How to Find the Best Tennessee Whiskey
Many people – both tourists, veterans, etc. – visit Tennessee because of their love for country music. Many others make the trip so that they can explore the impressive parks and gorgeous waterfalls as well as take advantage of that opportunity to hop around the city and visiting great spots such as Memphis, Franklin, etc.
But for a few others, they visit Tennessee because of its whiskey.
Information about Tennessee Whiskey
Tennessee whisky is a straight whiskey that is produced in the United States and Tennessee in particular. Some international trade agreements label Tennessee whiskey as a “Bourbon whiskey,” but the majority of Tennessee whiskey producers in existence today disclaim such references to their products as nothing but “Bourbon.” That is why no Tennessee whiskey or advertising material bears a bourbon label.
Tennessee whiskey is categorized under the top ten exports of Tennessee. This spirit is much loved by whiskey drinkers worldwide and jointly – together with bourbon – accounts for over $2.4 billion in revenue within the United States as of 2013 and as reported by the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. It was also stated that the export of both Tennessee whisky and bourbon has grown and exceeded $1 billion.
Tennessee whiskey belongs to a category of brown spirits that are often overlooked by many and wanted in any whiskey tours, even though it is odd, considering the fact that Jack Daniel’s distillery is a Tennessee whiskey that has become a force to reckon with globally. It is one of the recurrent best-selling whiskeys in the world, earning up to hundreds of millions of dollars for Brown-Forman, its parent company.
It may be that the popularity of Jack Daniel’s as a Tennessee whiskey has made it vulnerable enough to be treated like nothing by spirit snobs as a frat house drink or a substitute for water.
However, this perception is dying out slowly, and many have started giving Jack Daniel’s the respect it deserves alongside other Tennessee whiskeys from other distilleries such as George Dickel, Corsair, and Popcorn Sutton.
Whiskey produced in Tennessee but not labeled Tennessee Whiskey
It may surprise you to learn that some of these whiskeys have not obtained the legal right to be addressed as “Tennessee whisky.” This is because back in 2013, according to state law, Tennessee whiskey is defined as a spirit that is distilled in Tennessee from not less than 51 percent corn, and must be aged in new, charred oak barrels after it has undergone the LCP (Lincoln County Process), i.e., filtering the freshly-made spirit through several layers of charcoal before barreling for aging purposes.
An exception to this state law, however, was made for Benjamin Prichard’s, who preferred producing Tennessee whiskeys that do not go through the charcoal filtration process. The legislation was backed in full by Jack Daniel’s Distillery, but other distilleries – notably Diageo, the owner of George Dickel – were vehemently against it. They argued that the state law limits their ability to innovate during the creation of what they consider as a Tennessee whiskey.
Jack Daniel’s Whiskey support of the state law may stem from the fact that they have been in operation for over a century and a half, and have seen the effects of such regulations on bourbon, tequila, scotch whiskey, champagne, and cognac. The laws help to guide the processes via which these products are made, thereby engendering consumer understanding and trust.
So, it is not all Tennessee whiskey that is produced in Tennessee can be labeled as “Tennessee whiskey.” For instance, the Ole Smoky whiskey Distillery which is located in Tennessee and began their operations in 2010, produces whiskey, but this whiskey is not called a Tennessee whiskey, and that is because it is not aged at all. On the contrary, it is categorized as a corn whiskey and marketed as “Tennessee moonshine.”
A few years ago, George Dickel began the production of rye whisky, which is also not labeled as a Tennessee whiskey since it is a rye-based product and used rye mash as part of its ingredients.
Moreover, the rye-based whisky does not undergo any distillation process in Tennessee. The majority of the numerous stages of production is carried out under contract in Indiana, and afterward, the rye whiskey is trucked to the Diageo bottling planting located in Plainfield, Illinois so that it can be filtered with the charcoal that was made at the Dickel whiskey distillery.
After filtering the rye whiskey through charcoal, the product is then bottled. The brand once again introduced another whiskey in 2014, though this time, it was a white corn whiskey which was produced via the unaged version of its regular mash bill which consisted of over 80% corn. This gave room for the product to be sold as “corn whiskey,” and the bottle did not refer in any way to Tennessee whiskey.
