You’ve probably had your fair share of whiskeys in your life but have you had a real Tennessee Whiskey? If you’ve ever knocked back a Jack Daniels, then the answer is yes. Jack Daniels is not just one of the biggest whiskey brands in the world, it’s also a Tennessee Whiskey. But it’s not the only one.
Tennessee whiskey isn’t just regular whiskey that’s named after its birthplace; to qualify as a bona fide Tennessee whiskey, a special process has to be followed. And just for good measure, you can’t follow this process just anywhere – Tennessee whiskey has to be produced in Tennessee.
To start with, every Tennessee Whiskey must contain at least 51% corn in its mash bill – that’s the name given to the mix of grains. It must be distilled to no more than 80% ABV and follow the Lincoln County Process. This might sound like some kind of state penal code, but it refers to the process of using charcoal chips before the whiskey is aged. A fairly fancy name for something simple, truth be told.
The final step in qualifying as a Tennessee whiskey is the use of new charred oak barrels. You can age the whiskey for as little or as long as you want, but the casks you use are important.
You might call a Tennessee whiskey a bourbon, but you’ll probably get a hard stare from the locals. Technically all Tennessee whiskeys are bourbons – but not all bourbons are Tennessee whiskeys. The extra steps that a Tennessee whiskey must go through to qualify sets it apart from its bourbon sibling. But the extra effort is worth it – Tennessee whiskey has a smooth, mellow and mature profile with much of the harshness stripped away.
Any whiskey in the world will still give you a burn if you’re unfamiliar with drinking it, but sip slowly and you’ll find there’s much more to a good Tennessee whiskey. This isn’t a drink to wallop back as quickly as you can. Lock the door, pour a glass and enjoy some quality time with your whiskey – you’ll be glad you did.
Along with Jack Daniels there are many Tennessee whiskeys out there. And of course, some are better than others. We’ve done the heavy lifting on this article to find the best Tennessee whiskeys around. It was a hard job, but someone had to do it!
The Best Whiskeys From Tennessee
Sweet, smokey, fruity and chocolatey – there’s no end to the flavor profiles you’ll find with Tennessee whiskey. But they’re not all created equal: some are perfect as a cocktail base, others can be drunk neat. Some need the addition of ice cubes or water to allow the flavors to fully bloom in the glass.
Based on the profile of each whiskey, we’ve offered up a suggestion for each. But how you drink it is up to you – we’re not the whiskey police.
- 1. Heaven’s Door 10 Year Limited Edition
- 2. Uncle Nearest 1820 Single Barrel
- 3. George Dickel Single Barrel Select
- 4. Cascade Moon Edition 2
- 5. Sweetens Cove Tennessee Bourbon Whiskey
- 6. Bib & Tucker Small Batch Bourbon
- 7. Sugarlands Distilling Co. Roaming Man Tennessee Straight Rye Whiskey
- 8. Chattanooga Whiskey 111
- 9. Prichard’s Tennessee Whiskey
- 10. Jack Daniels Single Barrel Select
- 11. Nelson’s Green Brier Tennessee Whiskey
- 12. Fugitives Grandgousier
- 13. Davidson Reserve Tennessee Small Batch Whiskey
- 14. Corsair Ryemageddon Whiskey
- 15. Rollins Tennessee Sour Mash Whiskey
1. Heaven’s Door 10 Year Limited Edition
Typical price: $130
Perfect for: Bob Dylan and bourbon fans
If you’re wondering whether to have a glass of whiskey, Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright. Call your friends round to enjoy it with you, maybe invite Mr Tambourine Man and give him Shelter From the Storm. OK, OK….enough with the Bob Dylan song puns – but there’s a good reason as this whiskey is from the gravel-voiced crooner himself.
This isn’t a case of a celebrity just giving his name to a project, Dylan was involved in every aspect of this whiskey brand. Even the design of the bottle is based on the singer’s work; the intricate frontage is a reproduction of metal gates that Dylan forged at his metal workshop. Is there anything this man can’t actually do?!
