Bottles of Jack Daniels Single Barrel Select Whiskey at the Lynchburg, TN distillery. (Photo: Jennifer Wright / Alamy)
Nashville has earned a place on the world map for its honky-tonks and Grand Ole Opry, but the area is also home to a lineup of whiskey distilleries that range from supremely folksy to epicurean and globally dominant.
Popcorn’s White Whiskey
An influx of Scottish and Irish immigrants skilled at transforming grain into liquor turned Tennessee into a distillery hotbed in the late 1700s. The most famous of modern makers is Marvin “Popcorn” Sutton, who brewed his slightly sweet white whiskey outside the law in Cocke County for decades.
Though he passed away in 2009, Popcorn lives on through his autobiography, documentaries, the Moonshiners TV series, and through his self-described “likker” (translation: “liquor”). He’s known for his motto, “Jesus turned water into wine. I turned it into likker.”
Popcorn’s Tennessee White Whiskey is distilled, now legally, in the historic Marathon Village area of Nashville, and you can email the distillery for private tour information. If you happen to come across a bottle of the distillery’s initial release, snatch it up. These collector’s items are bottled in Mason jars with numbered lids, just like Popcorn did it.
Corsair Nashville Distillery
Next door to Popcorn’s place, but at the other end of the brand spectrum, you’ll find Corsair Nashville Distillery. Founded in 2009, the year Popcorn died, the award-winning distillery produces small batches of sophisticated spirits that are consistently praised in industry publications, including Whisky Advocate and Food & Wine.
Corsair is known for such creative concoctions as Triple Smoke whiskey and Corsair Red, made of absinthe tweaked with red hibiscus, citrus and tarragon. Take a distillery tour available to the public which includes a tasting of this popular Nashville whiskey.
Jack Daniel’s Distillery
Even the most casual drinkers enjoy a visit to Jack Daniel’s Distillery. A 90-minute drive south of Nashville, it’s known for its prodigious output of more than one million bottles a year and stands in stark contrast to the modest output at Popcorn’s and Corsair. The distillery’s pretty, tree-filled campus spans 1,700 acres, and the visitor’s center is nearly always abuzz.
One of the first sights you’ll see on the distillery tour is an open furnace where stacks of sugar-maple wood are set ablaze after being doused with Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7. The resulting sugar-maple charcoal is used as a filter to tame the whiskey during the mellowing process.
Indoor portions of the distillery tour include a walk through a warm, odorous room where Jack Daniel’s signature mash is spun from yellow corn, along with smaller shares of barley and rye. Local beneficiaries of the distillery’s bounty include the small flock of turkeys (aka “Tennessee peacocks”), who spend their days munching castoff grain scattered around the silos.