There is a Jack Daniel’s Tennessee rye in the market today, and since it is 70 percent rye, it is not labeled as a Tennessee whiskey. There was an initial release – though limited – which was not aged in wood, but it was labeled “Spirits Distilled from Grain.”
After two years of aging, there was a second release, only this time, it was labeled “Rested Rye” and is known to be a straight rye whiskey. In 2017, a version that was entirely aged hit the market.
Prichard’s also produces Tennessee rye whiskey which is an unaged corn whiskey that is known as “Lincoln County Lightning” two whiskeys that bear “bourbon” on their labels, and a malt whiskey. Like Benjamin Prichard’s Tennessee whiskey, none of these are filtered through charcoal before aging.
The Tennessee Whiskey Trail
The Tennessee Whiskey Trail was established by the Tennessee Distillers Guild in June 2017. It is a group of twenty-six distilleries in the state of Tennessee, producing whiskey as well as other spirits. A variety of Tennessee distilleries are also part of the Tennessee Whiskey Trail, from micro-distilleries to historical and legendary distillers. The goal behind this is to promote Tennessee whiskey as well as the local whiskey culture.
According to the official website of Tennessee Whiskey Trail, you can visit any of the distilleries that belong to this group within ten days. Each distillery tour differs from one distillery to another and can last from thirty minutes to a few hours. Cost for tasting and Tennessee whiskey tours also varies.
If you have made up your mind to visit any of the distilleries that are on the Tennessee Whiskey Trail, you may need to get a Tennessee Whiskey Trail passport by downloading the Tennessee Whiskey Trail application or at your first stop. You will be able to collect stamps at each of the distilleries that you visit, and if you can complete the tour, you will receive a free T-shirt as a souvenir.
The Remarkable History Behind Tennessee Whiskey
Whiskey is undergoing a rebirth these days, and this is quite evident in the number of bars as well as speakeasies across the country that are always striving to create their unique and highly selective choices. In Tennessee, it is no different; in fact, the newly established Tennessee Whiskey Trail has grown the number of distilleries to 26, all of which are situated on a road that links East Tennessee to West Tennessee.
Now, over two centuries ago, early colonists started at the foothills and valleys of Appalachia where corn grew so luxuriantly that it was the staple of many families as well as that of the communities that were still trying to make ends meet.
Many villages at the time had mills to grind the corn, and this made the cultivated plant even more versatile. It is believed that both the Irish and Scotch immigrants were the first set of individuals to try out the corn distilling operations.
The Best Tennessee Whiskey to Drink Today
As mentioned in a previous paragraph, no one really knows where whiskey originated from, whether it is from Scotland or Ireland as both countries lay claim to being the first to distill this peculiar spirit and both produce excellent examples of the gentleman’s liquor.
Then the Americans wade in with their unusual entries to the market, and most of them are now recognized globally in their own right, thanks to the distinctive flavor profiles they portray.
Near the turn of the 19th century, Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania started producing whiskey. Even though Tennessee was not officially among the first states in the union to begin the production of whiskey, it has become widely known and esteemed for distilleries that generate some of the finest, premium whiskeys which date back several generations.
So, it is only natural for modern whiskey enthusiasts to encounter the problem of figuring out which of these Tennessee whiskeys delivers the richest aromas, the most comprehensive and reproducible flavor profiles as well as the darkest hues.
Tasting your way across Tennessee can be fun, and nothing can replace that experience. However, if you do not have the luxury of time and would still love to know which Tennessee whiskey fits the parameters mentioned in the previous paragraph, here are some of the best Tennessee whiskeys out there:
This Tennessee whiskey is allegedly the king of them all, and rightly so, according to the opinions of seasoned whiskey enthusiasts. This sour mash whiskey has been charcoal mellowed to the last drop and the finished product finally filtered through ten feet of sugar maple charcoal. Then it is aged in Jack Daniel’s handcrafted oak barrels.
But what makes Jack Daniel’s whiskey Tennessee whiskey to stand heads and shoulders above their counterparts, especially those on this list, is the fact that they are not bottled on a discretionary schedule or timetable. The master distillers need to evaluate not only the aroma of the spirit but also the balance of oaky and sweet flavors and certify them “perfect” before the Tennessee whiskey is presented to the general public for consumption.
