Whiskey production has a rich history in Tennessee, with traditional techniques like filtering the whiskey through maple charcoal chips (known as the Lincoln County Process) and aging in charred oak barrels. But it hasn’t always been plain sailing for Tennessee whiskey producers, having endured national and statewide Prohibition in the early 20th century. These days, business is burgeoning with the opening of craft distilleries all over the state and the establishment of the Tennessee Whiskey Trail in 2017, featuring around 30 distilleries.
Here, we present the first five destinations of a 10-day suggested itinerary, highlighting the best tours and tastings of the smoothest spirits in the state. Read part two here.
Nashville's distilleries offer inventive takes on this traditional spirit, from pumpkin spice moonshine to quinoa whiskey
Forget country music, whiskey is what the city of Nashville is increasingly known for. In 2009, a new law reintroduced distilling for the first time since Prohibition and a result, a whole bevvy of craft distillers appeared on the scene. There’s Nashville Craft Distillery, with a minimalist, gunmetal-grey facade that sets the tone for the slick industrial interior; the distillery only opened in 2016 yet has already made a name for itself with its sustainably sourced and hand-distilled spirits, tours, tastings and most recently, for launching its own label whiskey – the Nashville Craft Original Bourbon Whiskey. Just a 5-minute walk away, you’ll find the Corsair Distillery, where experimental recipes include pumpkin spice moonshine and quinoa whiskey alongside rich, sweet and charred classics like the Triple Smoke American single malt. There’s also Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery (the largest maker of Tennessee whiskey in the late 1800s before Prohibition), Prichard’s Distillery at Fontanel, Leiper’s Fork Distillery (just outside of the city) and many more. Stay a 6-minute drive from Nashville Craft Distillery at Kimpton Aertson Hotel, and enjoy whiskey cocktails aside the rooftop pool.
Try the award-winning Old City Heirloom Corn Whiskey at Knox Whiskey Works
Next up is Knoxville, the third largest city in Tennessee and home to several outstanding distilleries. Probably the best-known is Knox Whiskey Works in downtown Knoxville, the city’s first legal distillery offering tours and tastings, and using locally grown ingredients to produce a range of handcrafted spirits – try the award-winning Old City Heirloom Corn Whiskey or the delectable coffee liqueur. There’s also PostModern Spirits, a 4,700 square foot facility with a distinctly laid-back atmosphere, hosting tastings, tours, special events and activities, as well as an expansive terrace that’s a lovely spot for sampling some of the distillery’s creative cocktails. Book a classic suite at The Oliver Hotel and you'll only have to walk 12 minutes home from Knox Whiskey Works.
Tennessee Legend Distillery specialises in flavoured whiskeys alongside smooth moonshine
A half-hour drive east of Knoxville, you’ll arrive in the city of Sevierville (the birthplace of legendary country singer Dolly Parton) to find the impressive Tennessee Legend Distillery. Led by friendly and knowledgeable staff, the distillery offers tours and tasting, specialising in flavoured whiskeys alongside smooth moonshine and other classics – try the salted caramel or blackberry flavours. There’s also the Sevier Distilling Company, run by a family with a nine-generation distilling tradition, preserving this legacy with traditional techniques as well as speciality spirits like Yenoh, distilled 30 times and made from 100% honey. Stay just a 5-minute drive from the Sevier Distilling Company at Clarion Inn Willow River.
Hop on the Great Smoky Mountain Wheel in Pigeon Forge after a cocktail or two
While many visitors may head to this mountain town for Dollywood (a theme park owned by the singer herself), making time to visit Pigeon Forge’s distilleries is well worth the time. Make your first port of call the Old Forge Distillery, housed in a traditional wooden barn in the middle of town. The tours and tastings here (do book as they’re organised by request) are both informative and fun-filled, often ending up in the bar where staff can make you a bespoke cocktail if you describe your favourite flavours or if you prefer a classic drink, try the old fashioneds, which are truly sensational. The next stop should be Ole Smokey Moonshine, a corn-whiskey distillery located in Pigeon Forge’s The Island, a 23-acre entertainment area with a ferris wheel and ample other attractions. Enjoy live music performing on the distillery’s outdoor stage here while tasting some of its expertly brewed moonshine. Check into the highly rated Black Fox Lodge Pigeon Forge, a short walk or very short drive from Old Forge Distillery.
Distilleries in the mountain town of Gatlinburg use fresh spring water to make their whiskey
Anyone who had to tear themselves away from the Ole Smokey Moonshine distillery in Pigeon Forge will be thrilled that the next stop on the trail – the mountain town of Gatlinburg – is home to another branch, with an atmosphere that’s just as infectiously lighthearted and entertaining. Whiskey connoisseurs wanting to try something new on the trail can next head to Doc Collier Moonshine, where recipes use only fresh spring water straight from the source on nearby peak, English Mountain. Or to Gatlinburg’s Sugarlands Distilling Company, where engaging, behind-the-scenes tours tend to end up listening to live music on the back porch – be sure not to leave without trying the distillery’s unique spirit flavours including Maple Bacon and Dark Chocolate Coffee Cream. Stay at the Gatlinburg Inn, just across the road from Sugarlands.