Nelson’s Green Brier- Tasting Notes

I’m going to focus in on a couple of the Nelson’s products as I hope this shows a bit of both the classic and the innovative side of their products.

Nelson’s Belle Meade Classic Bourbon 45.2% abv

First up is Nelson’s Belle Meade Classic Bourbon. This is a blend of just four barrels per batch and is characterised by a pretty high (30%) portion of rye in the mash bill. It is also made from 2 yeast strains working in tandem and is matured for 6-8 years.


There is gorgeous darker caramel shade to the bourbon- a strong golden hue coming through visually.


Wow- a wonderful strong hit of sweet vanilla, caramel and syrup. There is a touch of orange and burnt orange in the background.


The caramel and vanilla persist wonderfully onto the palate giving a strong base to the whiskey. Then the rye takes over providing a fantastic touch of heat and spice. Cinnamon and pepper are present in a lovely complimentary offset to the sweetness.


Quite a long finish with the orange citrus note back alongside the sweet and spice.

Well balanced bourbon, full of strong character points and gives great interest.

Availability- Check

for states in which it’s distributed.


Nelson’s First 108 Tennessee Whiskey Limited Release 45% abv

Distilled using the Lincoln County process (filtering through sugar maple charcoal) and commemorating 108 yrs since production ceased at Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery this limited release is a glimpse into what the guys are trying to create for the future. To assist with aging smaller casks are used initially before a final finishing in the more standard 53 gallon cask and then bottling at 45% abv or 90 proof.


Good looking whiskey for it’s age. Darker than I’d expect and a nice amber note to it.


Vanilla and caramel are present but not in any overpowering way. Demerara sugar notes are there alongside cinnamon.


Again a good base of brown sugar and vanilla alongside a slight toffee popcorn on which cinnamon and pepper notes are built on.


Slightly alcoholic burn on the finish but showing really good potential.


Availability- from the distillery- get yourself to Nashville!



Nelson’s Green Brier- Accidentally Reinventing a Distillery

It’s not everyday that you nip out to the butchers and come back with a distillery but in shorthand that’s what happened to Charlie and Andy Nelson.

The story begins generations ago, around 1820, with the family relocating from Hagenow in Germany to America. John Philip Nelson had sold his candle and soap business and converted all the family assets into gold. For safekeeping on the voyage to the US he had a suit specially designed to look after this expensive cargo. Sadly the ship went down and while family members were saved in lifeboats John Philip, weighed down by the suit, drowned. Arriving in New York with virtually nothing a 15 year old Charles found himself looking after the household.

Setting out in what he knew, soaps and candles, he got enough money together to move the family west, to Ohio. After a few years there they moved again to Nashville, here setting up a grocery business with a focus on coffee, meat and whiskey. The grocery business became a chain and 20 stores are still in existence today.

Charles Nelson realised that they were having some issues fulfilling orders on the whiskey side and stepped into the production area. He sold his interest in the grocery business and concentrated on whiskey full time. He was quick to understand that producing a reliable product was key and it’s wasn’t great business for people to have teeth falling out after consuming  your whiskey. He patented techniques for the production of safe whiskey and was an early adopter of selling in glass bottles rather that out the barrel, as was normal practice of the time. The business grew and grew and became the largest producer of Tennessee whisky at the time. Nelson’s was selling 2 million bottles and was capable of producing more than 16 times the amount of whiskey than his nearest competitors. Charles passed away quite suddenly and his wife Louisa took the business forward. She expanded into international sales but the storm clouds of prohibition were gathering in the US and in 1909 Tennessee adopted this policy. The Green Brier distillery ceased operations and Louisa sold the remaining stock and the site. She went on to support the suffragette movement , fighting for the vote for women, and in a movement that was not entirely in tune with the alcohol business.

The patent for safer whisky production still on the wall of the production area today


Fast forward to 2006 and the two boys, Charlie and Andy Nelson, were helping out their dad on a trip to Greenbrier and spotted their name on a historical marker. The butcher that they had gone to visit confirmed the family connection and the boys had a project! The curator of the Greenbrier Historical Society was able to expand on the family link and was even able to show the boys two of the original bottles of Nelson’s Greenbrier Tennessee Whisky.

