With new whiskey, brothers continue to honor family’s distilling legacy

Newly released Green Brier Tennessee whiskey is made with the same 1909 recipe used by the Nelson brothers' great-great-great grandfather. Krista Slater for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Newly released Green Brier Tennessee whiskey is made with the same 1909 recipe used by the Nelson brothers' great-great-great grandfather. Krista Slater for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

With whiskeys constantly being introduced into the market, it is hard for us to get excited about the launch of a new product. Nelson’s Green Brier Tennessee whiskey is a rare exception.

It all started in 2006, when brothers Andy and Charlie Nelson were taking a country drive in Greenbrier, Tennessee, with their dad. They happened upon a historical marker bearing their family name. The plaque was for the long defunct Charles Nelson distillery, named after their great-great-great-grandfather. The Nelson brothers had an epiphany, and knew what they wanted for their future.

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As recent college grads, the brothers had a hard time convincing folks of their dream to revive the family business, especially during a recession. Determined to succeed, they put everything on the line in 2012, when they launched a line of bourbon called Belle Meade, using aged whiskies that they purchased in Indiana and blended themselves in Tennessee. The brand bore the same name — and nearly identical label — as the whiskey their ancestor made for Nashville company S.W. & Co. before Prohibition.

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In 2014, the brothers opened a distillery near downtown Nashville. But, in the past year, there has been a major shift: The brand that helped establish the Nelson brothers, Belle Meade, now is sold only in the Tennessee market. This move puts the emphasis on Andy and Charlie’s long game, the relaunching of Nelson’s Green Brier Tennessee whiskey, and two expressions of bourbon, Nelson Bros. Classic and Nelson Bros. Reserve.

The label for Nelson’s Green Brier Tennessee whiskey is a beautiful reproduction of the original, and the 1909 recipe was researched painstakingly, so that the spirit tastes like it would have a century ago. The mash bill — the types of grains used to start the whiskey — is a mix of corn, wheat and malted barley.

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Per the rules for Tennessee whiskey, the clear distillate is dripped through sugar maple charcoal to “mellow” and filter the spirit. It then is put in new charred oak barrels for a minimum of two years. The taste is smooth, with flavors of caramel, red apple and maple nut goodies, reminiscent of Brach’s candy.

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The two new bourbons share similarities, but distinctive flavors and aromas. Both Classic and Reserve have a high rye content in the mash bill. Rye is known to give spice characteristics to whiskey, and Classic offers hints of baking spices on the nose. On the palate, those spice notes give way to citrus, caramelized banana and mint. In Reserve, you can pick out the cinnamon, allspice and ginger. Compared with the 93.3-proof Classic, the higher-alcohol (107.8 proof) Reserve is still pleasant when sipped neat, but a tiny splash of cold water brings hints of maple, leather and tobacco.

In what might feel like a saturated whiskey market, the story of the Nelson brothers, and their resurrection of a family legacy, is unique. And, the whiskey is outstanding, to boot.

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