Freddie Johnson at Green Hill Cemetery

Famed Buffalo Trace tour guide Freddie Johnson champions for Green Hill Cemetery

Freddie Johnson at Green Hill Cemetery
Freddie Johnson at Green Hill Cemetery | Photo by Sara Havens

It was a bit unusual for a group of reporters to be huddled together underneath a tent on a hot and humid August morning at the Green Hill Cemetery in Frankfort, Ky., but if Freddie Johnson is involved, I’ll go anywhere.

Johnson is the legendary tour guide at Buffalo Trace Distillery who has worked there since 2002, and his father and grandfather before him worked there as well. He’s not only won numerous industry awards — including being inducted into the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame in 2018 — but he also makes friends with every single person lucky enough to be on a Freddie Johnson-led tour.

Kentucky African American Civil War Memorial
The Kentucky African American Civil War Memorial at Green Hill Cemetery | Photo by Sara Havens

He’s personable, his passion for the industry is unwavering and he’s so down-to-earth and approachable that you’ll want to be besties after spending even five minutes with the man.

But back to the cemetery. Johnson has been on the Board of Volunteers of the once-forgotten Green Hill Cemetery for nearly a decade, and he’s vowed to bring the historic grounds into the 21st century by helping raise funds, installing much needed infrastructure and garnering support.

The cemetery was established in 1865 and features the Kentucky African American Civil War Memorial, a 10-foot-tall limestone pillar that bears the names of 142 veterans of Kentucky’s United States Colored Troops who fought in the Civil War. The monument was dedicated on July 4, 1924, by the Women’s Relief Corps.

The cemetery is in dire need for community support, and its board has worked tirelessly to do what it can for the hundreds of tombstones that have been damaged, lost, buried or stolen.

Freddie Gets a Check

Freddie Johnson with the check
Johnson and the board of Green Hill Cemetery got a check for nearly $12,000 from Sazerac from the sales of Freddie’s Sodas. | Photo by Sara Havens

On Tuesday morning, the Sazerac company, owners of Buffalo Trace, presented Johnson and the board with a check for $11,872. The money came directly from the sale of every case of Freddie’s Old Fashioned Soda (Root Beer, Ginger Ale and Ginger Beer) sold at the distillery.

Johnson and members of the board were thrilled beyond belief at the amount of money they’ll now have to get started on the many projects needed to be done. He spoke about the project and what it means to him and his family — Johnson has several family members buried at Green Hill — and also what it means to Frankfort and beyond.

Johnson said he’d like this cemetery to be another reason why people visit Frankfort, and his goals include locating lost graves, indexing the entire cemetery and creating an online site where people can search for their ancestors, adding several light fixtures to keep out vandals, and restoring deteriorated tombstones, among many other goals.

Johnson was appreciative of the funds and the attention, and he says his goal is to leave this cemetery in a much better shape before he leaves this earth. Mapping the cemetery will be his biggest achievement, he says, because many families in the area have stopped coming to visit because they can’t find their family’s tombstones or markers.

Johnson and the board plan to work with bourbon archeologist Nick Laracuente to help with the project.

Maker's Mark DNA Project

Maker’s Mark shares its entry proof experiment with DNA Project bottles

Maker's Mark DNA Project
Maker’s Mark experiments with barrel entry proof. | Courtesy

Maker’s Mark has been doing some cool stuff with special releases lately — for a recap, check out my pieces on the Wood-Finishing Series here and here — but this one truly takes the cake for anyone interested in the science behind bourbon.

The new Entry Proof Experiment will hit shelves later this month — you’ll most likely find it at the distillery gift shop, and if you’re a member of The Whisky Drop* Maker’s club, you’ll be getting the bottles in the next two installments. Basically, there are four bottles in this release, and all four come from an experiment held at the distillery in 2013.

To see how much impact barrel entry proof has on the taste profile of their bourbon, the folks at Maker’s Mark entered the bourbon into barrels at four different proof levels: 110 (which is what Maker’s has used since the beginning but is considered low in the industry), 115, 120 and 125.

