Distillers Guild Creates More Opportunity for Unique Tastings
By Lee Rennick
The state of Tennessee has a long tradition of excellence in whiskey distillation. Before Prohibition, people came from all over the world to taste the great product here. And they are again.
Whiskey connoisseurs come from all over the world, and especially Europe, to tour the distilleries and enjoy what they have to offer. While Jack Daniels and George Dickel get them here, the small distilleries are keeping them here and getting them out exploring the vast variety of flavors that can be found in distilleries found in Tennessee’s cities and in more rural areas. The Tennessee Distillers Guild is working to make each distillery a unique experience reflecting its brand.
Formed in 2014, the Tennessee Distillers Guild is a group of “responsible, passionate, stubborn, and dedicated people who have a great love of fine whiskey and other distilled spirits,” so says Heath Clark, who owns H Clark Distillery, and chairs the Guild’s public relations committee.
“We’re a hardworking group of men and women, from large and small distilleries, who love to create great distilled spirits,” said Clark. “It is an art and a science, finding a balance between nature (the raw materials) and science (the equipment).”
Recently the guild has been able to work together to get some state laws changed that give ‘parity’ to distilled spirits.
“The Guild believes distilleries should have the same rights and latitude in marketing and selling our products as the breweries and wineries of the state,” said Jeff Arnett, master distiller at Jack Daniels. “We asked for the ability to add ice and/or mixers into our spirits for the purposes of tasting, and were granted the option to do so. Prior to this change, we were restricted to neat serves – unadulterated, direct from the bottle samples.”
The new law has allowed Billy Kaufman to turn his Short Mountain Distillery in rural Cannon County into an experience reflecting the history of his product.
“Cannon County has long had a reputation for producing the finest moonshine in the country,” said Kaufman. “When the whiskey distilleries were closed down during Prohibition, the residents had to find a way to survive, so they turned to moonshine. Al Capone even came here to buy from the Shiners. At Short Mountain Distillery we give you some of the experience of that time, but also teach visitors about drinking today’s shine. The new laws are allowing us to make it a good day trip for families, as we also serve lunch.”
While Kaufman started by making Short Mountain’s infamous “white lightning” legally, he is now expanding into making fine small batch bourbon, and has sold out of his first issue. Other small batch distilleries are experimenting with not only making fine Tennesse Whiskey and bourbon, but also gin and vodka.
At H Clark Distillery, they have three products that they make in an old barn by the railroad tracks in downtown Thompson Station. Their products include a whiskey that they call Black and Tan, which has a chocolate/coffee flavor.
“We make a sour mash that is like a Guinness or Samuel Smith,” notes Clark. “You see sour mash is basically beer that we let ferment. We are a true boutique distillery, and we are interested in exploring unique tastes.”
As Arnett explains, “Tennessee Whiskey is largely defined by the charcoal mellowing process, one of the creative variations in crafting the different brands of Tennessee Whiskey …[is]… how the different distilleries choose to apply this process.”
The Tennessee Distillers Guild wants residents and tourist alike to enjoy these different brands, so they will be partnering with the Great American Barbecue Festival sponsored by the Franklin Rotary on August 27th from 2:00 p.m. until 6:00 p.m. with a distillers’ tasting room. The event will take place in Harlinsdale Park, right across from The Factory.
“Guild is working on other opportunities to promote ways for everyone to enjoy Tennessee Whiskey and other distillations,” said Kaufman.
“The variations are endless,” says Arnett, “but the use of some charcoal in the manufacturing process reinforces a heritage and style of whiskey making it unique to our state and helps to build the identity for the “Tennessee Brand.”