Updated: Jul 3, 2020
On a trip home from Chattanooga to Memphis, my boyfriend and I made the decision to take a short detour and check out the George Dickel distillery in Cascade Hollow. He was already a whiskey lover and was pretty pumped to add to his extensive liquor collection. But me, I was a different story. What exactly was Whiskey neat, and was it good or bad if it burned on the way down?
So wanting to be the cool girlfriend, I figured I could choke down a few whiskey samples and fake my way through. After a VERY cool tour, we sat down at the tasting bar and I said a little prayer that I wouldn’t actually choke when I drank the first sample. Everyone else looked so calm and collected, I was obviously the only first-timer there. I swirled, and smelled, and sipped, let the spirit roll down my tongue so I could taste the front AND the back. And just like that, I was hooked on Tennessee Whiskey.
Over the next 12 months, we made it our mission to visit all 27 distilleries on the Tennessee Whiskey Trail (and a few that weren't). We knew we would have a blast taking weekend road trips and tasting whiskey. What we didn't know was how many really cool places we would get to visit along the way. Throw in a free t-shirt? SOLD!
Here's how you too can master the Tennessee Whiskey Trail in 8 easy road trips.
Memphis: A Food Lover's Paradise
Old Dominick may be the only distillery in West Tennessee, but Memphis has so much else to offer that a weekend spent here is more than worth the trip. Popular sightseeing options include Graceland, the National Civil Rights Museum, the Peabody Hotel with its famous marching ducks, Sun Studios, the Mud Island Riverwalk, and the Pyramid, which now houses a massive Bass Pro Shop and wilderness inspired hotel.
Old Dominick Distillery is located downtown, with lots of options for great food and nightlife nearby. Wander along the cobblestoned Main Street, take the trolley down to the South Main Arts District, or check out the party on Beale Street. If you want a quieter scene, you may want to opt for the Cooper Young area, Overton Square, or the Broad Avenue Arts District.
Memphis may be famous for Elvis Presley and the Blues, but the food scene here is something that should NOT be missed. Some well known places that have been featured on TV are The Rendezvous, Central Barbecue, Gus’s Fried Chicken, Uncle Lou's Chicken, and Dyer's Burgers. Here are a few of my picks. Cocktails: Belle Tavern or The Cove. Downtown dive bars: Ernestine and Hazels, the Green Beetle, or Bardog Tavern. Dessert: Cheesecake Corner, Muddy’s Cupcakes, Gibson’s Donuts, or Jerry’s Snowcones. Upscale restaurants worth the price: Flight, Restaurant Iris, or Southern Social. Greasy spoons: Blues City Cafe, Elwood’s Shack, or the Arcade. Pizza: Memphis Pizza Cafe or Aldo's Pizza Pies. Brunch: Cafe Eclectic, The Beauty Shop, Brother Junipers, or The Liquor Store. Breweries: too many to mention, but my favorites are Wiseacre and High Cotton.
I would recommend staying downtown when you come to Memphis. Most of the places mentioned above are either around the downtown area or within a 10 - 15 minute drive. Staying downtown makes it easy to visit Old Dominick because you can walk, rent a scooter, or take a short Uber ride. There are even golf cart shuttles if you can find one! You may come to Memphis to add a stamp to your whiskey trail passport, but it will leave you with a special place in your heart.
Nashville and the Surrounding Areas
There’s more to Nashville than just country music. You can spend a full 3 day weekend here and it will still leave you wanting more. For country music lovers, there is the Grand Ole Opry and Ryman Auditorium, as well as Music Row, the Country Music Hall of Fame, and famous landmarks such as RCA Studio B. There are also countless small music venues like Mercy Lounge, the Bluebird Cafe and Marathon Music Works, where you will find talented aspiring musicians looking to make a name for themselves. Other fun sightseeing options include Nashville's version of the Parthenon, Andrew Jackson's former home the Hermitage, Belle Meade Plantation, or the Belmont Mansion.
