More than its famous charcoal filtering, Tennessee whiskey is a category dominated by names: Jack Daniel and George Dickel. The name that was long forgotten though is Charles Nelson. His descendants, brothers Andy and Charlie, are working to change that.
NELSON’S GREEN BRIER DISTILLERY
At Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery in Nashville, Andy and Charlie Nelson have brought their triple great-grandfather’s distillery back to life. If Andy and Charlie sound familiar, you’re not mistaken. They’re behind the popular Belle Meade Bourbon lineup and its in-demand sourced and finished series, including Sherry Cask, Madeira Cask, and Cognac Cask offerings.
Andy and Charlie Nelson / Photo Credit: Nelson’s Green Brier
This whole time though they’ve been patiently putting away barrels, distilled on their 750-gallon Vendome hybrid copper pot-still. “The genesis of the brand itself, our plan was always originally that we’ll start out laying down stock, and half the barrels that we fill will be 30-gallon, and the other half will be 53,” explains Andy Nelson. “And then slowly start releasing two year-old whiskey out of the 30 gallons, and let that kind of phase out for the 53-gallon four year-old when it’s ready.”
Initial dividends are now being paid in the form of First 108, a batch of two year-old Tennessee whiskey matured in a total of 108 30-gallon casks. The name also pays homage to the fact that 2017 marks 108 years since the original distillery’s closure due to state Prohibition in Tennessee in 1909.
Nelson’s First 108 Tennessee Whiskey Bottles / Photo Credit: Jake Emen
First 108 showcases a wheated mashbill – 70% corn, 16% wheat, 14% malted barley – and is a recipe pulled from the distillery’s history. While wheated mashbills are soaring in popularity thanks to the ongoing aftershocks of the Pappy craze, their wheated recipe wasn’t the result of the modern trend.
“It’s not like we just wanted to do wheat – it’s historic,” Andy says. “I honestly think that the fact that we had a wheated mashbill over 100 years ago, I think the fact that it’s like that is one of the most exciting parts for me.”
Nelson’s First 108 / Photo Credit: Jake Emen
It’s bottled at 90 proof and will be sold in 375ml bottles, exclusively at the distillery, and offers a glimpse – though not an exact match – of the whiskey still to come from the distillery. “I definitely don’t think that we’re all the way there,” says Charlie Nelson on their initial offering. “No way. The First 108 is a piece of history, it’s an indication of where we’re going, but it’s also 30-gallon barrels, and they’re just going to yield a very different flavor. So it’s just a different thing. It’s a commemorative piece of history.”
A PREVIEW OF WHAT’S TO COME
Even in these early incarnations, the whiskey already showcases a signature soft, wheated characteristic. “It’s a heavily-wheated bourbon, with the wheat helping to make the whiskey so smooth,” says brand ambassador Liz Espy. “But it still has character to it and it stands up. It’s just going to get better – it’s really going to grow into itself and develop that linger.”
Barrels at Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery / Photo Credit: Jake Emen
In addition to the 90 proof First 108, there’s a single cask, cask strength edition [the initial offering was at 121.9 proof] which will also be sold in 375ml bottles. It’s a far richer and more robust sibling to the 90 proof. Combined, there will be approximately 24,000 bottles in the release, holding the fort until their next release, under the Green Brier label, is ready for the limelight.
In a Tennessee whiskey world where recognizable names are at the forefront, at Nelson’s Green Brier, it is their unparalleled history and tradition which is truly the name of the game. “The whole thing is the tradition is why it exists now,” Andy says. “One of the core tenants of our philosophy is to honor the past and embrace the future.”
Nelson’s Green Brier is back, and it’s here to stay. As for what the future holds, expect their next major self-distilled release to come in 2019, when their four year-old, 53-gallon barrel matured Tennessee whiskey comes of age. They’re not stopping there, either. Buoyed in part by a minority stake investment from Constellation Brands, Nelson’s already has long-term plans in place for a new distillery in Robertson County to be powered by a large Vendome column still, with the current Nashville site remaining as its brand home.
Green Brier Barrel in Warehouse / Photo Credit: Jake Emen
There are plenty of new releases in the works – from corn whiskey to Spanish brandy cask finished whiskey, to rye whiskey, different corn varieties, and assorted other mashbills and experiments. But always, history is going to be their north star. “We’re adamant about that,” Charlie says. “We had over 30 different labels. Multiple Tennessee whiskeys. Ryes. Corn whiskeys. Bourbons. Malt whiskey. Apple brandy. Peach brandy. Even gin. Fortified wine. Eventually we’re going to bring back the whole portfolio.”
Before too long, the name Charles Nelson may very well be right back where it’s always belonged among the A-list names on that Tennessee whiskey marquee.