Bourbon /40% ABV / Tennessee, United States
Made from the finest corn, rye, and barley malt these choice grains are mixed with the iron-free water that flows from the Cave Spring found on the distillery grounds.
George Dickel Tennessee whiskey may come a close second after Jack Daniel’s whiskey product, but it is rapidly gaining a foothold and becoming much loved by many around the world today.
This, perhaps, may be as a result of the distinctive flavors, handcrafting, and premium appeal that whiskey aficionados can appreciate. Barrel Select bottles from George Dickel undergo aging from 10-12 years, and at the end of the day, only ten barrels are selected, in person, by the master distiller, and then transformed to this unparalleled, small-batch whiskey.
An extraordinary aging process along with charcoal mellowing results in a Tennessee whiskey that offers a sublime, velvety mouthfeel along with notes of spice and vanilla which linger on your tongue long after the heat of the spirit fills you entirely.
The region that surrounds Lynchburg, Tennessee, is home to several whiskey distilleries such as George Dickel and Jack Daniel’s. But one is missing, and that is Uncle Nearest.
Uncle Nearest has a story which predates two centuries, following the distilling techniques that eventually led to the Lincoln County Process which has become synonymous with Tennessee whiskey.
This premium legend has won the hearts of many people around the world, thanks to its unique flavors that are derived from local ingredients, double distillation as well as aging to the state of being perfect.
The best way to sip some whiskeys is by sipping them with water or pouring them over a rock. Some whiskeys are even meant to be mixed with coca cola or other cocktail components. Gentleman Jack is one Tennessee whiskey that can only be consumed in neat portions.
The smooth finish of this double, charcoal-mellowed alcoholic beverage fills the mouth with the full-bodied flavors of vanilla and caramel.
Whiskey /40% ABV / Tennessee, United States
Jack Daniel's Gentleman Jack is an exceptionally smooth Tennessee whiskey with a rich, rewarding taste and a gentle farewell. Crafted by combining traditional methods with a unique process that’s all its own, Gentleman Jack undergoes a second charcoal mellowing to achieve exceptional smoothness.
Prichard’s Tennessee whiskey is a fifth-generation liquor that started with Benjamin Prichard and continues today without deviating from its original recipe which consists of white corn, instead of the standard yellow corn that is more desirable and loved by the majority of traditional Tennessee whiskey and bourbon manufacturers.
Now, there is something that white corn adds to the finished product. If you take a sip of Prichard’s Tennessee whiskey, you will find that it has a level of sweetness that puts it in its own class. It is also remarkable unique in the sense that it does not undergo the charcoal mellowing process that most Tennessee whiskeys must go through.
So, although it may not taste exactly the same as other Tennessee whiskeys tend to, the delicious and distinctive flavors are well worth it.
Nelson’s First 108 Tennessee Whiskey
Nelson’s First 108 Tennessee whiskey is a brand whose name was deduced from the number of years between the statewide adoption of prohibition (1909) by Tennessee and the historic return of the Nelson’s Green Brier Tennessee to the whiskey market, i.e., 108 years.
Nelson’s filled 108 thirty-gallon barrels – which are much smaller than regular ones is used for rapid aging along with the addition of sugar maple charcoal mellowing and the original recipe at hand – with liquor for at least two years before moving on to full-size barrels, i.e., 53 gallons to perfect the aging process. The toffee, butterscotch, and brown sugar notes are an excellent stand-in for dessert.
Rollins Tennessee Whiskey
Rollins Tennessee whiskey is one of the newest additions to the Tennessee whiskey collection, so don’t be taken in by their old-timey labels. Nevertheless, this alcoholic beverage relies 100 percent on the tried-and-true Lincoln County Process along with ingredients that are sourced locally to create a grain and corn sour mash whiskey that packs a real punch, despite its golden color.
Caramel and vanilla fill the aroma of Rollins Tennessee whiskey while its flavor profile is somewhat on the spicier side of things, with piquant notes of clove and cinnamon, all of which are rounded out by malt.
Rollins Tennessee Whiskey has won several awards, and so it is worth tasting if you are in search of a new addition to your repertoire of Tennessee whiskeys.