You could opt for the regular version of Heaven’s Door which is 46% ABV and significantly cheaper at $55, but if you’re looking to treat yourself the 10 Year Limited Edition is where it’s at.
Filtered through sugar maple charcoal, this is a small batch blend which starts with creamy butter and freshly baked bread, with a nutty chocolate hint. This develops into the sweetness of maple plus a healthy dose of charred tropical fruits, before leaving you with a spicy tobacco flavor softened by syrupy peaches.
Throw some rocks in a glass, sit back, sip and pretty soon you’ll be Blown’ in the Wind just Like a Rolling Stone… sorry, we couldn’t resist a couple more…
2. Uncle Nearest 1820 Single Barrel
Typical price: $105
Perfect for: Drinking with a little water or rocks
This single barrel whiskey is hands down one of the best produced in 2020. Aged for a minimum of 11 years, Uncle Nearest 1820 is drawn straight from the barrel.
You might have already tried the Uncle Nearest 1856, another whiskey that could easily have made this list. In fact, it’s a very close-run decision about whether to pick the 1820 or the 1856.
However, the 1820 just edges it with a delightful nose of dark chocolate, spiced fruits, warmth and vanilla malt. It’s a rich and indulgent hit which moves into old leather, candied cherries, oak and dark chocolate. Add a splash of water to your drink and these flavors will bloom and linger wonderfully. The final kiss of this whiskey is smoky and full of buttery popcorn.
The perfect example of what a Tennessee whiskey should taste like, it’s little surprise to discover that the Uncle Nearest 1820 has scooped armfuls of awards. Drink with either water or just an ice cube or two and you’ll be able to appreciate the distiller’s hard work to its fullest.
3. George Dickel Single Barrel Select
Typical price: $57
Perfect for: Sipping over ice
There are plenty of good George DIckel whiskeys on the market but if you want to give yourself a real treat, their Single Barrel Select is what you need. Most whiskeys blend different barrels to create a more consistent flavor, but single barrel stuff gives you a more authentic experience. Using a higher proportion of corn than Jack Daniels, there’s also 8% rye and malted barley.
Sugar maple charcoal is used for the filtration, but what George Dickel does that’s unique is use a chilled process. This removes the heaviness from the whiskey, providing a unique lightness.
You’ll also notice that they spell their product as “whisky” rather than the more traditional “whiskey”. This is because their two-step distillation process uses a Scottish method, so the name nods to the heavy influence of Scottish whisky-making.
Every bottle is aged for nine years, giving the liquor plenty of time to develop and mature. The result is caramel and vanilla, with background notes of applesauce and banana. Charred wood and oakiness dominate the palate, finishing with a fruity sweetness.
The George Dickel Select has some powerful flavors which are unusual for a Tennessee whiskey. Add a rock or splash of water and you’re left with a whiskey that doesn’t fade into insignificance, but holds up well, while offering a mellowing of the darker tones.
Newer whiskey drinkers might find this a lot to handle, but those with a more experienced palate will deeply appreciate what this has to offer. And we suggest appreciating it on a regular basis…
4. Cascade Moon Edition 2
Typical price: $250
Perfect for: Sipping
Speaking of George DIckel: enter Cascade Moon. Despite the name change, Cascade Moon is actually a George Dickel whiskey. The separate branding is because George Dickel has a range of price points and products, while Cascade Moon focuses exclusively on the high-end, curated whiskey only. Sounds good to us – even if the price makes us wince a bit!
Aged for around 17 years, each bottle of Edition 2 comes from a very small batch of fewer than 20 barrels in total. The whiskey has been produced from the very first barrel filled after the distillery re-opened in 2003. There is extraordinary attention to detail in every step, such as the insistence that all barrels are matured at the same level so that temperature doesn’t cause discrepancies.
This is unusual in whiskey-making as most distilleries have multi-story levels – but you won’t find that here. The effect is a whiskey that’s beautifully mellow, with mature flavors that develop well.