For a quick explanation, entry proof is the proof of the distillate before it goes into a barrel. Many distilleries opt to put it in around 125 and then add water when it’s done aging, thus saving money on the amount of barrels needed. Some choose a lower number — like 110 — which was more common before and right after Prohibition because some believe by adding the water up front, it produces a better-tasting, nuanced bourbon.

Barrel entry proof is just one of the many bourbon-making components that can be manipulated to produce a different result. There’s no right or wrong number here — by legal definition, you can’t enter it into a barrel higher than 125 proof — it’s just the preference of the distillery and its master distiller as to when they want to add the water (before or after it ages).

So anyway, Maker’s decided to play around with the four different entry proofs, and they figured they’d let their fans get a taste of the experiment as well. The cool thing about these four bottles is that the age of the whiskey inside is about 8 years old — definitely older than the standard Maker’s Mark. So just taking that into account, it’s a rare release you’ll want to have in your collection. Plus, these are bottled at barrel-proof, so here’s your chance to try 8-year-old Maker’s Mark at cask strength!

Maker's Mark poster
With each purchase, you’ll get this custom-made poster from Hound Dog Press. | Courtesy

I was invited to a media tasting and explanation of the DNA Project, and I was blown away by the completely different flavors each sample produced. Even someone new to bourbon would be able to tell the differences between each sample.

I was partial to the first sample — 110 — as was the majority of the group. The flavors were more rich, and that familiar Maker’s Mark mouthfeel was present from the first sip to the last.

The other three expressions had some funky flavors — the 120 proof even had strong pineapple notes, which is crazy — and it was easy to see why the founders of Maker’s Mark chose 110 and have stuck to that ever since, even though it ultimately costs them more money.

What this experiment shows is, yes, barrel entry proof does indeed have a pronounced effect on taste profiles. And the best news is that you can try it for yourself.

Maker’s suggests buying the entire four-bottle set (at $99 per bottle), but they will also be sold individually at the distillery and various bars and liquor stores in the area. The bottles are 750ml, and with a purchase of the set, you also get handmade posters from Louisville’s Hound Dog Press, which partnered with Maker’s for this release.

There are only 2,400 sets available, and the release is staying in Kentucky. Each poster will be numbered to match your bottles. Look for these later this August and tell me which one is your favorite.

*Speaking of The Whisky Drop, I hear they’re expanding the membership to more folks in Kentucky and Washington, D.C., so if you want to sign up for that, click here. It’s a membership service where you get two special bottles in the mail every couple months or so.

Old Forester 117 Series Warehouse K

Old Forester serves up another 117 Series, plus Parker’s Heritage 2021 details

Get ready to loosen up those purse strings, y’all, because the bourbon releases will be coming at us full throttle in the next few weeks, leading up to September, aka National Bourbon Heritage Month. Here are two announcements to wet your whistle.

Old Forester 117 Series: Warehouse K

Old Forester 117 Series Warehouse K

Lucky for us, we don’t have to wait until the fall for this one. The second iteration of Old Forester‘s 117 Series will be out Thursday, Aug. 12 — that’s TOMORROW, folks! — at the downtown distillery and your favorite liquor store (if you’re lucky).

The name is “Warehouse K,” and it features a blend of barrels aged on different floors from the famed warehouse. Supposedly, Warehouse K produces some exceptional bourbon and is the stuff of legends among bourbon geeks, similar to the Four Roses Tier 6 lore.

Constructed in 1953, Warehouse K is one of Brown-Forman’s heat-cycling rick houses and is the place where Old Forester plucks most of its Single Barrel expressions from.

“Warehouse K has gained a cult following among bourbon connoisseurs,” said Master Taster Jackie Zykan in a news release. “This blend is a representation across multiple floors and locations within this warehouse, giving a more holistic example of the profile its barrels yield.” 

The 117 Series Warehouse K will be bottled at 110 proof and retail for $49.99 for a 375 ml bottle. The previous expression — “High Angels’ Share Barrels” — was also 110 proof and $49.99. The bottles will go on sale Thursday, Aug. 12, starting at 10 a.m. at the distillery.

Here are the tasting notes according to the news release:

Color: Rich honey.

