From Moonshine to Sourmash on the Tennessee Whiskey Trail

(A Working Title)

Tennessee Whisky Tasting at George Dickel’s Cascade Hollow Distillery in Tullahoma, Tennessee

The last several months have been partly an education, partly a labor of love and partly pure fun!

My next book is unpublished because it isn’t finished yet. I have a publishing agreement with Acclaim Press, Sikeston, Missouri. The current goal is to have it on the shelves by Christmas. It’s a coffee table book about the Tennessee Whiskey Trail. There are 28 distilleries on the Trail. Each with a unique story and their own approach to this thing called Tennessee Whiskey. So what is Tennessee Whiskey? Is it Bourbon? If not, how is it different?

Let’s see what bourbon is first, and then we’ll go on to what Tennessee Whiskey is by contrast. The legal definition of bourbon, from Federal regulations is that the mash bill or recipe must be at least 51% corn with a remainder of other grains. It must be distilled at not more than 160 proof. It must be barreled at 125 proof or less in charred, new oak “containers”. On whole, the industry has interpreted this requirement to mean oak barrels. Although, there is room for interpretation and some have chosen other aging containers. It must be bottled at a minimum of 80 proof. And finally, there can be no additives except pure water.

Tennessee Whiskey follows all of these Federal guidelines. So, is it bourbon? Sort of. Well, not quite, for two simple reasons.

The State of Tennessee has added a couple of regulations of their own. TCA 57-2-106 outlines the restrictions on labeling of intoxicating liquors as Tennessee whiskeys.

In order for a spirit to be considered Tennessee Whiskey, it must be made in Tennessee. I’m pretty sure you saw that one coming.

The other requirement is that it must be made using the Lincoln County Process. The distilled spirits must be steeped in or filtered through maple charcoal prior to aging in charred, new oak barrels.

Prichard’s Distillery in Lincoln County is exempt from this requirement. I’ll explain why in another post.

Now, here’s where things get interesting. The Lincoln County Process, that is part of what defines and makes Tennessee Whiskey uncommonly smooth and full of character, was invented by an enslaved man named Nathan “Uncle Nearest” Green, who later went on to teach a young Jack Daniel to make whiskey and ultimately, after Emancipation, went on to become the first master distiller at the Jack Daniel, Lynchburg, Tennessee distillery.

The Lincoln County Process at Jack Daniel Distillery, Lynchburg, Tennessee

Let me restate this important point; most Tennessee Whiskey is smoother and has more identifiable flavors on the palate than most Bourbon because of the Lincoln County Process.

Now that we know the difference between bourbon and Tennessee Whiskey, sometimes spelled Whisky, we can taste with confidence and enjoy a truly original expression of fine spirits.