These past weeks I’ve finally taken some time off and managed to do one of the most interesting things I’d been planning for a long time: taking the Kentucky and Tennessee Bourbon and Whiskey trails I’d been hearing so much about. It took quite some time to go through the distilleries on the maps but, trust me, it was worth it! Aside from the truly unique experience of visiting the distilleries and getting to admire their beautiful whiskey stills, I was happy to meet many others who also owned their own copper whiskey still and were just as passionate about home distilling as I was. So, I’ve decided to write a post about each of the trails, which will hopefully help you decide to go if you ever get the chance.
The Tennessee Whiskey Trail has been around since the winter of 2012. It came as the answer to home distillers and whiskey lovers who wanted to know about the active distilleries in the state, especially at a time when the micro-distillery culture was flourishing again. The trail now has 11 stops, but it’s constantly growing as new distilleries keep ‘firing their whiskey still’ and joining. It offers updated information on the existing distilleries, their location, products and history.
One of the things I really loved about the trail is that it takes you through a wide variety of places, from big commercial distilleries like Jack Daniel’s to small, family-run businesses and handcrafted whiskeys and moonshine distilleries. The funny thing about it is I loved seeing each of them just as much. As a copper whiskey still owner and moonshiner myself, I thought I’d really enjoy the micro-distilleries much more, but to my surprise, every place had its own sweet and spicy scents, smooth taste and production secrets. Also, the scenery was absolutely beautiful everywhere I went.
It was great to hear the stories behind the distilleries and realize that some of them had started off with just one copper whiskey still and naturally grew from there through their passion for distilling. Collier and McKeel, for example, is a Handcrafted Tennessee Whiskey distillery with a great story: the owner got into distilling at 16 through a science project for chemistry class. He only got to open the distillery after he turned 50, when the entire family got together and helped out with the production, bottling, labeling and distribution process. The Corsair Distillery was founded by two friends who also started out as home brewers, Ole Smokey was the state’s first legal moonshine distillery which now makes a wide range of flavored ‘shine and I’m not even going to go into how awesome it felt to see the Popcorn Sutton Distillery – for this one you have to request a tour beforehand though.
The Jack Daniel’s tour was a complete experience which, aside from showing you a good time, also teaches you some pretty cool things about the business and the place. They’ve managed to integrate the entire Lynchburg experience into the tour and strongly recommend town visits to local attractions. It’s busy but worth it! You can tell they’ve not only been around making and perfecting their whiskey for so long, but also their marketing.
The most interesting thing I learned about on the trail has to be the Whiskey Fungus – a black mold which grows when ethanol is released into the atmosphere. As distilleries release ethanol in their process of distilling and ageing the liquor, the fungus would cover anything in range. The tours have great stories about how, during Prohibition, this was a smart way for revenuers to find illegal distilleries. As many of them were hidden in the woods, once the whiskey black mold popped up on an area of trees, they automatically assumed moonshine had been produced there the previous summer and added the location to their black list.
As you can see, I had a great time and I really think you should go see as many of the distilleries on the Tennessee Whiskey Trail as you can. I promise you’ll get to meet some great people, see some beautiful copper stills, find out a bunch of really cool things about distilling, and try some of the tastiest handcrafted moonshine and whiskey in the whole of the US.
Posted by Jason Stone on