Tennessee Whiskey Trail – Part 1

A few weeks ago, we were trying to plan a weekend getaway with two of our oldest and dearest friends – John and Donna. They are responsible for matchmaking us many years ago, and our friendships go all the way back to our fraternity and sorority pledge classes. The idea was to go to Louisville and do part of the Bourbon Trail.

What we didn’t know was the state of Kentucky was, at that time, further behind Tennessee in terms of reopening attractions and restaurants. I checked with two of the distilleries wanted to visit, and they were still closed for tours.

So, we adapted (I guess the kids would say we “pivoted”) and decided to begin our journey along the Tennessee Whiskey Trail. Yes, there is one, and it’s quite extensive. There are currently (as of the date of this writing) 25 distilleries on the trail – some with multiple locations – ranging from Memphis to East Tennessee.

Friday began with a drive to Lynchburg, TN. I mean, if you’re going to do the TWT, you had better start at where it all began, right? Lynchburg is the home of the #1 whiskey in the world, Jack Daniel’s. But more about that later. Let’s start with Friday night.

Friday night, we had reservations at a quaint little bed and breakfast in Lynchburg called the Lynchburg Valley Inn. It was built in 1814 and is operated by the effusive Joyce (I never caught her last name). Joyce basically greeted us at the door with homemade wine and was a delight the entire stay. She also gave us a great dinner recommendation and even joined us for a drink and dinner later on that same evening. Saturday morning, we had a wonderful breakfast of eggs, bacon, tater tots, and HOMEMADE biscuits. I could have stayed there forever, but our itinerary and my cholesterol urged us to continue with our prearranged agenda for the weekend.

Our journey along the TWT began where it all began, the distillery of Mr. Jack Daniel. If you’ve never been, you must add this to your bucket list. Every drop of Jack Daniel’s whiskey sold in the world is made in Lynchburg, TN – in the middle of a DRY county. It’s absolutely fascinating to consider, and the tour was no less fascinating. Our tour was known as the Angel’s Share tour, and it concluded with a tasting of many of their premium single-barrel whiskeys. At $35 each, it was an amazing bargain. As a native Tennessean, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride as I listened to our tour guide explain how multiple generations of her family – and many other families – have worked at the distillery.

Our Angel’s Share tour included tastings of No. 27 Gold, Sinatra Select, Single Barrel Proof, Single Barrel Select, and Single Barrel Rye.
My personal favorite was the No. 27 Gold. It is super smooth, due mainly to the fact that it is double-mellowed. It has a rich, warm flavor because it is also double-barreled. It’s first aged in oak barrels, as is required to be Tennessee Whiskey, and then finished in maple barrels. You can pick up the maple on the finish, which is very nice.

Next on the list for me was the Single Barrel Select. At 94 proof, it’s strong enough, and it has a very robust flavor that might vary very slightly from barrel to barrel (because it’s made from a single barrel, of course).

The Single Barrel Proof was also good, and even more “individual” than the Single Barrel Select. It’s bottled at barrel proof, which can be anywhere from 125 to 140. Given that, and it’s admittedly varied flavor, this whiskey could rise to the top of my list, depending on the particular bottle in question. Conversely, it could also sink to the bottom. You’ll just have to taste it for yourself, which is considerably more than half the fun.

For you Rye drinkers, be sure to check out the Single Barrel Rye. It’s made with a 70% rye grain bill, and it has the bold, spicy flavor one would expect from a good rye whiskey.

Finally, we sampled the Sinatra Select. It is made to honor Jack Daniel’s biggest fan, Frank Sinatra. It derives its flavor from being aged in barrels that have specially carved deep grooves in the staves, which help expose more of the whiskey to the charred interior of the barrel. It definitely has a one-of-a-kind flavor.

At Jack Daniels, you get to see pretty much everything, from how they make their sugar maple charcoal, to how they filter the whiskey, and where they age it. We also learned about the history of the distillery – and the man. It is impossible to overstate how incredible this tour was. The sampling at the end of the tour was as satisfying as that after-dinner glass of whiskey…just right and just enough.

After a good lunch at Barrel House BBQ, we made our way south to Kelso, TN, home of Prichard’s Distillery. I first became aware of Prichard’s because of their rum – specifically, their Key Lime Rum, which I use to “boost” my White Sangria. However, Prichard’s also makes bourbon and Tennessee Whiskey, and that was our purpose on this gorgeous Saturday.

