A Visit to Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery

Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery, located in the heart of Nashville, is a young distillery but it has an incredibly old story. When we visited, brothers Charles and Andy Nelson took us back to their great, great, great grandfather, (also named) Charles Nelson, who was making whiskey in this part of Tennessee back in the 1860s. He built his distillery up to become one of the largest in the country, but when Prohibition hit — and it hit in Tennessee some ten years before the rest of the U.S. — the distillery was shuttered for good.

In 1909, Green Brier Distillery faded away, and even the history of the distillery fell into obscurity in the Nelson’s family. Tales of an ancestor making whiskey became apocrypha, and by the early 2000s, Andy and Charles — both philosophy graduates working outside the booze biz — had largely forgotten it.

Things changed in 2006 when the original Green Brier facility was discovered, added to a historical landmark registry by a local who’d uncovered the still-standing but overgrown warehouse. The Nelson brothers actually saw the landmark sign on the side of the road, and inspiration struck on the spot: The stories were true, and maybe they should launch Green Brier once again.

And so they did.

Like many distilleries, Green Brier started with contract whiskey from MGP, but the Nelson brothers go to great pains to finish much of it in wine and other spirit barrels to distinguish it from any number of other MGP-sourced bottlings. Naturally, they’re getting their own distillery off the ground here, too, and white dog distilled using the same recipe the original Green Brier used (turns out it was published in a newspaper at the time), has been coming out of the small pot/column combo still here for 2 1/2 years now. With some 1000 barrels of whiskey they’ve produced now aging on site, the company is aiming for a limited release of a two year old Tennessee whiskey by the end of this year, with a full release of a four year old whiskey in 2019.

After the informative tour (the distillery is open to the public), the Nelsons walked us through the full lineup of products (and hinted at some upcoming ones, like a whiskey that is now aging in 75 year old Spanish brandy casks), some of which are only sold on site. Thoughts on everything tasted follow.

Nelson’s White Whiskey – The white dog, produced on site, is sold only at the distillery. Notes of popcorn, lots of banana, and bubble gum complement chewy grains. Surprisingly pleasant and easygoing. 91 proof.

Nelson’s Green Brier Belle Meade Bourbon – The “classic” bottling. This is straight MGP bourbon, unfinished. Lightly oaky, with classic butterscotch and toffee notes and some caramel corn on the back end, with a touch of red fruit. Hard not to like. 90.4 proof.

Nelson’s Green Brier Belle Meade Bourbon Sherry Cask Finished – Finished in oloroso sherry casks. Some hospital notes emerge here, but also cherry, tea leaf, and cola notes. Fruit is stronger on the body, with chocolate and gentle oak notes emerging on the finish. 90.4 proof.

Nelson’s Green Brier Belle Meade Bourbon Single Barrel – A cask strength version of the classic bottling, this one features bold nougat and toffee notes, and flavors of vanilla cookies. Lingering Mexican chocolate notes hang on the finish. A gem. 122.3 proof.

Nelson’s Green Brier Belle Meade Bourbon Cognac Cask Finished – Lush and sweet, with notes of strawberry, chocolate, caramel, and nougat notes galore. Quite fruity on the finish. 90.4 proof.

Nelson’s Green Brier Belle Meade Bourbon Madeira Cask Finished – Slightly winey as expected, though there’s ample fresh fruit here. A little corny, but the rye notes are heavier as the finish emerges. 90.4 proof.

Nelson’s Green Brier Schatzi Vodka – Andy Nelson made this on site for his wedding; it’s only sold here at the distillery. It’s a surprisingly good vodka, made from the same mash as the white whiskey, easygoing with sweet and light corn notes and a buttery finish. 80 proof.

greenbrierdistillery.com

Review: Mamont Vodka

If the woolly mammoth tusk-shaped bottle didn’t tip you off, Mamont is a Russian vodka — specifically a Siberian vodka, made at Itkul Distillery, the region’s oldest distillery. The vodka is produced from a mash of white winter wheat, distilled six times, and filtered through birch charcoal.

The results are fine, if short of anything earth-shattering. An immediate sweetness, complete with light caramel and vanilla notes, kicks things off, both on the nose and the palate. Added aromas of roasting grains-slash-popcorn and a touch of banana add nuance, while the palate features all of the above, plus a healthy level of hospital/solvent notes. The finish is clean, first sweet then slightly bitter, and relatively short.

All in all, I’d have no trouble using this as a high-end mixer, at least if you don’t find the Trump-caliber bottle styling to be a turnoff.