Now let’s get down to business. There are 3 official whiskey trail distilleries in Nashville proper, and 4 other outliers. You can make it to all of them in one weekend if you’re really ambitious; however, I would recommend breaking them up into two weekends for a more relaxing and enjoyable time.
Within Nashville’s city limits you have Nashville Craft Distillery, Nelson’s Greenbrier Distillery, and Corsair Distillery, which has two locations. Pennington Distillery is also in Nashville and worth a visit, but it's no longer listed on the Whiskey Trail app. Here's a suggested 3 day itinerary for Nashville distilleries.
Arrive in Nashville Friday afternoon and visit Nashville Craft Distillery and Pennington Distilling, then eat dinner. After dinner, head over to the Corsair Distillery on Merritt Avenue for a tour, tasting, or cocktail class.
To top off the night, visit Diskin Cidery, which is right down the street. If you’ve never tried craft cider, this place will make you a fan. In addition to the variety of ciders made on site, they have board games, patio games, an outdoor fire pit, and sometimes live music or a DJ. They also have delicious cocktails and a late night menu.
Saturday morning, grab some breakfast and do some sightseeing, then make your way to Nelson’s Green Brier and Corsair Distillery on Clinton Street. These are both inside the old Marathon Motor Works factory, along with quite a few souvenir and boutique style shops. You can easily spend several hours here wandering in and out of the shops in between whiskey tastings. Nelson's Greenbrier has a REALLY cool story and a nice tour that you can reserve in advance. The Corsair location here also has tours, as well as a cocktail bar and taproom. Now your evening is free to eat dinner and find a local music venue. Many restaurants and music venues in Nashville require reservations, so check into this ahead of time.
Sunday morning, gear up for some of the best brunch around. You really can't go wrong here. A few of my favorites are Pancake Pantry, the Loveless Cafe, and Yeast Nashville. Other suggestions can be found on Nashville Guru, which is a a great online resource for all things Nashville.
Depending on how far your drive is and what direction you're headed, you should try to visit Old Glory Distilling before heading home. Old Glory is in Clarksville, about 45 minutes north of Nashville.
If you're feeling really adventurous, you may even be able to squeeze in the Kentucky/Tennessee State Line Whiskey Tour. This is a fun offshoot of the Tennessee trail, and combines Old Glory with two distilleries just over the Kentucky border: Casey Jones Distillery and MB Roland Distillery. You even get a free gift after you've visited all three! Check the State Line Whiskey Tour website for more information.
The other three Nashville outliers are H. Clark Distillery in Thompson's Station, Leiper's Fork Distillery in Franklin, and Short Mountain Distillery in Woodbury. If you are purely focused on stamping your whiskey passport, you can skip the sightseeing and combine these three distilleries with your Nashville weekend. You may have to take a Friday off work to do this so you can get into Nashville early and visit all three "city" distilleries on Friday, head down to Leiper's Fork and H. Clark on Saturday afternoon, dinner at Short Mountain, and Old Glory on Sunday before heading home. This is ambitious, but certainly possible.
The better way to visit these three distilleries is to make them into a separate weekend getaway. I would recommend finding an AirBNB in Franklin for this weekend. Arrive Friday evening and find a nice place to eat near the square. Some local favorites are 55 South, Grey's on Main, or Cork and Cow.
Saturday morning, eat breakfast at Biscuit Love, and browse the shops in "downtown" Franklin or at The Factory. Then head out to H. Clark Distillery for your first tasting of the day. On the way back to Franklin stop for lunch at the original Pucket's Grocery in Leiper's Fork, then on to your final whiskey tasting at nearby Leiper's Fork Distillery.
Sunday morning, limit yourself to coffee and a light breakfast so you have room for brunch with your whiskey tasting at Short Mountain Distillery before heading back home. This may be out in the country, but it rivals some of the best brunch spots in Nashville.
