We’ve seen all kinds of fanciful claims when it comes to whiskey brands and history. This one says it’s distilled in the dungeon of a 13th century castle. That one comes from Davy Crockett’s brother’s recipe.
Too many of these backstories can charitably be called “improbable.” Uncharitably, they can be called “bullshit.”
Which is why it’s refreshing to talk to the brothers who founded Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery in Nashville. They’ve got a real backstory, which really goes back 150 years, and really involves their ancestors. Namely, their great-great-great grandfather Charles Nelson, who arrived in the U.S. from Germany in the 1850s, and soon moved from the soap-and-candle business to the butchering business to the distilling business.
He ultimately produced some 30 labels, including the flagship Belle Meade Bourbon and plenty of charcoal filtered Tennessee whiskey. By 1885, he was selling 2 million bottles worldwide, and was one of the three largest Tennessee whiskey producers, along with—you guessed it–Jack Daniel’s and George Dickel.
Prohibition ended Nelson’s distilling legacy for about 100 years, until his offspring, Andy and Charlie Nelson, picked it up again and set about recreating the brand (and the whiskeys). In 2012, they started selling high-rye bourbon, sourced from Indiana’s MGP Ingredients, under the Belle Meade label. In late 2014, they began producing Tennessee whiskey in their Nashville space, a couple doors down from Antique Archaeology, the store owned by the stars of American Pickers.
That whiskey is from a 100-year old, wheated recipe that comes off their 750-gallon still. Right now, they sell it as a white whiskey, but they’ve got racks of it aging in 30- and 50-gallon barrels, taunting you until they start releasing it in 2018.
But enough of the history. Let’s get to the tasting:
NELSON’S GREEN BRIER TENNESSEE WHITE WHISKEY
One of the better white dogs we’ve had, this one starts out with loads of raw grain and caramel on the nose. On the palate, you’ll find a pronounced malt character (the mash bill contains 15% malt), with a lingering, buttery, oily finish. Not nearly as sharp as most white bottlings, you could certainly use it for a summer punch, but you could just as easily build a legit cocktail out of it. 45.5% ABV / $19.99
CE Rating: ★★★
BELLE MEADE BOURBON
First off, three notes about the whole MGP thing: 1.) the brothers are honest about the whiskey, saying where it comes from on the bottle; 2.) there’s a family connection—they have a receipt that shows Charles Nelson buying 150 barrels from an Illinois distillery that MGP now owns; and most importantly 3.) it’s damn fine juice. They tasted through the existing MGP stock until they found two different high-rye whiskeys to blend in four-barrel batches. This whiskey as bottled is six to eight years old, though it doesn’t carry an age statement. The nose gives you maple and caramel notes. In the mouth, toasted oak comes blaring through, before yielding to some baking spice and dried fruit. 45.2% ABV / $34.99
CE Rating: ★★★★
BELLE MEADE BOURBON SHERRY CASK FINISH
This is the same bourbon, but it’s aged nine years and finished in Nashville for two to three months in giant Spanish Oloroso sherry casks. You’ll get smoke and tar on the nose, but the mouthfeel here is what sets this apart. It starts out dry, raisiny and leathery, before showing some strong rye in the mid-palate. Then there’s that finish—exceptionally long and dry with nothing but vanilla and nuttiness. This is an amazing whiskey. 45.2% ABV / $74.99
CE Rating: ★★★★★