Orange candy, baking spices and honey will be the first notes to hit you, before caramel, oak and citrus roll around the tongue. The final flavor is brief but there’s more than a hint of Earl Grey to finish up. This isn’t an overly sweet whiskey, but it’s not too smokey either. Dry, elegant and with a fruity caramelization, it’s worth paying out for something this special.
5. Sweetens Cove Tennessee Bourbon Whiskey
Typical price: $200
Perfect for: Drink straight and sip
Another luxury whiskey, Sweetens Cove may sound like a teen soap opera but it’s named after a golf course in Sequatchie Valley, Tennessee. Golf and whiskey? Already sounding like a winning combination…
A limited release, this whiskey blends three Tennessee bourbons: 4, 6 and 16 years. Not only are they different ages, but they’ve also been stored and produced at different locations, giving the 2021 batch an incredible, multi-layered depth.
Glossy and golden in the glass, this isn’t a whiskey that will smash you in the face. Take your time and you’ll notice tones of butterscotch, vanilla and brown sugar wafting upwards tantalizingly. Once in the mouth, there is an explosion of elements. Wintergreen, crackers, berries, cookies and smoke all entwine for a balanced flavor that leaves you oohing as it develops. You’ll be left with the impression of a smooth sweetness, and keen to take your next sip.
Fun fact: one of the reasons for the hefty price tag is that this whiskey was created by master blender Marianne Eaves. There’s been a buzz about Eaves in the industry as she was the first master distiller in the state of Kentucky. But her skill in blending is evident here, proving why she’s made such a stir in the whiskey world.
6. Bib & Tucker Small Batch Bourbon
Typical price: $52
Perfect for: Drinking neat or adding to cocktails
Despite sounding like two elderly partners, Bib & Tucker takes its name from 1880 when folk used to dress up in their best to get together and raise a glass to celebrate their achievements! But don’t worry, you don’t need to pull on your black tie to enjoy this bourbon; it’s just as good if you’re just sat at home in your socks.
The beautiful bottle makes us feel like we’re pouring some kind of medieval mead; the dark glass and the embossed glass sets the mood perfectly. This is a whiskey to savor, not just a cheap liquor to neck as quickly as you can.
On the pour, notes of caramel, orange zest and vanilla will hit your nose first, swiftly followed by cinnamon, grass and sawdust. In the mouth, there’s more than a hint of Christmas cake with sweetness, oak spiciness and background nutty tones. It’s smooth and fine; this isn’t a chewy bourbon that’s complex. You’ll be treated to a long and elegant finish, with custard cream, vanilla and honey being complemented by a touch of warmth from nutmeg and cinnamon.
As a fairly low-proof whiskey, this is a sweet and smooth drink. Enjoy neat for an uncomplicated drink, or add to cocktails as a base.
7. Sugarlands Distilling Co. Roaming Man Tennessee Straight Rye Whiskey
Typical price: $50
Perfect for: Enjoy neat or over ice
Sugarlands, a popular tourist destination in the Great Smoky Mountains, was known for its production of moonshine. But Roaming Man is about as far from moonshine as you can get, with the releases of this whiskey often selling out in a matter of hours, sometimes less.
Bottled at cask strength, its mash bill includes 51% rye, 45% corn and 8% malted barley. Aged for three years plus, it’s an unashamed straight rye whiskey that dares you to take a taste.
The nose of this whiskey is quite hot but don’t let that put you off as the heat quickly dissipates to reveal a more complex flavor profile. On the nose, there’s vanilla, caramel, Dr Pepper, ripe pears and the tart fruitiness of orange marmalade. In the mouth, you’ll find lots for your palate to explore with warm cinnamon and spices accompanying chocolate fudge, cherry, oranges and coffee, cut through by lemon citrus.
Thick and balanced, this whiskey rounds off with more chocolatey tones, rye spiciness, oak, cola and some lasting floral notes.
8. Chattanooga Whiskey 111
Typical price: $45
Perfect for: Enjoy neat
If you’ve already been introduced to Chattanooga Whiskey 91, the brand’s signature high-malt bourbon, it’s time to meet the big brother: Whiskey 111, the cask-strength and unfiltered version. Unlike the 91, the Whiskey 111 isn’t Solera aged. It’s made from a single fermentation which is then extended by an extra seven days. Just one distillation run produces 8-12 barrels, and no more. Before bottling, it’s left to snooze in oak charred barrels for at least two years.