80 proof.

B+ / $40 / mamontvodka.com

Review: Spirits of Long Road Distillers – Vodka, Gin, Aquavit, Wendy Peppercorn, Cherry, and Wheat Whisky

Long Road Distillers, based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has an exhaustive spirits catalog (now spanning 10 products), almost all of which is made from locally-sourced red winter wheat. Want to see how versatile a single grain can be? Here’s a look at five different spirits that Long Road makes from it (plus a cherry brandy made from local fruit).

Long Road Distillers Vodka – Quite pungent on the nose, with notes of mushroom, bean curd, and varnish. On the palate, there’s a vanilla cream and marshmallow sweetness but these can’t overpower the funky, shroominess of the experience — ultimately blurring the line between vodka and white whiskey. 80 proof. C- / $35

Long Road Distillers Gin – Six botanicals are used in the making of this gin, but none save juniper are revealed. And juniper is the primary aromatic and flavor element here, and it actually works well with that earthy, mushroomy base that is revealed in the vodka. Light citrus, both orange and lemon, show up on the palate later in the game, adding a much-needed layer of brightness and adding some acidity. The finish is on the earthy side, but works well enough with what’s come before to merit a cautious recommendation. 90 proof. B / $35

Long Road Distillers Aquavit – Long Road doesn’t disclose its aquavit botanicals, but the nose offers blatant caraway notes, giving it a rye bread character from start to finish. Long Road keeps it simple throughout — there’s no overload of herbs and spices to distract you, just a touch of mint on the finish and some coconut husk character — but if caraway’s not your bag, well, you’ll want to explore other spirits. 90 proof. B / $35

Long Road Distillers Wendy Peppercorn – This is an exotic name for an overproof vodka that’s spiked with pink peppercorns, pepper being a classic Scandinavian garnish. The nose is very fragrant, loaded with fresh pepper aromas along with a gentle fruit character that tempers the spice with sweetness. The palate is initially racy, but the pepper quickly settles down to reveal notes of fresh pine needles, cherry fruit, and a touch of antiseptic astringency. Approachable even though it’s over 50% abv, and fun to drink. Try it ice cold, of course. 101 proof. A- / $35

Long Road Distillers Cherry – This is Long Road’s cherry brandy, a limited release distilled from Michigan cherries. They are sweet and lush on the nose — Maraschino style cherries with a burst of sugar — but the palate takes that cherry and filters it through light notes of savory spices and a touch of roasted grains. The palate is less sweet than the amazingly expressive nose would indicate but it’s gentle enough to sip on and works well as a cocktail ingredient. 80 proof. B / $35 (375ml)

Long Road Distillers Wheat Whisky – Distill that red winter wheat and age it in a #3 charred oak barrel for 6 months and you’ve got Long Road’s wheat whisky. Nothing all that surprising here. This is a typically youthful craft spirit that offers a nose of heavy barrel char, toasty grains, and some butterscotch, all whipped into a slightly scattered experience. The body is loaded with that lumberyard character, then it quickly fades into notes of spent grain, mushroom funk, and more barrel char — though a solid vanilla character, layered with gingerbread, manages to come through clearly on the finish. 93 proof. Reviewed: Batch #2. B / $40

longroaddistillers.com

Review: Skyy Infusions Bartlett Pear Vodka

Sorry, Bosc! The latest Skyy vodka flavor is designed to taste like Bartlett pears — Bartletts only!

What does one do with pear vodka? Well, try it in anything where you’d otherwise use apple, for starters. Or check out the cocktails at the end of the post for additional ideas.

Pear-flavored spirits always come across a bit funky to me, and Skyy Pear is no exception. Though lightly sweet with honey and vague pear notes, the nose is a touch medicinal and slightly rubbery. This fades with some time, so consider letting your cocktails air out a bit by pre-mixing without ice before finishing them in the glass.

On the palate, the honey-syrup sweetness endures, the body quite heavy with pear notes, and considerably less tart than an apple vodka would present, with a bit of a caramel character afterimage. There’s still a little hospital funk on the finish — though not as much as the nose might suggest — as here it comes across closer to a character of perfume or white flowers. All told it’s a unique set of flavors — and a set that is distinctly pear-focused.

Overall the finished product is not bad at all, though as you may have already guessed, the versatility of this spirit is likely to be somewhat limited.

70 proof.

