There’s cause for celebration in Tennessee. On July 4, the Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery will release its first Tennessee whiskey in 108 years.
In the 1800s, Charles Nelson ran one of the country’s largest distilleries, selling some 380,000 gallons of Nelson’s Green Brier Tennessee Whiskey around the world. But Tennessee enacted a statewide Prohibition in 1909 and Nelson’s company never recovered. Charles Nelson’s great-great-great grandchildren, Andy and Charles, began rekindling their family’s legacy in 2006.
Nelson’s First 108 Tennessee Whiskey culminates a decade-long rise from sourced whiskey company to distiller. (The Nelsons tell their history here.)
In the beginning, the Nelsons acquired stocks from the former Seagram distillery in Lawrenceburg, Ind., distillery now owned by MGP Ingredients. Then, it contracted distilled its recipes. In 2014, the Nelson Green Brier Distillery started distilling and the brothers entered their maple charcoal-filtered new make into a mixture of 30-gallon and 53-gallon barrels. Last year, Constellation Brands acquired a minority stake in Nelson Green Brier.
In the past decade, many sourced whiskey brands received scrutiny for creating phony backstories and questionable histories to market their products. Initially, the Nelsons were incorrectly lumped in with other brands that used grandparents and relatives as the faces of brands. People asked: Can it really be a grandfather’s recipe if it’s coming from MGP?
This criticism quickly subsided, as consumers saw the brothers doubled down on their family legacy. Their Nashville facility is part family whiskey history museum and part distillery, while they are actually distilling one of Charles Nelson’s recipes.
Since the 21st Century founding, Nelson’s Green Brier has resurrected cool old labels and honored its founder with formidable whiskey, including a Sherry cask finish that I just love. Strategically, the company’s identity is directly tied to the Charles Nelson, and they offer historical symbolism with practically everything they do.
Nelson’s First 108 is named after the amount of 30-gallon barrels filled, 108, and the number of years since Tennessee’s Prohibition, 108. Its release date, July 4, is also the first Charles Nelson’s birthdate.
Distilled from Tennessee corn and wheat, and at two years old, the Tennessee whiskey has yet to receive a price, but it will only be sold in the distillery’s visitor center. “We will not release this all at once,” says Charles Nelson. “These will sell over the course of one to two years.”
The new product also coincides with a new era. The company sources a relatively small amount of whiskey and is reducing its contract distillation. “This is the next step to that goal of distilling 100% of our whiskey,” Nelson says. “Nelson’s First 108 represents some of our first distillation runs.”
Presented in two expressions, the green-label ‘Classic’ is a 90-proof blend (they’re also considering bottling this at 108 proof); and the gold-label Single Barrel will be released at true ‘Cask Strength’. Once these 108 barrels are gone, the 30-gallon barrels are gone.
From now on, its whiskeys will be aged in the standard 53-gallon barrels. The distillery plans to release its first 53-gallon barrel release at four years old in 2019.
Fred Minnick is the author of Bourbon: The Rise, Fall & Rebirth of An American Whiskey.