Two of the old style bottles Andy and Charlie were shown

After three years of planning and research the boys opened the doors of the Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery 100 yrs after it had ceased operations. Their research has allowed them to follow the original recipes but ensure these are good for modern tastes.

The focus of production is on whiskies and bourbons although there have been a handful of ryes produced. Around 600kgs of cereals are used to give around 3000l of wash off the cooker for fermentation. In cooking they are looking for a pH in around 4.3 and Nelsons do use a higher malted barley percentage, well into the teens, compared to other producers. This has the effect of almost eliminating the need for any enzyme treatment.

Single strain yeast is pitched and fermentation allowed to proceed for around 96 hours achieving around 10-12% alcohol. Interestingly the vessels for fermentation are stainless steel and cubic in design and don’t have the the tapered conical that we are used to seeing in the UK.

The weather conditions play a significant role with temperatures here easily hitting 100deg F in the summer. As a result cooling regimes alter with city water, cooling towers or chillers all playing a role subject to the climate and also the cereals used in production.


Cubic Fermenters at Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery

Stills at Nelson’s Green Brier












Still runs are conducted over a two 6hr period and charcoal filtration also takes place to produce around 350 litres of finished product for barreling per run of fermentation.

Charcoal Filtration at Green Brier

Here barrels are new make US oak and come with a gorgeous vanilla and toasted smell. The 50 gallon barrels are filled with racking available at the back of the plant.


The range of product is growing with Tennessee whiskies and the Belle Meade Bourbon range under their control. The caramel notes, spices and flavours of these products will feature in our tasting report very soon.

With distribution spreading Charlie and Andy are heading for as much success as their predecessors in the business did.



With special thanks to Charlie Nelson and Goodloe Harman of Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery




American Whiskey Terms- A Glossary

The history of classifying whisky in America is long and difficult. From those that used to make all sorts of additions to the product, to a government that was interested in its tax revenue, to middlemen and distillers fighting for control of the market, to rebellions and funding of wars- the many and varied interests took years to sort out. Central to this was giving the consumer the confidence in what they were buying. The present day system owes much to President William Taft, he listened to various participants over many months, and settled on a system that is broadly still in use today. There have been additions along the way but the cornerstones of this work remains.


Whiskey- distilled from a selection of cereal grains using the creation of a cereal mash.

Bourbon- reserved name for product made in the USA , 51% corn, if less than 4 yrs old must have an age statement, aged in new charred oak barrels, no more than 160 proof off the still, no more than 125 proof for maturing, bottled at 80 proof minimum. Straight bourbons are not coloured or flavoured.

Rye- 51% Rye, no more than 160 proof off the still, no more than 125 proof for maturing, aged in new charred oak barrels, if aged more than 2 yrs can be called straight Rye.

Malt Whiskey-51% malted barley,  no more than 160 proof off the still, no more than 125 proof for maturing, aged in new charred oak barrels, if aged more than 2 yrs with no additions can be called straight Malt whiskey.

Corn Whiskey- made up from at least 80% corn. Can be sold unaged but if going into barrel this must be uncharred or a used barrel- otherwise it would be considered bourbon.

Moonshine- clear unaged whiskey is probably the best attempt at a definition and usually made from corn, can be made from a variety of sources and not currently part of the federal definitions.

Proof- similar to alcohol by volume- 80 proof equates to 40% abv

Bottled in Bond- 4 yrs old minimum, be the product of one distiller, with grain from one distilling season, bottled at 100 proof and aged under US government supervision. Applies to a handful of bourbons but can apply to any spirit- tends to be higher end product.

Single barrel- product from an exceptional single cask or selection of casks, typically filled one at a time so slight variation possible.

Mash bill- the different types of grain that go into making a product. e.g. bourbon must be 51% corn.

Sour mash- the re-use of already fermented mash back in to the new mash. Helps to control acidity levels and bacteria.

Sweet mash- no re use of distilled mash and so the mash is set using grains, water and yeast that is new every time.

Barrel proof- the actual proof or abv of the product in the barrel. This product isn’t cut down with water.