B / $15 / skyy.com

A selection of cocktails using Skyy Pear, from Otis Florence…

The Bartlett Bee
2 oz Skyy Infusions Bartlett Pear
.75 oz honey & water 1:1
.75 oz fresh lemon juice
1 dash Angostura Bitters

Build ingredients in a shaker filled with ice. Shake and strain into a coupe or martini glass. Garnish with a fresh Bartlett pear fan.

Tall Order
2 oz Skyy Infusions Bartlett Pear
.75 oz simple syrup
.75 oz fresh lemon juice
fill with hard dry apple cider

Build ingredients in a shaker filled with ice. Shake and strain into a Collins glass with fresh ice. Garnish with a fresh Bartlett pear slice.

Recipes: A Duo of Belvedere Vodka Cocktails

These two cocktails from Belvedere Vodka are perfect for any party or get-together with friends. Both are easy to make and are very enjoyable.

We had trouble finding pear puree for this first Pear and Rosemary Cocktail. So many fruits and vegetables are seasonal, so don’t be afraid to adapt these recipes to what you have on hand or can currently purchase. We used peach puree and the orange simple syrup we made from scratch. The rosemary came from the garden but that one should be easy enough to find in the grocery store produce section.

The rosemary in this cocktail is a nice touch and makes this cocktail a great pairing for lamb or pork appetizers, which often have rosemary in their recipes. The lemon juice keeps the syrup and puree from tasting too sweet, creating a good balance.Pear and Rosemary Cocktail

Pear and Rosemary Cocktail
1.5 oz. Belvedere Vodka
3/4 oz. pear puree
1/4 oz. simple syrup
1/4 oz. fresh lemon juice
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary

Gently muddle rosemary in the base of a shaker. Add the remaining ingredients and ice; then shake. Strain into a chilled martini glass and garnish with a sprig of fresh rosemary.

The best thing about a Belvedere Polish Mule is the elderflower syrup. Although it is only a dash, the florals atop the ginger beer delight the nose and the tongue in a light way. One suggestion for changing it up is to use Burlesque bitters in place of the Angostura bitters. Overall, this is a wonderfully Belvedere Polish Mulerefreshing drink.

Belvedere Polish Mule
1.5 oz. Belvedere Intense Vodka
1/2 fresh lime (squeeze juice into the shaker – save the rest to use for the garnish)
1 dash elderflower syrup
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1 bottle of ginger beer

Shake all ingredients except for the ginger beer. Fine strain over cubed ice into a highball glass. Top with the ginger beer and garnish with a wedge of lime.

Review: Graton Distilling D. George Benham’s Vodka Vodka

We were big fans of Sonoma-distilled D. George Benham’s gin, so it made natural sense to take a spin with its vodka. The title above isn’t a typo: This is “Vodka Vodka,” or “vodka-flavored vodka,” in the parlance of Graton Distilling, a nod to the purported purity of the spirit. That moniker didn’t pass legal muster, though, so “Vodka Vodka” it was.

This is a curious vodka, with four individual distillates of grapes, organic white wheat, rye wheat, and red cracked wheat all blended together, proofed, and filtered through charcoal. The nose is simple but pleasant, lightly dusty with charcoal notes and hints of grain but otherwise it’s quite neutral.

On the palate, you can see why they wanted to call it “vodka-flavored vodka.” Quite neutral and flavorless at the start, it nods to old world vodkas with a light medicinality, before slowly passing through a gentle vegetal note, finally settling on a lightly lemon-sweet finish. Easygoing to a fault, its round and lightly creamy body is probably better designed for mixing rather than sipping straight, where a sharper spirit works better, but all told it’s a versatile spirit that will work for just about anything, in a pinch.

80 proof.

B+ / $28 / gratondistilling.com

Review: Stateside Urbancraft Vodka

Philadelphia-based Federal Distilling’s inaugural Stateside Urbancraft Vodka does not disappoint.

Beginning with the fun flip-top bottle and ending with the seamless  finish, this is a very enjoyable vodka. Distilled seven times and aerated with “medical grade oxygen,” Stateside has a very pleasant, gin-like juniper and citrus nose upon first approach. The vodka drinks cleanly and is well-balanced. On the palate there are hints of grapefruit and spring rain, and a very subtle sweetness reminiscent of the corn used to distill it. The vodka’s finish is very well-structured, leaving only the citrus notes to play with a little residual sweetness.

Overall, it’s a well balanced vodka that is very enjoyable neat or as the base for an exemplary martini.

80 proof.

A / $30 / statesidevodka.com

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