Aroma: On the nose, creamy chocolate, caramel, and brown sugar lead, with a hint of golden raisin and a foreshadowing of the pepper the finish will unveil. 

Taste: The palate brings with it a full-bodied and rich viscosity, peripheral spice, and a touch of black cherry alongside bitter molasses. 

Finish: The robust yet balanced spice finish completes the story of the well-known complexity which is the K warehouse. 

Parker’s Heritage 2021: 11-Year-Old Heavy Char Wheat Whiskey

Parker's Heritage 2021

For this annual release, you’ll have to wait until September. But I’ve got all the sordid details!

For the 15th edition of Heaven Hill‘s Parker’s Heritage, named in honor of the late Master Distiller Parker Beam, the company is going with an 11-Year-Old Heavy Char Wheat Whiskey.

The bottles come from a batch of 75 barrels that were charred to a level 5 (standard bourbons use a level 3), which will, according to the news release, show how a more intense char allows the liquid to penetrate deeper into each barrel stave and the effects on the resulting flavor.

Count me in! The mash bill consists of 51% wheat, 37% corn and 12% malted barley.

“The Parker’s Heritage Collection is a testament to the distilling legacy at Heaven Hill Distillery and the detailed attention each step of the process receives,” said Susan Wahl, Vice President, American Whiskies at Heaven Hill, in the news release. “We are excited to release the third mashbill in this heavy char series, showcasing the consistency of quality throughout our innovation pipeline. It is in tribute to Parker and his legacy that we continue to support ALS research and patient care with this collection.”

Each year, Heaven Hill donates a portion of the proceeds from each bottle sold to the ALS Association. So far, they’ve donated more than $1 million toward ALS research and will continue raising funds with this bottle.

The Parker’s Heritage will be released in September and retails for a suggested price of $139.99.

Old Fitzgerald Bottled-in-Bond Fall 2021 release

Old Fitzgerald BIB fall edition will be 11 years old

I expect this news release to be one of many that’ll soon flood my inbox — because we’re officially less than a month away from the big Bourbon Release Season! Oh happy days!

Old Fitzgerald Bottled-in-Bond Fall 2021 release
Behold!

The next Old Fitzgerald Bottled-in-Bond release will be 11 years old and — as always, since it’s a Bottled-in-Bond product — 100 proof. This is the second time one of the seasonal Old Fitz releases has been 11, the first being the spring of 2018.

If you’re unfamiliar, Heaven Hill releases the fancy Old Fitz BIB decanters every spring and fall, and each iteration differs in age. This wheated bourbon meets the strict requirements of Bottled-in-Bond: the product of a single distillery from a single distilling season, aged a minimum of four years, and bottled at 100 proof or 50% alcohol by volume.

It’ll retail for $110 if you’re lucky to find one in a liquor store or at the distillery. These are highly coveted bottles, of course, so they’ll disappear quickly — like most bottles these days.

If you’d just like to try it, though, you can probably find it behind the bar at places like Merle’s Whiskey Kitchen, Taj, Evergreen Liquors (go check out their new NuLu location!), Westport Whiskey & Wine, the new Frankfort Avenue Liquors & Wine, Taste Fine Wine & Bourbons, Justin’s House of Bourbon, and many, many more.

I don’t have the exact date this will be released, but I’ll update this post if I get it. Happy hunting!

The Samuels House

The ultimate bourbon sleepover: The Samuels House is a bourbon museum brought to you by bourbon Makers

The Samuels House
The Samuels House | Courtesy

For the first time in 200 years, average, everyday bourbon fanatics like you and me can stay a night at The Samuels House, a historic home in Coxs Creek, Ky. (just outside of Bardstown), that has been converted into a bourbon museum honoring eight generations of Samuels distillers, including Bill Samuels Jr. and Rob Samuels of Maker’s Mark.

The house was built in 1820 by John Samuels, whose father, Robert Samuels, actually made whiskey for George Washington’s troops in the Revolutionary War. And that’s only the beginning of this home’s story, which is saturated in history and bourbon.

I was fortunate to attend an open house Tuesday evening to check out The Samuels House with Bill Jr. and Rob Samuels. Of course they had a full charcuterie spread for the dozens of guests, plus Maker’s-fueled cocktails, so it was a fun time had by all.

