Can you capture a sense of place in a bottle? That’s what a new Tennessee whiskey brand is trying to accomplish.
Sweetens Cove is a cask-strength Tennessee bourbon, aged 13 years, that will be released May 26 in Tennessee.
Sweetens Cove shares its name with a nine-hole golf course located 30 minutes northwest of Chattanooga, a two-hour drive from Atlanta. The golf course has a small footprint, but a big reputation among golf aficionados. It is situated within a flat valley surrounded by mountainous terrain, and is ranked in Golf Week’s Top 100 as No. 49, the only nine-hole course to make the list.
“Sweetens Cove has a ‘Tin Cup’ meets ‘Field of Dreams’ kind of vibe,” said course co-owner Mark Rivers. Many of its investors are household names, including Peyton Manning, Jim Nance, Andy Roddick, Skip Bronson and Drew Holcomb.
With a whiskey barrel etched with “SC” as a logo, there is a longstanding tradition that first-timers take a shot of whiskey on the first hole.
Rivers wanted to celebrate that special feeling for the course. “A bunch of us got together and thought, ‘We should continue the ritual, bring it full circle, and make our own whiskey,’” he said.
They decided on a bourbon and, Rivers said, “We wanted it to have similar appeal as the golf course: cult-like, ultra-premium, thoughtful, rare, well-executed and authentic to its roots.”
Building a distinctive product, with the flavor of that particular corner of Tennessee, became the group’s mission. “We wanted a whiskey that would stand true and tall against the best producers in the world,” he said.
The team recruited Marianne Eaves to serve as master blender of the first Sweetens Cove release. Beyond being Kentucky’s first female master distiller, Eaves is proficient in wood science and holds a degree in chemical engineering. She also is rooted in Tennessee, having been born in Chattanooga.
“The project has been a unique Tennessee homecoming for me,” she said.
The team searched to find product they thought would meet their requirement of “ultra-premium,” and got their hands on 100 orphan barrels of 13-year-aged Tennessee bourbon stock maturing in a Kentucky warehouse. (It is a common industry practice to use whiskey stocks hidden away or forgotten in rickhouses for independent releases issued under a special brand.) They brought the barrels back to Tennessee.
“I spent several days tasting and charting out every individual barrel,” Eaves said. She came up with a strategy of creating five different batches, aligning different flavor profiles along the way.
Among the 100 barrels, Eaves found four that merited a single-barrel release. So, there will be another unique offering in late 2020.
There are just 10,000 bottles of Sweetens Cove Tennessee Straight Bourbon Whiskey, and each batch is distinctive. “The bourbon is really exquisite,” Eaves said.
A first taste of a batch sample had a nose of chocolate/caramel and leathery molasses. It had a spicy palate, with charred caramel and baking spices, and a warm, lingering finish. That was Batch 2. Eaves noted that the batch number isn’t going to be specifically marked on these releases, so you will have to be “in the know” to locate them with subtle identifiers. A treasure hunt, if you will.
“When you find a special place, you know it,” Rivers said of Sweetens Cove. That’s how a first sip of this whiskey feels. It’s doubtful you will find it volunteered for sipping at the first tee. This bourbon will be hidden in the liquor cabinet of successful treasure seekers.
Sweetens Cove will retail for $200 per 750-milliliter bottle. The spirit will be available in Georgia in mid-June, and will be available at select liquor stores, bars and restaurants in Atlanta, Athens and Savannah. It will launch in other states this summer.
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