The Tennessean: Nelson Brothers Revive Green Brier Distillery

The Tennessean: Nelson Brothers Revive Green Brier Distillery

Two Tennessee distilleries stand on the cusp of very different landmarks.

First, there's the upstart, Nelson's Green Brier Distillery, which re-opened last month in the Marathon Village complex. Green Brier is a rebirth of a once-storied producer that more than rivaled Jack Daniel's but whose stills remained silent after Prohibition, until now.

Then there's Jack Daniel's in Lynchburg, the behemoth that's halfway through a $103 million expansion on its march toward global domination.

As tempting as it might be to paint a biblical scene of battles with slingshots and giants, the truth is, history and common ground place these two distillers closer together than you might imagine. They share parallel quests to produce what is arguably one of our state's most recognizable exports, and have been thrown together as odd bedfellows in a battle to write into law just what Tennessee whiskey is, or isn't.

Unlikely distillers

When Belle Meade Bourbon first came to market in 2013, there was cheering in certain ZIP codes that found a spirit they could call their own. It helped that the young men behind it were scions of Old Nashville. And so, those first amber drops released to the market became the fulfillment of the vapors of a young dream.

The Tennessean: Nelson Brothers Revive Green Brier Distillery

Photo: Larry McCormack/Tennessean

Andy and Charlie Nelson are unlikely distillers. They are not chemical engineers, nor do they have deep backgrounds in corporate marketing in the universe of food and beverages. They wear a lot of flannel and look more like rustic humanities types, because that's what they are, both having concentrated more on philosophy and literature, not esters and finance. They also share a deep, abiding interest in history, particularly a sturdy branch of their own family tree, which gives them a modicum of street cred in the world of American spirits.

They are the great-times-three grandsons of Charles Nelson, whose Green Brier distillery in its namesake town in Robertson County outsold Jack Daniel's in 1885 by a multiple of 13. Before Prohibition, the distillery made a number of different expressions, including the rye-heavy Belle Meade bourbon the young Nelsons decided to launch the company with, and thus the brothers' rapt love of a good story and desire to resurrect the business grew into reality.

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