Did I mention it might be haunted, too? More on that in a bit.

The house stayed in the Samuels family until the late 1950s, and it was recently re-purchased by Rob Samuels, Chief Operating Officer of Maker’s Mark. He decided it would be the perfect place for bourbon lovers to stay while they’re tackling the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, and also where the Samuels family could display eight generations worth of family photos, significant artifacts, important documents and dusty old bottles that encompass the original Samuels distillers (T.W. Samuels) and the modern Samuels distillers (Maker’s Mark).

So what’s here?

Margie Samuels' deep fryer
Margie Samuels’ deep fryer where she first dipped Maker’s Mark bottles | Courtesy

Well, what I loved seeing the most was the actual deep fryer Margie Samuels used to experiment with when creating the iconic red wax — the same wax that now adorns every Maker’s Mark bottle since her and her husband Bill Samuels Sr. created the brand in 1954. Also on display is Margie’s English pewter collection that inspired her to name the new bourbon “Maker’s Mark.”

The house is a blend of 200-year-old charm and modern updates. Inside the kitchen, for example, there’s a full gas range and a modern sink and cupboards, but across the room is the original fireplace where the residents would cook before electricity and gas lines made it into homes.

The house can accommodate up to eight guests between three bedrooms, and the average nightly price ranges from $1,250-1,500.

Rob and Bill Jr. spoke about how much this home means to their family, and they had a great time filling the rooms with family heirlooms and memorabilia.

“We look forward to sharing this with folks who are traveling here, and even people here in Kentucky who might be interested,” said Rob Samuels. “Folks are drawn to Kentucky culture, and hopefully this can help attribute to that energy and interest.”

Bill Jr. seemed most excited about a pistol that is behind glass in the foyer, which he explained is most likely the very last firearm surrendered in the Civil War.

The infamous pistol
The infamous pistol | Courtesy

The weapon was supposedly surrendered in the front yard of The Samuels House by Frank James (of the notorious James Gang), who was part of the last armed group fighting at the end of the war. He turned the gun over to T.W. Samuels, the Nelson County sheriff (and family’s first commercial distiller), and it has remained in the family ever since.

Being in a house that old, we had to ask if anyone had ever experienced something spooky. Of course we were in the cellar, where spooky oozes in most cases, and one of the curators confirmed that indeed there have been incidents of paranormal activity, and that the former owners actually kept a spreadsheet on the encounters.

The only story we got out of him had to do with two construction workers who got spooked while pouring cement and came running full speed out of the cellar doors. They described a demonic roar in the basement, along with lights unexpectedly going out, which made the two grown men exit the basement in 2 seconds flat.

They ended up going back in to finish the job, so it must not have been too disturbing.

Property Info (according to the website):

  • Accommodations for up to 8 guests; 3 bedrooms (2 king, 1 queen; 2 additional pullout beds)
  • Nearly 3,500 square feet of space (main level, upper level, and basement)
  • Set on 2 acres of mature oak trees surrounded by horse pasture
  • Parlor room with custom-crafted bar and 50+ historic bottles of family-produced whisky
  • Numerous Samuels family artifacts and pieces of bourbon history on display
  • Stocked chef’s kitchen with gas range, fridge with premium whiskey icemaker
  • Dining room with custom-designed dinnerware and glassware
  • Covered porch with outdoor dining area
  • Basement media room and game lounge
  • Stone patio featuring a gas grill and fire pit
  • Whole-home wifi

Amenities:

  • Tempur-Pedic mattresses
  • Premium ‘Comphy’ brand sheets
  • Ensuite bathrooms
  • 100% Turkish cotton towels
  • Aveda bath products
  • Robes
  • Iron/Ironing board
  • Hair dryer
  • Smart TVs with cable access and streaming capabilities

To book The Samuels House or just read more about it, click here. Booking starts in September!

