Tennessee Whiskey is straight whiskey produced in the state of Tennessee. All current Tennessee producers are required by law to produce their whiskeys in-state. The two major producers of Tennessee Whiskey are Jack Daniel’s (based in Lynchburg) and George Dickel (based in Cascade Hollow near Tullahoma). Other top producers include Benjamin Prichard’s, Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery and Tennsouth.
The spirit that is closest in taste and appearance to Tennessee Whiskey is Bourbon. The difference between Tennessee Whiskey and Bourbon is that after the spirit is distilled, Tennessee Whiskey is filtered through sugar-maple charcoal. This process is now known as the “Lincoln County Process” and is one of the distinguishing features of Tennessee Whiskey, because it helps to impart a mellower flavor profile. The only Tennessee producer that is exempted from using this process is Benjamin Prichard’s.
From an official labeling perspective, Tennessee Whiskey and Bourbon (from neighboring Kentucky) have almost identical requirements and most Tennessee Whiskeys meet the criteria for Bourbon. Tennessee Whiskey must be made from a grain bill that is at least 51 percent corn, must age in new, charred oak barrels, and must be distilled to no more than 62.5 percent alcohol.
Tennessee Whiskey originated in Colonial America, but as settlers came to the Tennessee frontier, they also brought along their knowledge of distilling to make their own unique style of whiskey. As corn became an important crop in the state, distillers began to use it instead of traditional barley to make whiskey.
While many people immediately think of Jack Daniel’s and George Dickel when they hear the term “Tennessee Whiskey,” the state of Tennessee also has a vibrant craft whiskey scene, with most of the big-name craft distilleries located in the middle of the state near Nashville. In June 2017, the Tennessee Distiller’s Guild launched a 25-stop Tennessee Whiskey Trail.
The 1990’s saw a huge boom in craft distilleries, and the one that is now considered the “grandfather of Tennessee micro-distilleries” is Prichard’s Distillery. As a result of this early success, there has been a craft whiskey revival across the state extending into West Tennessee and East Tennessee (both of which are covered by the Tennessee Whiskey Trail).
Moreover, ever since moonshine became legal in 2010, there has been a similar surge of small-batch and craft distilleries in the southeast of the state specializing in moonshine. Unlike traditional Tennessee whiskey, which is typically found in the middle of the state near Nashville, the biggest moonshine distilleries are typically found in the southeast of the state, closer to the Gatlinburg resort region.