Middle Tennessee: Where it all Began
To be honest, this was one of the trips I wasn’t sure I would enjoy. Not because I didn’t think the whiskey would be good, but because the distilleries are out in the middle of nowhere. It makes sense if you think about it though…the two oldest distilleries in Tennessee are in this area, and when they first began they needed two things. A fresh source of limestone spring water, and a location away from the eyes of the law. That’s how George Dickel ended up in Cascade Hollow, and Jack Daniel set up shop next to a cave outside the small town of Lynchburg.
This part of Tennessee turned out to be charming and beautiful, and the trip actually ended up being one of my favorites. There are five distilleries in this area that can easily be visited in one weekend. You just need to be strategic about the direction you travel and where you stay.
Three of them are closed on Sundays, so you’ll need to travel the route from West to East. As far as where to stay? We found an amazing Airbnb farm stay near Fayetteville for Friday night, and a different Airbnb on the square in Lynchburg for Saturday night. But you can just as easily stay in one or the other for both nights.
Here is your distillery tour route. Start out Saturday morning with Tenn-South Distillery in Lynnville. Yes, I’m telling you to start your first distillery tour by 10:00 am. Be brave. Whiskey tasting ain’t for sissies.
You’ll drive through Fayetteville on your way to Southern Pride Distillery. There's a square at the corner of Main Avenue and Market Street with a couple of greasy spoons, local boutique shops, and a surprising number of antique stores. Grab some lunch and walk off the whiskey and moonshine you’ve tasted so far. These small, family owned distilleries are NOT stingy with their samples.
Plan to be at Prichard’s Distillery by 2:00, because they close at 3:00. Then plan on an early dinner in Lynchburg. Their historic square has multiple dinner options, and quite a few antique, memorabilia, and candy shops that are fun to browse in. Guys, now is a good time to reward your girl for her whiskey tasting bravery with a stop at the Lynchburg Winery tasting room.
Sunday, you’ll want to have reservations for tours at the Jack Daniel's and George Dickel distilleries in order to allow yourself travel time between the two. They’ll each take a couple of hours, but it will be time well spent! The history and stories will draw you in, and the whiskey will make you a believer.
There isn’t much between these two, so you’ll want to eat lunch in Lynchburg before leaving, or stop in Tullahoma on your way home. There's a new kid in town as well. Nearest Green Distillery, in nearby Shelbyville, is brand new and has a VERY cool story I'll let you discover on your own.
Chattanooga is another single distillery town, but this vibrant, artsy town in the mountains will not disappoint. With its art and music scenes, as well as outdoor adventure seeking, there’s enough to do around here that one weekend may not even be long enough to get your fill.
The lone distillery here is Chattanooga Whiskey Co. They have tours and tastings, as well as a cocktail bar. It’s located along a section of Market Street that is chalk full of amazing restaurants, cool bars, and the historic Chattanooga Choo-Choo rail station, which has hotel rooms, restaurants, bars, a comedy club, and a local music venue.
You can find Airbnb’s in this area if you want to be within walking distance of the distillery and other nightlife. There is also a free electric trolley that will take you to other parts of downtown, such as the Riverfront or the hilltop Art District.
The views of the river from up here are spectacular, not to mention the art galleries, local arts and craft shops, and an amazing sampling of restaurants and cafes with delicious treats. If you’re a music lover, you’re in luck! Chattanooga has a growing music scene, with multiple concert halls and small music venues for local musicians.
What to do with the rest of your weekend? There are too many options to mention, but here is a small sampling. Popular points of interest in the city include the Tennessee Aqaurium, Walnut Street Bridge, Discovery Museum, National Cemetery, or Farmer’s Market.
For outdoor adventures, check out Lookout Mountain, where you can see seven states on a clear day, descend 26 stories underground to Ruby Falls, fly down 700 feet of rushing zip lines, or marvel at Rock City’s natural rock formations. A little further out of the city is Raccoon Mountain Caverns, which has over five miles of mapped cave systems to explore. There are also plenty of opportunities for hiking, as well as water activities like canoeing, kayaking, paddle boarding, and whitewater rafting.
Knoxville: Whiskey and the World's Fair
Knoxville may be new to the whiskey scene, but it’s not new to making a name for itself. The first state capital, home to the University of Tennessee, and host to the 1982 World’s Fair, Knoxville is Tennessee’s third largest city and has plenty to offer us weekend whiskey warriors.