The mash bill uses three different malted grains, but just like Colonel Sanders and his secret blend of 11 herbs and spices, Chattanooga won’t reveal their full recipe. What is known is a 75% yellow corn and 25% malt split, giving it a malty sweetness and a very unusual flavor profile, unlike any other whiskey you’ll find on the shelf.
There’s a slight whiff of ethanol on the nose but this quickly evaporates leaving raisins, dark fruits, butterscotch, toffee and caramel in equal amounts. The nutty background stops it becoming too sweet and provides balance. On the palate, it’s a sweet whiskey which delivers more of those buttery caramel flavors, along with honey and a clear maltiness. The creaminess is cut through by warming spices, which prevents it from being too cloying. A medium length finish provides an explosion of allspice quickly balanced by soft toffee and butterscotch, leaving a subtle impression of pepper.
The courage of Chattanooga in offering an unfiltered whiskey allows drinkers to enjoy a deeper, fuller flavor. It might only be two years old, but you’d never guess from its profile, delivering the elegance of a much more mature whiskey. Very different from other bourbons, but in all the right ways.
9. Prichard’s Tennessee Whiskey
Typical price: $49
Perfect for: Neat or in cocktails
Some might say this is a controversial inclusion on the list as Prichard’s don’t use the Lincoln County Process. Some might say that this means they aren’t really a Tennessee Whiskey – but those people would be wrong. Prichard’s has a special dispensation to still call their product a Tennessee Whiskey, even though they haven’t used the usual method. They are the only whiskey not to use the Lincoln County Process, something that instantly makes them stand out from the crowd.
So now you know what they don’t do – what do they do instead? Prichard’s have been making whiskey for five generations, and use a traditional family method which uses white corn, not yellow, and an in-barrel method of charring rather than charcoal filtering. Along with rye and malted barley, the white corn recipe is matured for 10 years before being bottled unfiltered.
An enthusiastic nose will greet you with this whiskey which offers powerful cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla with some delicate whispers of red apples and berries. This deepens into dark cherries, chocolate, sweet coffee and toasty malt. The finish is unexpectedly long, leaving a lingering flavor of deep malt and soft spices.
The difference in the production makes Prichard’s offer a very unusual Tennessee Whiskey. Appreciate its uniqueness by sipping neat, or add to a cocktail to switch things up a bit.
10. Jack Daniels Single Barrel Select
Typical price: $65
Perfect for: A smooth drink on the rocks
Although the brand is probably the most famous of them all, and the bedrock of Tennessee whiskey-making, there’s a bit of snobbery around drinking Jack Daniels. Many serious whiskey-drinkers won’t consider buying a bottle, dismissing it as a frat-boy choice.
However, it would be a mistake to ignore JD as their expertise in whiskey-making and selection of bottles is surprisingly sophisticated and mature. Their Old No 7 is one of the top-selling whiskeys in the world, but if you have a little more cash to splash, some of their other whiskeys are even better.
Their single barrel program releases a limited number of bottles yearly, a grown-up whiskey which stands out among its top-notch peers. Unfiltered and uncut, just one in every 100 barrels passes the quality standards needed to produce this whiskey.
Every bottle of Single Barrel Select from JD can be slightly different, and the ABV may be variable. But in general, you can expect the richness of buttery caramel, sweet vanilla and toasted oak cut through by the warmth of winter spices. On the palate this moves into a fruitiness with lingering tones of spice, oak, and vanilla. The lasting impression is of a smooth maple syrup sweetness balanced by the same oaky vanilla notes.
Good for drinking on the rocks, and very affordable for such an exclusive single barrel whiskey.