A clever and nifty twist on the orthodox Lincoln County Process helps to differentiate Clayton James Tennessee whiskey from the next.
The grain and white corn mash are, first of all, fermented and then copper pot distilled. After that, the heads, as well as the tails, are cut off, leaving only the hearts to undergo the aging process. Although this is a penetrative practice that yields a small batch, it shows that the charcoal filtering does not necessarily have to remove impurities, leaving it free to render unique smoky appeal and sweetness.
The rich, mahogany tone of Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Whiskey is probably the first thing that will catch your eye. The hue is an indication of complexity and aging. This Tennessee whiskey offers notes of caramel, spice, and sweet fruit and is better-looking in toasted oak and ripe fruit.
The Single Barrel Proof delivers Jack Daniel’s trademark toasted oak undertones, and vanilla, let alone 125-145 proof cask strength liquor and Single Barrel 100 Proof expectedly offers 50 percent ABV, paired with complex flavors and intoxicating aromas. The last version can only be found at duty-free airport shops throughout the world.
George Dickel makes another entrance on this list with the Classic No. 8 Whiskey which delivers flavors that are bolder than its Barrel Select counterpart. It is also a more convenient introduction to this fantastic brand.
You will still be treated to the seamless swallow as well as the balanced flavor profile from a carefully hand-crafted Tennessee whiskey, but the sharp aromas of wood and caramel along with a smoky and robust finish that is paired exceptionally well with sweet notes of buttered corn and maple, are enjoyable as well.
This Dickel is undoubtedly not for the fainthearted, but its traditional whiskey flavor may be to your liking. By all means, you are free to add it to your collection on your liquor shelf.
Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey: Other Selections
Since Jack Daniel’s stand supreme as the best Tennessee whiskey, it also makes a lot of sense to explore the other selections from that great distillery. Here are some of the best Jack Daniel’s for your viewing – and tasting – pleasure:
Jack Daniel’s Silver Select appears to be giving its highly acclaimed, bestselling brother-in-whiskey and the distillery’s flagship product, Jack Daniels Old No. 7 a run for its money. Silver Select is currently hailed as one of the most excellent selections from the stable of this legendary distillery.
Jack Daniel’s Silver Select was lovingly created to represent the supreme expressions of North American whiskeys. You will not find the Silver Select in most of the fancy whiskey stores, pubs or bars around town but only at select stores – is that why it is called “Silver Select?” – such as export shops and duty-free shops and websites.
Jack Daniel’s Silver Select is usually aged in oak barrels that are arranged neatly in different parts of the warehouse with the aim of accelerating its maturation process. The Tennessee whiskey ends up better aged and is also bottled at a significantly higher proof than any other Jack Daniel’s selection at more than 100 proof.
Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey has always laid claim to being the oldest distillery in the United States of America where it was launched in a cave using natural running water that was entirely free of any impurities, especially iron. Since 1863 when Jack Daniel took over the reins when he was just 13 years old, the distillery’s primary focus was on creating the best and highest quality Tennessee whiskey that every whiskey enthusiast can enjoy at any point in time.
The distillery has gone on to expand their selections over the years with one goal in mind; to meet the innate desires of every whiskey-loving customer out there. This is the #1 reason why Jack Daniel’s Tennessee has become a household name today and a significant part of the whiskey universe that is hard to ignore.
Jack Daniel’s Sinatra Bottling Select was created to honor the love and commitment that the ill-famed Rat Pack singer Frank Sinatra – who was an ardent lover of Jack Daniel’s – had for this Tennessee whiskey.
It was said that old blue eyes would drink Jack Daniel’s right when he was still on stage during many of his performances and always kept a bottle of the Tennessee whiskey close-by in his private plane. This selection, therefore, is crafted using Sinatra oak barrels – with deep grooves cut right into their staves – that was specially created for this purpose.
The deep grooves opened up more of the wood – that was used in making the barrels – to the whiskey when it is undergoing the aging process, thus giving it a much deeper woody flavor before it is eventually mixed with the bestselling and renowned Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7.
