There is, thankfully, no shortage of beautiful craft spirits made not only in Tennessee but right here in Nashville. Though not every Nashville name on the bottle offers the opportunity to taste its contents in the place where it’s made, for that distinct pleasure, I’ve rounded up a list of options, prime for a visit. Stop in anytime you’re hosting visitors, or simply anytime you’d like to know more about what’s behind the label.
Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery
A trip to Marathon Village guarantees you a taste of true Tennessee history. Brothers Andy and Charlie stumbled upon a fantastic bit of their own history when it was discovered that their triple great-grandfather was the true grandfather of Tennessee whiskey. Now, they’ve brought his business back to life after over 100 years, making whiskey based on that very first recipe, the oldest in the state’s history. (On a personal note, it’s probably my favorite sipping whiskey of all time. Carry on.)
The tour here is perhaps the most entertaining, with its vivid tales of pirate ships, gold, and a woman running a distillery before women could vote all dotting Nelson’s colorful history. By the time you’re seated to taste through their impressive line of whiskey, bourbon, and liqueur, you’ll feel like you’ve just finished a thrilling movie, rather than walked through a distilling room floor.
Hours Sunday – Thursday 11-6 / Friday + Saturday 11-7
Southern Collective Spirit Company
As far as tastings go, Southern Collective Spirit Company is a real stand out. For many tastings, the differences from glass to glass are subtle. There’s nothing wrong with that whatsoever, but here, each selection is so wildly different, it’s a very exciting thing for your palate. Sampling the exclusive cask strength selections here is a full-mouth experience not to be missed, a testament to the talents of the people hand-selecting the barrels (two firefighter bourbon enthusiasts and a bad-ass chick from the Kentucky bourbon industry.)
You won’t see the juice being made here, but you can tour the barrels, taste from them, name your own bottle, and even custom dip it.
Hours Monday + Wednesday – Saturday 11-7 / Sunday 12-6
Standard Proof Whiskey Co.
When talented bartenders step out to make their own booze, that’s called lightning in a bottle, my friend. And that’s exactly what we have with Standard Proof. Their whiskey comes in 8 varieties, and you truly can’t go wrong with any of them. Unlike some other brands, the flavors are created by natural infusions and the quality that results is evident from the first sip.
Along with the tour, Standard Proof has a cocktail bar for enjoying any time you wish, not just with a tour. The bar boasts flights of all 6 of their infused whiskeys, fabulous drinks like the “Espresso Tonic,” a combination of their Red Eye Rye, tonic, and orange bitters (something I drink regularly at home and am pleased to see I’m not a lunatic for doing so), and a “Wildflower Spring Collins,” with their Honeysuckle Rye, lemongrass simple, lemon, and sparkling water. (With spring and patio season coming up, this may not be the last time you read about that drink from me.) Standard Proof’s cocktail bar also has singer-songwriter nights, incredible bottle service in their VIP lounge, and a happy hour Monday-Friday from 4-6.
You can also book a cocktail class! And who better to learn from than experienced bartenders? The classes are $60 per person for up to 12 people and includes a craft whiskey flight plus all cocktails made in the class.
Hours Monday – Sunday 12-11
Corsair Distillery & Taproom
It will come as no surprise to anyone that the immediate draw for me to Corsair was the barreled gin. But perhaps the true standout of Corsair is their red absinthe. Rich and lovely, with all the beauty of absinthe and none of the harshness can sometimes tag along. Absinthe service, with the sugar cube and water, isn’t needed here – simply pour and enjoy.
Corsair began with childhood friends and became the first craft distillery in Nashville since Prohibition. It’s also perhaps the only distillery with something for everyone, producing vodka, gin, whiskey, spiced rum, and a triple smoke whiskey reminiscent of scotch, along with that beautiful absinthe.
Both locations have a taproom bar with a full cocktail menu made from their spirits as well as the option for cocktail classes.
Location #1: Corsair Distillery HQ
Hours Thursday – Sunday 12-7 / Tours at the top of the hour from 1-5
Location #2: Marathon Distillery & Taproom
Hours Monday + Wednesday – Sunday 12-7 / Tours at the top of the hour from 1-5, plus 6 PM on Saturdays
Nashville Barrel Company
Sick of bourbon supply and demand stifling the allocations for themselves and their friends, three humble guys from Nashville started Nashville Barrel Company, a way to get barrels of good hooch. Eventually, other friends wanted to get in on the action and they needed a place to house it all. Thus, “by friends, for friends” was born.
Nashville Barrel Company is walk-in friendly for flights at their tasting bar. Like Southern Collective, this place isn’t about the making of the spirit, but more about the selection and tasting. There are 4 different tasting experiences available, ranging from a guided instruction on enjoying barrel-proof spirits to selecting a bottle of your own.
Hours Monday – Wednesday 9-5 / Thursday + Friday 9-6 / Saturday 10-6 / Sunday 10-5
Nashville Craft is in the craft business, rolling out small-batch spirits from scratch that focus on local and regional ingredients. The most unique has to be their sorghum spirit, made from (you guessed it) sorghum. As a cane spirit, it runs in the same vein as rum, cachaça, clairin, and arrack, but with all the unique deliciousness of Tennessee sorghum.
Hours Tuesday – Thursday 10-4 / Friday 10-8 / Saturday 12-8 / Sunday 12-6
Tastings $20 / Tours Thursday – Sunday only
Pennington Distilling Co.
If you’re thinking, “I’ve never heard Pennington Distilling Company,” I understand. But you have. This is the name behind Pickers Vodka, Walton’s Finest Vodka, Whisper Creek Tennessee Sipping Cream, and Davidson Reserve Tennessee Straight Whiskey. More accurately, it’s a husband-and-wife team who can call themselves true Nashvillians, having lived here their whole lives.
Jeff and Jenny Pennington took their time with their distillery and rolled out products in a smart fashion, starting with their Sipping Cream, moving on to vodka, and finally releasing their whiskies, when they had the proper time to age. Stop by and learn more for yourself.
Hours Tuesday – Saturday 11-5 / Last tour at 4 PM
Big Machine Brewery & Distillery
Their 3rd Avenue location, right in the heart of downtown, offers simple cocktails for walk-in guests all the time, outside of their tours, but expect things like mules, vodka/cranberry/sodas, and lemonades. The home of Big Machine Vodka, Single Barrel Clayton James Tennessee Whiskey, and something called Spiked Coolers, it’s not exactly my thing, but I can see the appeal of a distillery tour that close to Broadway for many.
Hours Thursday – Saturday 11-5 / Sunday 1-5
Avery’s Trail Gin
I haven’t tried this gin. Apparently, the makers of this Tennessee Premium Gin used to give distillery tours but stopped during COVID and haven’t quite returned. The good news from this, however, is that this spring or summer, Avery’s plans on reopening, equipped with three new flavors - Orchard Citrus, Honeysuckle, and Southern Rose. Besides sounding delicious, I just can’t wait to have a gin-specific distillery here in Nashville, and once they’re fully up and running (and distributing), I think we’ll all be in for a treat.