By Jake Emen
In 1909 Charles Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery had its doors shuttered due to Prohibition being enacted in the state of Tennessee, beating the national movement by just over a decade. By that time Nelson’s wife Louisa had been in control of Green Brier for nearly two decades, following his passing in 1891. A century after its closure, a few later family members are grabbing the reins.
Enter descendants Andy and Charlie, Charles and Louisa’s great-great-great grandchildren, who are bringing the family name back into the whiskey business after first delving into the family’s background circa 2006. This is by no means the revival of a small-time mom-and-pop 19th Century distilling operation, either. In a time when names like Jack Daniel’s were but fledgling in comparison, Green Brier’s production peaked at nearly 380,000 gallons in 1885.
The new Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery opens this November in Nashville, and thereafter the brothers will be distilling their own stuff. In the meantime, they’ve been getting that historical story out and rebuilding some brand recognition with this sourced bourbon. While whiskey fans may be a bit wearisome of purported historical legends these days, it’s important to note that Green Brier checks out, so much so that the old distillery site in Robertson County is a National Historic Place.
Belle Meade is a high-rye bourbon with an aggregate mash bill of 64% corn, 30% rye and 6% malted barley, and it’s openly-acknowledged as sourced from MGP, blended in tiny, four-barrel batches from three different source spirits which feature two mash bills and two yeast strains.
Belle Meade Bourbon, bottled at 90.4% ABV, is golden-amber in the glass. On the nose, there’s plenty of vanilla at the front, with some caramel. There’s a bit of sharp spiciness which reveals that high-rye mash bill. There’s also a touch of more complexity with light floral and citrus notes. On the palate, there’s oak, molasses, more vanilla, and more spice. There’s a modest burn on a quick finish.
Add an ice cube, and Belle Meade develops more robust sweetness, with caramel coming out front with charred molasses. The finish disappears entirely but spice still provides the final note.
All told, Belle Meade is an enjoyable bourbon entrant but needs a bit of refining to develop a more complete flavor profile. As for Green Brier Distillery, hopefully the family passion and legacy get the brothers moving in the right direction once they’re in charge from start to finish. I’ll be interested to see what they come up with.
Belle Meade Bourbon can be found at online retailers for about $40 for a 750 ml bottle. Right now, it has scattered distribution across the U.S., found locally in about a dozen states.