Below are some photos of the property:

  • The foyer
  • The fireplace in the kitchen
  • Bill Samuels Jr. and Rob Samuels
  • Historic bottles behind glass
  • An area dedicated to Margie Samuels
  • A portrait of Bill Samuels Jr.
  • A scotch made by Bill Samuels Sr.
  • Initials carved from a Samuels family member in 1862
  • An outhouse
Brough Brothers ribbon cutting

Brough Brothers cut the ribbon on Dixie Highway distillery

Brough Brothers ribbon cutting
Yarbrough brothers Christian, Bryson and Victor (holding scissors) cut the ribbon on their Brough Brothers Distillery. | Photo by Sara Havens

It’s been nine years in the making, so what’s another 15 minutes? As the Yarbrough brothers — Victor, Bryson and Christian — eagerly awaited the official ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday afternoon at their new Brough Brothers Distillery in Louisville’s Park Hill neighborhood, the sky opened up and poured rain on the medium-sized crowd of family members, business supporters, government officials, media and industry folks.

Victor Yarbrough didn’t seem to mind one bit, and he helped usher people — including Congressman John Yarmuth, Mayor Greg Fischer and Lt. Governor Jacqueline Coleman — underneath the distillery overhang and tent that was set up in the parking lot.

Mayor at Brough Brothers
Mayor Greg Fischer declared July 16 “Brough Brothers Day” in Louisville. | Photo by Sara Havens

After about 15 minutes, the rain subsided and it was back to business: cutting the ribbon on an enterprise the brothers started in 2012 that was finally coming to fruition.

Brough Brothers Distillery is now open to the public in a modest building that sits off Dixie Highway.

“It’s an exciting process being able to be in Louisville’s West End and being able to age bourbon in a community where you come from,” said Christian Yarbrough, CMO, in a news release put out before the ribbon cutting.

During the ceremony, Victor Yarbrough said the distillery accomplishes two goals for him: building a legacy and opening up opportunities for others.

Brough Brothers is the first black-owned distillery in Kentucky, and with Bryson Yarbrough at the helm of distilling, he’ll be the state’s first black master distiller as well.

“As Louisville’s Congressman and the founder and co-chair of the Congressional Bourbon Caucus, I’m thrilled to help celebrate the grand opening of Brough Brothers Distillery in West Louisville,” said John Yarmuth. “Black Louisvillians have been involved in distilling for centuries, and the Yarbrough family’s work to build this company from the ground up is a tremendous step forward in making the distilled spirits industry more reflective of our nation, our city and our people.”

Eric Gregory, president of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association, welcomed Brough Brothers as the 42nd member distillery, noting that No. 42 is no coincidence since it belonged to Jackie Robinson, the first black baseball player in Major League Baseball.

“Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball, and Brough Brothers will break the color barrier in bourbon,” he said.

Brough Brothers Tasting Room
The Brough Brothers Tasting Room | Photo by Sara Havens

The brothers filled their first barrel of bourbon in 2020, and they already have bottles available locally and in 23 states total. The flagship Brough Brothers brand is bottled at 82 proof, aged a minimum of six months and was distilled in Indiana.

Brough Brothers Distillery is located at 1460 Dixie Highway. While tours haven’t started quite yet, there is a gift shop and tasting room on site.

Beer glasses from Jeffersontown Beer Festival

J-Town Beer Fest returns!

Beer glasses from Jeffersontown Beer Festival

Another reason why 2020 was the green Skittle of years: No beer fests or bourbon bashes and not even a tea party to be found! The horror!

Thankfully, life is returning somewhat to normal, and now the summer of festivals begins with the Jeffersontown Summer Craft Beer Fest on Saturday, July 17. Tickets are still available, and you can get them for cheap ($40) at select Cox’s Smokers Outlet and Spirit Shoppes and Evergreen Liquors, or online ($45), or at the gate ($50, if they’re not sold out).

The festivities will include beer, of course, with more than 85 beer, wine and seltzer vendors on site to share samples and swag. There will also be live music, lots of food trucks, video games courtesy of Rec Bar, and lots more. Even if beer isn’t your thing, it sounds like there will be plenty of options for you between the Truly Bubbly Bar and a winery section.

Once again, Trevor Cravens and Tisha Gainey of HB Productions are responsible for the festival, so you know it’ll be a great time. They also put on the annual Tailspin Ale Fest held each year at Bowman Field.