Whiskey /45% ABV / Tennessee, United States
Sinatra Select pays tribute to Jack’s biggest fan: Frank Sinatra. Made with our unique “Sinatra Barrels” that have deep grooves specially carved into their staves to expose the whiskey to extra layers of toasted oak. This added exposure imparts a rich amber color, bold character, and pleasant smokiness, punctuated by an incredibly smooth vanilla finish.
Jack Daniel’s 120th Anniversary White Rabbit was crafted to honor the 120th anniversary as well as commemorate the name of the saloon that is alleged to be the founder’s favorite. The White Rabbit Saloon was said to be Jack Daniel’s favorite place where he meets his friends, and it was even said that it was a bar that the founder himself opened.
This great Tennessee whiskey also honors the wild west heritage of the company by bottling with an 86 proof, which is higher than the 80 proof of their flagship selection. Its sour mash ingredients – along with its high ABV – make this alcoholic beverage a much stronger tarter variation of the regular Jack Daniel’s style.
Jack Daniel’s Green Label does not undergo the aging process that its other brethren go through, making it one of the unique offerings from the distiller. Oak barrels with the Green Label markings on them are positioned on the lower floors of the warehouse and near the center.
This is where you will notice the sign “Whisky matures more slowly,” and its slow aging time notwithstanding, Green Label is a much lighter and younger whiskey whose flavor and color correspond with these qualities. Its uniqueness among other selections is what makes this great-tasting Tennessee whiskey to stand out.
These Jack Daniel’s selections symbolize the best that the distillery has to offer to its devoted customers and ones that no real whiskey lover will dare to pass on without tasting a glass or two of this remarkable Tennessee whiskeys.
Whiskey /40% ABV / Tennessee, United States
A less-aged variant JD, difficult-to-find but well worth the effort. Jack Daniel's Green Label is lighter and much less sweet than the No.7 and is brilliant in cocktails.
Other Tennessee Whiskey Options:
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What Makes a Tennessee Whiskey Different from a Bourbon?
From time to time, the question of whether Tennessee whiskey and Bourbon are the same or not keeps popping up in the whiskey-drinking community. Many argue that both are the same, especially since they hail from states that reside next to each other. And the fact that they even look alike when poured in glasses and placed side by side seem to bolster the argument.
In reality, Tennessee whiskey and Bourbon are not the same things. Despite the fact that they originate from neighboring states, calling Tennessee whiskey bourbon is a gross disrespect to the unique process as well as the rich history that differentiates Tennessee whiskey from other types of whiskeys.
In the beginning, Kentucky Bourbon and Tennessee whiskey were distilled using similar processes. Both spirits were distilled from 51 percent corn, and are poured into new, charred oak barrels, and left to age. The only difference is that the freshly-distilled Tennessee whiskey is charcoal filtered right before it is committed into the charred oak barrels while Bourbon goes straight into the barrels without undergoing filtration.
The process of filtering freshly-distilled whiskey through charcoal – or steeped in the carbonaceous material – before putting it in an oak barrel for aging is known as the Lincoln County Process. The charcoal that is used for Tennessee whiskey is obtained from sugar maple trees that are specially selected and burned seasonally within the premises to make charcoal. The work of the charcoal is to remove the color from aged white rums. This is why the Lincoln County Process is sometimes known as “Charcoal mellowing.”
As it were, there are no two producers of Tennessee whiskey that completes the process in precisely the same way.
For instance, the most famous Tennessee whiskey producer, Jack Daniel’s, soaks sugar maple wood in 140 proof whiskey, set on fire and then reduced to charcoal. The charcoal is then ground into pellets not larger than beans. New or fresh whiskey is subsequently poured through the bean-sized pellets and placed without delay into oak barrels.
On the other hand, at George Dickel, the other famed Tennessee whiskey producer, follows a process that is quite different from his counterpart, Daniel’s distillery
Dickel does not filter fresh whiskey through charcoal; instead, he pours the whiskey into vats that are thirteen feet in height and allows both maple charcoal and the whiskey to soak at the same time, all at a temperature of 40 degrees Celsius. The logic behind this process, i.e., filtering of whiskey at such a frigid temperature is that the whiskey tastes better when it is produced during the cold months of the year, according to Dickel. So, after the soaking process, the whiskey is placed in oak barrels as well.
