee whiskey. This is the only “Tennessee whiskey” that is legally exempt from the Lincoln County Process while still being legally called “Tennessee whiskey.” There are two major nuances at play here in the process that also helps this expression stand out. One, the mash bill uses sweeter white corn (most bourbons and Tennessee whiskeys use yellow corn). Two, the spirit is aged in “alligator” barrels. Those are barrels that are charred so heavily that the wood takes on a black, rippled surface like that of, well, an alligator. That’s more surface area and more char for the juice to absorb.

Tasting notes:

This is not a whiskey for the faint of heart. Allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla, cream, egg yolks, pepper, and tart red berries arrive up front. Imagine a spicy egg nog spiked with raspberry. Apples, toasted malts, sweetened coffee beans, bitter dark chocolate, and dark cherries come in next. The spices come back in with a rush of creamy sweetness with a mellow, longlasting finish.

GEORGE DICKEL BARREL SELECT

Story:

This is the mountaintop of the George Dickel Tennessee whiskey line. Around ten barrels are hand-selected from ten to 12-year-old barrels in the George Dickel rickhouse for this expression. That gives this Tennessee whiskey a unique and deep profile. What helps this whiskey stand out, even more, is the price. It’s only $40 per bottle — a great price for a single barrel bottling of anything.

Tasting notes:

Honey and cornbread meet you on the nose. Sugar cane rum, apricot and pear orchards, and hints of citrus follow. Herbal mint sits next to earthy green tea leaves. Finally, that hefty oak vanilla spiciness rushes in towards a strong finish with a burst of buttery caramel.

KNOX WHISKEY WORKS GOLD RELEASE TRIPLE MELLOWED TENNESSEE WHISKEY

Story:

Knox Whiskey Works is all about farm-to-glass distilling. They source their grains and cereals from Riverplains Farm locally. Then every step of the whiskey-making process is executed in-house and with precision. The “triple mellowed” in this case refers to this whiskey getting filtered through sugar maple three times instead of the usual one. This adds serious depth to the brand new expression.

Tasting notes:

This is refinement in whiskey form. The sip opens with classic notes of Granny Smith apple alongside buttery caramel and spicy vanilla. That leads to a pure maple syrup essence that feels like it’s straight from the tree. Hints of wildflowers and pitted fruits bounce throughout the sip as heat rises from deep spice and oak. The finish is mellowed to the point of silky maple syrup running over a cinnamon stick.

LEIPER’S FORK OLD NATCHEZ TRACE TENNESSEE WHITE WHISKEY

Story:

No trip through Tennessee whiskey would be complete without a little time spent with a white whiskey — or unaged whiskey. Old Natchez Trace Tennessee White Whiskey uses a mash bill of corn, rye, and malted barley (all grown locally). It’s made with Tennessee white limestone mineral water from local springs. And, of course, it’s filtered through sugar maple. That spirit is then bottled and ready for you to drink.

Tasting notes:

Popcorn covered in butter with a hint of salt opens the sip. Honeysuckles, maple, apple, and a nip of mint are present. There’s a white pepper whisper that leads back to the corn notes. The finish is warm with a return to a buttery kettle corn flourish.

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