There are a lot of great things happening in Tennessee when it comes to whiskey. While the conversation about Tennessee whiskey has been dominated by George Dickel and, of course, Jack Daniel’s, there is so much more going on now with new brands and those old-school classics changing up their own lines. It’s an exciting time to follow and drink Tennessee whiskey, and that’s why we’re blind-tasting some of our favorites below.
The keyword there is “favorites.” We’re not tasting every single Tennessee whiskey on the shelf. We’re tasting six Tennessee whiskeys that we dig. Three of these TN whiskeys are sourced. The other three are made and bottled under their own labels. One of them was one of my favorite whiskeys of the year back when I tasted in the early summer. Will it still stand up? Let’s find out.
Our lineup today is:
- George Dickel Bottled-in-Bond, Fall 2008
- Nelson’s Green Brier Sour Mash Tennessee Whiskey
- Uncle Nearest 1884 Small Batch
- Bib & Tucker Small Batch 6-Year-Old
- Heaven’s Door Redbreast Master Blender’s Edition
- Gentleman Jack
It’s a small but powerful grouping of whiskeys. Let’s see which one comes out on top!
Part 1: The Tasting
The nose on this one is mildly sweet with almost earthy maple syrup next to pecans from a pie with a touch of dried apple and old leather. The taste runs deep with vanilla leading the way next to a touch of apple and pecan crumble. The mid-palate takes a turn away from all of that and dives into a candied cherry that’s dusted with dark chocolate and a ground-up fruit Neco Wafer or Flintstone’s multivitamin (that’s also cherry-flavored) before the finish gets this browned butter vibe with a touch of soft, sweet oak.
This is heavy on the apples and leather on the nose with a touch of cinnamon cutting through the apple and just a hint of caramel sneaking in. The taste holds onto the apple/cinnamon but attaches it more to a toast with plenty of brown sugar that then turns into rich and almost chewy cherry tobacco by the mid-palate. The finish leans into the spicier side of that tobacco as a subtle note of sweet and wet cedar lingers on your palate.
This is all Cinnamon Pecan Sandies, sweet grass, and leather on the nose. The palate is equal parts sweet vanilla cream pie and tart apple pie with walnuts and plenty of spice. The end brings back the leather on the tongue as mild florals lead towards a thin cherry/chocolate mix.
This starts out earthy and leathery with hints of wet cedar next to woody vanilla. The texture is very light and has this matrix of spicy apple cider next to touches of ginger snaps and a minerality. The finish really leans into the spicy apple but with more of a tobacco vibe to it.
The nose on this one is huge with meaty dates next to rich marzipan, worn leather, sweet Gala apples, dry cedar, and bright red cherries. The palate has this vanilla and eggnog latte vibe with a walnut background until the mid-palate comes in with a moist and heavy vanilla pound cake bespeckled with poppy seeds next to orange-infused marzipan covered in dark chocolate that leads towards a hint of dry cherry tobacco and a final note of chocolate-covered raisins.
This starts with an apple nut bread with plenty of spice that then turns into a soft suede that someone spilled cherry pie filling on with the faintest whiff of vanilla tobacco lurking in the background. The taste starts with a spiced cedar box next to a banana cream pie made with vanilla pudding and topped with whipped cream that’s dotted with dark chocolate flecks. The mid-palate has this apple-caramel-tobacco vibe that leads towards a soft leather and a touch more of that cherry pie filling.
Part 2: The Ranking
6. Bib & Tucker Small Batch Bourbon Whiskey Aged 6 Years — Taste 4
Average Price: $60
Bib & Tucker pulls barrels of Tennessee whiskey from an old and quiet valley in the state. They then blend those barrels to meet their brand’s flavor notes. While they are laying down their own whiskey now, this is still all about the blending of those barrels in small batches.
I actually wrote, “this is pretty good” in my notes next to this one. The thing is, as good as it was it just didn’t quite live up to the rest on this list. There was thinness at play that just couldn’t break through.
5. Uncle Nearest 1884 Small Batch — Taste 3
Average Price: $49
This whiskey is built from a batch of barrels that are a minimum of seven years old. Nearest’s Master Blender, Victoria Eady-Butler, builds the blend according to classic flavor notes first put into Tennessee whiskey by her ancestor, Nearest Green, back in the 1800s.
This suffered very much like the Bib & Tucker above. It’s really tasty but thin. There was a bit more going on but it felt a little small.
4. Nelson’s Green Brier Sour Mash Tennessee Whiskey — Taste 2
Average Price: $32
Nelson’s Green Brier is a heritage brand that has a great comeback story. The family’s shingle was killed by Prohibition until descendants of the former owners stumbled upon the old distillery. Now, they’re making one of the finest, wheated Tennessee whiskeys at one of the most accessible price points of any whiskey.
This had a lot going on but, again, it was a little light comparatively. Still, it was pretty damn delicious all-around and definitely a solid candidate for sipping or mixing.
3. Gentleman Jack — Taste 6
Average Price: $41
This bottle was introduced (in its current iteration) in 1990. The key to this expression is that it’s good ol’ Old No. 7 Jack Daniel’s that is passed through sugar maple charcoal — the famed Lincoln County Process that defines Tennessee whiskey — twice before proofing with Jack’s iconic cave water and bottled.
I would have put good money on this being in last place. I really didn’t like this that much when I last drank it (about a year ago). I had been using it in cocktails but that was about it. Now, I’ve changed my attitude on this given that I put it at third today. This was really tasty and unique. But it was also super easy to drink while being very distinct.
2. George Dickel Bottled-in-Bond Fall 2008 — Taste 1
Average Price: $45
Nicole Austin has been killing it with these bottled-in-bond releases from George Dickel. This year’s release is a whiskey that was warehoused in the fall of 2008. Eleven years later, this juice was bottled at 100 proof (as per the law) and sent out to the wide world in late 2020, where it received much adoration.
This is just straight-up delicious. It’s complex yet approachable. It’s unique yet familiar. This is a winner all around.
1. Heaven’s Door Redbreast Master Blender’s Edition — Taste 5
Average Price: $104
The juice in the bottle is Heaven Door’s low-rye 10-year-old Tennessee bourbon. They take that whiskey and fill it into Redbreast whiskey casks that had previously aged Irish whiskey for 12 years. After 15 months of final maturation, those barrels are vatted and slightly proofed down with soft Tennessee spring water.
This wasn’t a surprise at all. This expression is damn near perfect. It’s so deeply hewn with pronounced flavors that feel like coming in from the rain and sitting next to a warm fire. This is a stellar whiskey.
Part 3: Final Thoughts
I think the biggest surprise for me today was the Gentleman Jack scoring so high. I really didn’t think I liked that whiskey that much. That’s why I love these blind taste tests, you’ll always be surprised what you pick and don’t.
As for the rest, I wasn’t overly shocked. That Heaven’s Door expression is just pure fire. It remains one of my favorite pours of the year for sure — as does the Dickel. I guess I have to say that I was a bit surprised Uncle Nearest didn’t rank higher given all the awards love it receives. But it was just a bit thin for me today. Maybe I’ll put it up against only other small batches next time and see how it fares. Until then, I’m going to be sipping on that Heaven’s Door.