“We are thrilled to get back to events and connect with people through beer,” said Cravens in a news release. “The pandemic provided us with a chance to examine our business and create some new opportunities, but events are our passion and we have big plans to bring them back better than ever.”

The event will take place on Saturday, July 17, from 4-8 p.m. at the Gaslight Pavilion in Jeffersontown. Better get your tickets soon, because it’ll likely sell out.

People are ready to throw down, beer be damned!

Old Forester Birthday Bourbon 2021

Spillin’ tea on Old Forester Birthday Bourbon 2021

Old Forester Birthday Bourbon 2021
Behold the OFBB! | Courtesy

Every time this email comes into my inbox, a shiver shoots down my spine. It’s time to announce the details of this year’s Old Forester Birthday Bourbon, and I’m spillin’ all the tea!

I’m not going to waste my time or yours with anymore words — here are the damn facts. I hope you get a bottle. But I hope I get a bottle more.

Old Forester Birthday Bourbon 2021 will be released on Sept. 2, 2021.

The bourbon is 12 years old and will be bottled at 104 proof.

It’s the 21st edition of the Birthday Bourbon series.

The color of this year’s label/tax stamp is an olive green.

The batch consists of 119 barrels that were aged in Warehouse G.

Birthday Bourbon honors the founder of Old Forester, George Garvin Brown.

If you can find it on the shelf, it’ll retail for about $129.99.

Old Forester Birthday Bourbon 2021

Master Taster Jackie Zykan says: “This year, we’ve composed a bold and compelling offering which showcases the unique fruit-forward side of Old Forester. Playful berry undertones with summery dessert notes balance out to our flagship spice finish while taking sippers on a textural journey from velvety to dry mouthfeel.”

Tasting Notes (according to the news release):
Color: Golden Citrine
Aroma: A beautiful symphony of berry and dessert components. Red raspberry preserves join plump, juicy blackberries and dried strawberries to set the tone, nestled in a bed of dried herbs and balanced with vanilla creme brulee, subtle pecan, rich maple syrup, and cocoa.
Taste: Rich and inviting, the velvety mouthfeel carries notes of buttery caramel, burnt sugar, and a touch of fresh baked Linzer cookie. This silky palate quickly awakens into a bright, peppery, peripheral spice.
Finish: Lengthy and warm with subtle dryness. Subdued notes of chocolate, raisin and cool herbs linger in the shadow of stark oak spice.

Modica Cocktail Mixers

Modica cocktail mixers are the real deal

Modica Cocktail Mixers
Modica includes superfoods!

Retail cocktail mixers can sometimes be tricky, and they’re just about always way too sticky. Sugary sweet concoctions of ingredients you probably already have in your kitchen, mixers are made to help you throw a bomb-ass party without having to play bartender.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve found some great Old Fashioned mixers for when I just don’t feel like shakin’ my own bitters. So I get it. We want something easy, tasty and — this is a hard box to check — somewhat healthy/natural with not much sugar, right?

Enter Modica Superfood Cocktail Mix, a creation by two Louisville guys — Eric Wentworth and JD Mitchell — who like to drink cocktails but don’t want all that junk that comes in a store-bought sour mix, for example. Have you seen the ingredients list on those? That shit also gives me heartburn, so I say to hell with it!

Anyway, the guys met in business school and decided to combine their entrepreneur knowledge to launch better-tasting, better-for-you cocktails where not much effort was required by the consumer. And they did.

Here’s a better explanation from the website:

For three years, they experimented with ingredients until they found the perfect cocktail combinations. They said “yes!” to naturally-sourced ingredients, antioxidants and B-vitamins. And they passed on preservatives, tons of sugar and anything artificial. They wanted a fantastic cocktail (or two), and they didn’t want to feel guilty about it afterwards.

DrinkModica.com

I was fortunate to try all three flavors at a recent backyard hoedown I hosted. I also shared them with my guests, and people couldn’t stop raving about them. Since I bend toward bourbon, my favorite is the Tart Cherry Old Fashioned, where literally all you have to do is add bourbon. I can handle that.