Prichard’s makes its whiskey using pot stills, the same way Phil Prichard’s ancestor Benjamin Prichard did. Their Double Barreled Bourbon is a previous winner of Best in Class at the American Distiller’s Conference. Alas, they were sold out of DBB the day we visited. They did, however, have the Double Chocolate Bourbon available, and did it ever deliver. The hint of chocolate is just that, a hint. It doesn’t over power the natural flavor of the bourbon, but instead complements it without being too sweet.

Prichard’s also makes a Tennessee Whiskey, using sweet white corn instead of the more traditional yellow corn. It gives the whiskey a very subtle sweetness, and it is literally a one-of-a-kind Tennessee Whiskey, as it is the only Tennessee Whiskey which is exempt from the charcoal mellowing process, commonly known as the Lincoln County Process.

If you like Rye Whiskey (I’m just so-so on Rye), Prichard’s produces an award-winning Rye that provides “an excellent balance of sour notes and a touch of sweetness.” It has been named one of the best affordable rye whiskies on the market, and it earned Double Gold at The Fifty Best in New York City (2012).

For those of you who lean toward Irish Whiskey or single malts, Prichard’s offers Tennessee Malt Whiskey. Distilled according to Irish traditions, it has rich, malt flavors. This whiskey is a previous Silver Medallion winner at the American Distiller’s Conference (2011).

Saturday night took us to Chattanooga for a delicious dinner at one of our favorite restaurants, the Boathouse. After a full day and a full (excellent) meal, it was an early night for this group of whiskey-tasting travelers. After all, we had more whiskey to taste on Sunday!

Sunday began with lunch at another favorite eatery, Taco Mamacitas. They have a Nashville location as well, which is currently in the process of relocating. Perhaps, by the time you read this, they will have new digs.

After lunch, we had a 1:00 appointment at Chattanooga Whiskey. I had been looking forward to this stop on the tour, and it did not disappoint. Our tour guide Smiley was perfect and made the 45 or so minutes of the tour seem more like 15. Before I knew it, we were seated at the bar sampling a fine collection of whiskey.

Our guide took us through four of their excellent whiskeys and finished things off with an Old Fashioned, which was a perfect ending to our visit.

The first whiskey of the day was their well-rounded 91. It is a high malt 91 proof Tennessee Whiskey made with an extended fermentation cycle, three select specialty malts (malted rye, caramel malted barley, and honey malted barley), and a finishing process that includes quality time in Solera charred, white oak barrels. The flavor is rich, with a fruity character.

Next, we sampled their small batch 111. It is made from a single fermentation batch. It is unfiltered, which gives it a complex, distinct flavor with a warm, malty finish.

Our third whiskey of the day was one of Chattanooga Whiskey’s experimental batches known Batch 019. The experimental batches are a limited collection of spirits made in their 100-gallon experimental distillery located in Downtown Chattanooga – the site of our tour and tasting. Batch 019 was being released to the public the very next day after our tasting, so we got to taste it before it hit the market. It’s made from only two grains (yellow corn and single-source Scottish barley malt) and aged for four years in charred European oak barrels. You could definitely pick up the Scottish influence of the Lowland grain.

Our final whiskey was the fantastic 99 Rye. I’m not a lover of Rye whiskey, as I’ve noted previously, but this particular whiskey was good enough to make me reconsider my position. They use slow-toasted, drum-roasted Rye malt and produce this whiskey in small batches. The result is a sweet and savory whiskey that was named a Top 20 whiskey for 2020 by Whisky Advocate.

As noted earlier, we finished the day with an Old Fashioned. Our cocktail was made with the 91 high malt whiskey, and it was the dessert to our tasting. It was so good, we went to the store later that week and bought the bitters we needed to craft our own Old Fashioned.

After a wonderful weekend spent with our dear friends, we returned to Nashville with both full hearts and bellies. We are certainly not whiskey experts, but we took some rather large steps this weekend on our way to becoming knowledgeable whiskey drinkers.

If you’ve ever thought about beginning the Tennessee Whiskey Trail, I encourage you to make plans and get started. Like most any trip, it’s not so much the destination as it is the journey. Get out there and enjoy!

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