Knoxville has two distilleries. They are both small batch, craft distilleries, and they are just minutes away from each other. That’s where the similarities end. They offer different types of spirits, and each have a unique feel.
Knox Whiskey Works offers tours and tastings in the afternoon and evening. They recommend reservations for tours, but welcome walk-ins for tastings. They offer a fun tasting experience with a variety of whiskeys, vodkas, gins, and liqueurs.
Knox Whiskey is just a 10 minute walk from Market Square, which is the main tourist area for restaurants and nightlife. If you're feeling adventurous, check out The Library. This fun speakeasy has done an awesome job of bringing back the spirit of prohibition, and the cocktails are inventive and delicious. If you're looking for a less touristy area away from the crowds, Knox Whiskey is also a short walk to the Old City.
Post Modern Spirits offers tours with a reservation as well. Tastings are included as part of the tour, and can also be done at the cocktail bar. They pride themselves on creating a malt whiskey that’s distilled from local craft beer. But their real talent is in making inventive cocktails with their various flavored vodkas, gins, and liqueurs.
In the heart of the Old City, Post Modern Spirits has a hip, industrial feel with a very cool outside patio for enjoying one of their many delicious concoctions.
Knoxville is a great city for a weekend getaway, with a variety of sightseeing options and historical landmarks. If you’ve never been to Knoxville, you should definitely visit the World’s Fair Park and Sunsphere Tower. Noteworthy museums are the Museum of Natural History, East Tennessee History Center, Knoxville Museum of Art, Blount Mansion, Ramsey House, and Mabry-Hazen House Museum.
There are also historical markers and landmarks throughout the city related to Native American History, Tennessee History, the Civil War, and Women’s Suffrage Movement. The Tennessee Theater is a historical icon as well, and is still used today for classic films, concerts, and even broadway shows.
If you’re a University of Tennessee fan and time your visit right, you may be able to catch a Vols football game at Neyland Stadium and hear 100,000 people singing “Rocky Top”. No judgment here.
Gatlinburg: Smoky Mountain Moonshine
The Smoky Mountains are famous for the misty, low hanging clouds that envelope its lush valleys and tree covered hills. Hills that also tell the story of liquor being secretly distilled in a copper pot by moonlight. Now famously known as Moonshine.
Originally, Moonshine, by definition, was made and sold illegally. Over the years, it’s had a complicated history. Tennessee led the country in Prohibition laws as early as 1838, and up until 2009 only allowed liquor to be legally distilled in three counties. At that time, it became legal to produce alcohol in all but 10 counties across the state, and distilleries starting popping up left and right.
One of the most popular places for moonshine distilleries is the area around the Smoky Mountains. To be exact, there are eight distilleries here. There’s just something about being in the shadow of these beautiful hills that makes you feel like drinking moonshine. Why, you ask? Even though it’s now legal to make it, sell it, and buy it, you still feel like you’re doing something wrong. And it feels good.
Eight distilleries in one weekend is a daunting task, but it can be done if you follow the plan below. This will work best if you are coming from the North or West, but you can reverse the route if coming from the South or East and it will work just as well.
Make plans to stay in Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg, on the Parkway or within walking distance. This will allow you to walk or ride the trolley to the majority of the distilleries you’ll be visiting.
Arrive Friday afternoon, as early as possible. Hopefully you’ll be coming from Interstate 40, you can make your first stop at Old Tennessee Distilling Company at the Bass Pro Shop exit. They have a lot of flavors here, and they are VERY generous with their samples, so you’ll want to divide and conquer. Trust me, share the samples with your whiskey tasting partner.
From here head to Sevierville, where you’ll find Tennessee Legend Distilling and D & S Distilling. (For those of you who don't speak southern, the name of this town is pronounced "Severe-vul".) Follow the same sharing rule at both of these places. This is a marathon, not a sprint! After this, you’ll want to make your way to Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg, check into your hotel, and get some dinner. Depending on what time you arrive and how you’re feeling, you may be able to visit another distillery after dinner.