No one knows precisely when the Lincoln County Process was formulated or invented, but this is one remarkable creation that has contributed to the definition of high-quality Tennessee whiskey. Charcoal filtration is a reductive process, and so by filtering the freshly distilled spirit right through charcoal just before barreling, most of the whiskey’s hard flavorings are stripped away. And then another smoother, more easy-to-drink drinking spirit and remarkable flavor, emerges.
To assign the “Tennessee whiskey” label to a product, it must follow the guidelines for making Bourbon, utilize the Lincoln County process, and the distilling of the spirit must be carried out in the state of Tennessee. These requirements must be adhered to strictly or else, the whiskey may have to forfeit the Tennessee whiskey designation.
Although other whiskeys can be made in the state of Tennessee, unless they contain at least 51 percent corn and also use the Lincoln County Process, they will not be assigned or labeled “Tennessee whiskey.” But if they contain a large percentage of corn or rye, they may be called “Corn Whiskey” or “Tennessee Rye.”
There is still some dispute among whiskey lovers as to whether any whiskey that is made in Tennessee but aged somewhere else – like Kentucky, etc. – can still be called Tennessee whiskey. There is no concrete information to support this hypothesis.
According to this fact, it merely implies that the producers will be allowed, by law, to call their product “Bourbon,” especially when they follow all the necessary guidelines. There is no requirement which stipulates that Kentucky Bourbon must be made in Kentucky; however, any whiskey-loving Tennessean will tell you that there is a great difference between Bourbon and Tennessee whiskey.
Health Benefits of Drinking Tennessee Whiskey
Debate researchers are always at loggerheads when it comes to proving the health benefits of drinking Tennessee whiskey. This is dues to the different outcomes of in-depth studies to find out if drinking whiskey had any health benefits or not.
However, numerous studies show beyond a reasonable doubt that drinking whiskey, especially Tennessee whiskey, has a lot of health benefits. But, of course, you can only get to enjoy these health benefits only if you drink the alcoholic beverage in moderation.
So, let’s cut to the chase and see some of the health benefits you will derive from drinking your favorite brand of Tennessee whiskey:
Aids Weight Loss
Exercise and following a healthy diet cannot be substituted with a bottle of Tennessee whiskey. That is not to say, however, that whiskey doesn’t play a role in weight loss.
Research has shown that drinking Tennessee whiskey moderately aids in weight loss and this happens when the alcoholic beverage curbs your appetite, thereby making you feel and much less likely to binge on a bag of popcorn or potato chips. A single serving of Tennessee whiskey contains far less than 100 calories with zero fat.
Drinking Tennessee Whiskey Reduces Stress
Do you want to take the edge off after a long, hard day at your workplace? You can relax and drink a single serving of Tennessee whiskey to settle your nerves and calm your brain by slowing down its activities.
Minimizes the Risk of Developing Ischemic Stroke
An uninterrupted flow of blood around the circulatory system is crucial for the maintenance of a stroke-free life. But when a clot materializes suddenly, blood can get blocked from reaching the brain, thereby causing the health condition known as ischemic stroke.
Drinking whiskey facilitates the flow of blood by ensuring that no blood vessel is blocked unnecessarily. All you need is a shot of Tennessee whiskey, and the doctor will remain at bay for a very long time.
When you drink Tennessee whiskey, you increase the amount of HDL, i.e., high-density lipoprotein, which helps to keep bad cholesterol in check at all times.
FAQs About Tennessee Whiskey
Tennessee whiskey is every whiskey that is distilled from at least 51% corn, is aged in new charred oak barrels, and has undergone under filtering through a layer of charcoal before being barreled.
One of the most popular Tennessee whiskeys you can try is Jack Daniels No.7 which is smooth and is dripped drop by drop. Another selections you can try are George Dickel, Clayton James, Davidson Reserve etc.
The main difference between Tennessee whiskey and bourbon is not just the area where it is produced, but also the way the whiskey is produced. Tennessee whiskey undergoes filtering through sugar maple charcoal, whereas bourbon does not!
Tennessee whiskey is a versatile and enjoyable alcoholic beverage that has come to stay. Identify your ideal poison, and join the community of individuals with sound health who enjoy nothing more than relaxing with a glass of Tennessee whiskey in hand at the end of a long day.