Modica Ginger Julep
Ginger Julep, anyone? The recipe is on the website. | Courtesy of Modica

The other flavors offered are Turmeric Ginger Mule (just add vodka or bourbon) and Cucumber Aloe Margarita (just add tequila). Of course there are all kinds of cocktail recipes on the website as well, so take a gander or come up with your own creation.

Each bottle of Modica retails for about $13.99, and you can find them at more than 20 locations here in Louisville — including Kroger, Liquor Barn and Total Wine.

They’re looking to expand to Lexington next, and if people latch onto these like I have, you better believe global domination isn’t too far up the road.

Raise a toast to healthy drinks. I’ll get my superfoods wherever I can!

I have two suggestions for future flavors: a Tajin Bloody Mary or a Pineapple (or Mango) Jalapeño Margarita.

Uncle Nearest Distillery Still House

Nearest Green Distillery opens today, and it’s a must-see Tennessee destination

Uncle Nearest Distillery Still House
The Uncle Nearest Distillery Still House will be completed later this summer. | Courtesy

During a virtual press conference yesterday, Nearest Green Distillery CEO Fawn Weaver beamed with pride as she showed off the finished pieces of Phase Two of the 270-acre, $50 million distillery in Shelbyville, Tenn. The whiskey distillery officially re-opens today, fittingly on Juneteenth, after being closed for a year due to the pandemic and construction of the immaculate, massive gift shop, tasting room, still house, rick houses, the longest bar in the world, and many more amazing features of the distillery tour.

Nearest Green was a formerly enslaved man who not only taught Jack Daniel all about making whiskey, but also worked right alongside him as he got his distillery up and running in Lynchburg, Tenn., just about 22 miles from the new Nearest Green Distillery. The distillery pays homage to “Uncle” Nearest and his dependents, many of whom still live in the area. And in fact, Victoria Eady Butler, a fifth-generation Nearest Green descendant, is master blender for the brand, which has won the most awards of any whiskey since 2019.

What’s most unique about the distillery is it goes beyond whiskey and how it’s made — it not only tells the story of Uncle Nearest, it also champions everything Tennessee, from famous snacks invented in the state (cotton candy, Goo Goo Clusters, Mountain Dew) to telling the role Tennessee played in women obtaining the right to vote and what the women of the Temperance Movement were really after. 

 “At Uncle Nearest, everything we do has significance beyond the product we sell — it’s why our main hashtag on social media is #MoreThanWhiskey,” Weaver said in a news release. “We could not be more honored to have the opportunity to share the history of Tennessee, and to couple that with honoring the history of one of the greatest figures in the spirits industry, Nearest Green. It’s a distillery experience unlike any other, and nothing can prepare guests for what they will see when we reopen our doors this weekend.” 

Fawn Weaver
Nearest Green Distillery CEO Fawn Weaver shows off the angel wings mural by Kelsey Montague.

Weaver also told us during the tour that limiting the Uncle Nearest Distillery just to whiskey “would have been a mistake to me.”

From Weaver’s quick virtual tour around the campus, you can tell every inch of the 270 acres was carefully thought out, planned and constructed with Uncle Nearest in mind.

Weaver joked it’s the “Malt Disney World” of Tennessee, and it’s no coincidence that the distillery not only owns a few trolleys purchased from Disney World, but the retail space was designed by the former president of Disney Stores Worldwide, James Fielding.

The grounds — which were formerly Sand Creek Farms, a Walking Horse farm and event center — also include the Welcome Center; a faux Concession Stand; Philo + Frank’s, a non-alcoholic speakeasy; Barrel House BBQ & Brew; the Family Tasting Room; Master Blender House; and a #WhatLiftsYou Angel Wings Mural by artist Kelsey Montague.

What’s also different about this distillery is that tours are self-paced and self-guided, so you won’t be led through by a tour guide and can take your time experiencing every detail. Tours can now be booked online.

Later this summer, Weaver noted, construction on the Humble Baron, an entertainment venue, restaurant and home to the world’s longest bar, will be completed, as will the Still House, featuring a still, mas cookers and more made at Louisville’s Vendome Copper & Brass Works.

Take a look at more renderings of the space below.