If you’re staying in Pigeon Forge, you could visit Old Forge Distillery after dinner on Friday, then take the trolley into Gatlinburg on Saturday and spend the day there. There are three distilleries in Gatlinburg: Doc Collier Moonshine, Ole Smoky Moonshine, and Sugarlands Distilling Company. If you choose to stay in Gatlinburg, you may want to visit one of these three on Friday night after dinner. Then you can take the trolley into Pigeon Forge on Saturday, spend about half the day there exploring the shops, visit Old Forge, and head back to Gatlinburg to finish up the other two distilleries.
Sunday you can finish up walking around town before heading out, but leave enough time to visit one last distillery. I typically try not to play favorites, but this one? It's my favorite. A moonshine distillery in a tiny shack painted orange, nestled along the Little Pigeon River and set against the backdrop of the Smoky Mountains.
As if that wasn't enough, Bootlegger's Distillery is just a really cool name. The drive here from the Gatlinburg area is really beautiful, but the story of this little distillery is what makes the drive truly worth it. And the moonshine ain't bad either.
Since this article is focused on whiskey tasting, I'm going to stop here. But you can easily spend a week in this area and not run out of things to do. There’s a little something for everyone. It’s like the Disneyworld of the deep south!
Northeast Tennessee: The Hidden Gem
Keep in mind, the Northeast corner of Tennessee is the farthest distance you can drive from Memphis without leaving the state. Did I really want to drive 502 miles each way, just to taste some whiskey? And is it ironic that we saved End of the Line Tennessee Moonshine for our final trip? Yes, and yes!
A moonshine distillery in an old state penitentiary? It's kind of genius, considering the legal history of distilling in Tennessee. Brushy Mountain Correctional Facility is one of the oldest prisons in the state, and has a storied history with inmates the likes of James Earl Ray having been there. It was considered the "end of the line" for anyone who ended up there.
Now a museum, the history is fascinating, and the surrounding area is beautiful. It was well worth every mile of the drive. I dare say it would be worth the trip even without the moonshine. You may even be able to make this into a fun Saturday or Sunday day trip!
That being said, a full weekend option is to combine Brushy Mountain with a visit to one of the Whiskey Trail's newest members, Lost State Distilling. At the time of writing this article, Lost State was not yet offering tours. According to their website, they are now open for business and producing small batch spirits. Lost State is located in Bristol, on the Tennessee/Virginia border. I look forward to adding this final stamp to my passport and earning the ever-elusive Tennessee Whiskey Trail t-shirt!
This part of Tennessee, tucked away in the Appalachian Mountains and still sparsely populated, is breathtaking in its natural beauty. With only one distillery here, you'll have plenty of time to explore the area and have some fun! Hiking trails, lakes, waterfalls, and a zipline park are just a few options. There is also Davy Crockett's birthplace, the Birthplace of Country Music Museum, and Bristol Motor Speedway.
Food and drink opportunities are actually quite abundant in the Tri-Cities area. Bristol has the famed Blackbird Bakery, with some of the best desserts you will ever be lucky enough to eat. Stop into the Gypsy Circus Cider Company in Kingsport for a fun atmosphere and some of the best brewed Cider around. Speaking of brewing, Johnson City has a number of breweries that will wet your whistle. Model City Taphouse, Johnson City Brewing Company, and Yee-Haw Brewing Company are all noteworthy. Johnson City also has a food scene that may surprise you. Try some pizza at Scratch Brick Oven Pizza or Main Street Pizza Company. Yummy breakfast options I HIGHLY recommend are Maple Street Biscuit Company or Open Doors Coffee House.
12 months, 27 distilleries, and still no free t-shirt...but we’ve tasted some amazing spirits, met a lot of incredible people, and had the time of our lives doing it! Where to next?
I hear Kentucky has some pretty good bourbon. Start your next adventure here!
Looking for cocktails that make you feel like you're traveling the trail?
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