11. Nelson’s Green Brier Tennessee Whiskey
Typical price: $30
Perfect for: Sipping or in cocktails
When you buy a bottle of Nelson’s Green Brier, you’re purchasing a little slice of history. This is a real heritage brand whose family business was killed off by Prohibition. Modern descendants of the old family whiskey-makers found the old distillery and re-started the business back up. They’re now producing some of the best wheated whiskey in Tennessee at an incredible pocket-friendly price.
The whiskeys produced by Nelson’s are still relatively young compared to others, but by the end of 2021 they will all be a minimum of four years old. They include wheat in their mash bill, an unusual step in Tennessee whiskey-making, but it adds depth to the flavor and provides a distinctive taste.
This whiskey begins with spicy warm apples sweetened with vanilla and caramel before moving on to the butteriness of cinnamon toast dusted with cherries and dark chocolate. The final flavors left dancing on your tongue are full of spice, brown sugar and dark wood. Yum.
Sure, you’ll find more aged whiskeys elsewhere but with each year that passes, Nelson’s Green Brier just gets better and better. It’s already lost its “youngness” and is up there with the best. We can’t wait to see how this pans out in the coming years. Guess we’ll just have to keep trying more whiskey. Sigh. What a hardship…
12. Fugitives Grandgousier
Typical price: $80
Perfect for: Those who enjoy a Kentucky-style bourbon
This label only began in 2016 but it’s already making huge waves among the Tennessee whiskey-makers, with its Grandgousier the star of the show. As a craft whiskey, there’s a real emphasis on local grains and the quality of ingredients with founder Jim Massey scrutinizing each step in agonizing detail.
He pays more for high-quality Hickory Cane corn and the difference shows in the whiskey produced. Combined with Irish malted barley, the juice is distilled in copper pots before being aged in charred oak 53 gallon barrels.
The original batches of Grandgousier used 23-gallon barrels, but were later moved to bigger barrels to reduce the woodiness. Interestingly, Massey says he’s currently experimenting with some 72-gallon barrels but won’t know for another three years whether it’s better than the 53-gallon variety. This whiskey-making lark isn’t for the impatient!
Seasoned whiskey-drinkers will recognize that this is still a relatively young whiskey, and the longer its left, the more it will mature. However, this doesn’t taste rushed and the utter attention to detail is apparent in the subtle yet distinctive flavors.
Beginning with notes of biscuit, honey and butter complemented by corn and caramel, the whiskey pulls in tart apples, sweet malt and the softness of vanilla. The warmth isn’t overpowering and you’ll be left with the lingering stickiness of honey.
13. Davidson Reserve Tennessee Small Batch Whiskey
Typical price: $40
Perfect for: Great as a base for cocktails or for sipping
If you want a small batch, local whiskey then you won’t go far wrong with a bottle of Davidson Reserve. A clutch of gold medals proves that this sour mash deserves its inclusion on our list. There’s a whole bunch of rye in its mash bill (25%) that also uses locally grown corn.
The mixture is then filtered through the ubiquitous maple sugar charcoal before being left to do its thing in American oak barrels for four years or more.
A mouthful of this whiskey will send red berries chasing after burnt sugar, maple syrup and soft vanilla before developing into spicy peaches, caramel and maltiness. The end fade is drawn out so you can savor each note, with more layers of fruit, vanilla and spice and what’s that? It’s the merest hint of mint tickling your tongue.
Rocks or water will help this whiskey show you what it’s all about, but there’s no crime in using it as a full-flavored base for cocktails too.
14. Corsair Ryemageddon Whiskey
Typical price: $48
Perfect for: Enjoy neat for sipping or in cocktails
One of the artisanal Tennessee whiskeys that has gotten everyone talking, Corsair Ryemageddon is made up of 80% rye, red wheat, malted rye and chocolate malt. It’s a young company and the branding is funky, which might put off some of the seasoned whiskey-lovers who are looking for a sophisticated bourbon.
But look past the quirky labelling and you’ll find something that’s surprisingly mature, and actually quite magical.
Rye-heavy whiskeys normally deliver a predictable botanical rush, but with Rymadeddon, you’ll just get an overwhelming aroma of chocolatey goodness. Hot on its heels is espresso, vanilla and more than a hint of BBQ smoke.
On the palate, the balance between hot, spicy smokiness and sweet creaminess is impressive, with neither dominating but instead working in perfect harmony. Peaches, mint and fudge sweetness soften the black coffee, charred oak and flakes of black pepper. The finish is just as fascinating with chili, cigar ash and coffee grounds rounding out rich chocolate cake and spice.
15. Rollins Tennessee Sour Mash Whiskey
Typical price: $45
Perfect for: Sipping neat
Sometimes, there’s just no point messing with perfection – and that’s how the good folk down at Rollins Tennessee see things. One of the remaining traditional Tennessee distilleries, they produce Tennessee whiskey – and nothing else. Their bottle declares it is a slow sipping whiskey and that’s all you need to know.
This dram is made for days sitting out on your porch, drink in hand and watching the sun go down.
Rollins’ insistence on only using quality, local ingredients is evident as soon as you pour a glass of their whiskey. The aging in white American oak barrels produces beautiful aromas of vanilla and caramel, with added hints of dried herbs and blackened sugar. On the palate the flavor profile is smooth and sweet, with clove and cinnamon adding some warmth and a background maltiness.
The finish is complex, bringing all the flavors into balance, leaving a satisfying smoothness.
As Rollins say, there’s whiskey – and then there’s Tennessee whiskey. And this is absolutely a Tennessee whiskey you won’t want to miss.
Give it a Shot!
As the old saying goes, “Alcohol doesn’t solve your problems – but neither does milk”, so why not treat yourself to a Tennessee Whiskey? Sip slowly and don’t over indulge, and you’ll enjoy the best of the Tennessee whiskey without the dreaded next-day hangover.
The folk down in Tennessee are pretty sure that their whiskey is the best – and based on this selection we’d be hard-pressed to disagree. Whether you prefer the big names like Jack Daniels and George Dickel, or you lean towards one of the smaller brands, you’ll find some fantastic Tennessee whiskeys. Although, if you’re learning you’ve probably had enough already…
Similar to bourbon, but with a little added extra (apologies to the good bourbon-producing folk of Kentucky!) a good Tennessee whiskey is something every man should have in his locker. Although probably not the locker at work unless you want to answer some tricky questions.
What’s special about Tennessee whiskey?
There are very strict state laws about what liquors can be labelled as Tennessee whiskey. This includes where it is produced (Tennessee), the corn content (must be at least 51%), the aging (must be in a new oak charred barrel) but crucially it must also have gone through the Lincoln County Process. Only one whiskey has permission to label itself as Tennessee without using the Lincoln County Process.
Is Tennessee whiskey the same as bourbon?
Tennessee whiskey meets all the criteria to qualify as a bourbon – the corn content, the proof and the new, oak barrels charring – but it also goes through an additional process of filtering. Known as the Lincoln County Process, this filtering removes some of the elements that many consider make a bourbon so distinctive.
You will see some bourbons described as filtered, but this takes place after its been in the barrel and produces a very different effect.
So, technically a Tennessee whiskey could be described as a bourbon, but the taste is generally very different. If you’re looking for a traditional bourbon, you might be disappointed. But if you’re looking for a kickass whiskey, you’ll be in luck.
What’s the difference in the taste of a Tennessee whiskey?
Every whiskey producer follows their own version of the Lincoln County Process so there’s not a single uniform taste profile for Tennessee whiskey. It’s possible to get sweet, spicy, smokey and other types of Tennessee whiskey so it’s about finding the one that you prefer.
However, overall, Tennessee whiskey tends to be mellower, as the filtering removes some of the harsher elements. `Most bottles are more rounded in flavor, and are ideal for sipping rather than just mixing.
Is it whiskey or whisky?
Like all US whiskeys, Tennessee whiskey is spelt with the “e” – it’s only Canada and Scotland that spell it as “whisky”.
Sunshine in a Glass
Have you tried any of the Tennessee whiskeys – what did you think? Let us know your comments below – preferably when you’ve sobered up.