The expert-approved bottles you need from the Volunteer State.
Written by Jonah Flicker
There is a debate in the whiskey world about whether Tennessee whiskey actually qualifies as bourbon. Technically, you could argue that it meets all of the qualifications, including being made from a mash bill of 51 percent corn and aged in new charred oak containers. But one step that stands out is the Lincoln County process, in which the distillate is filtered through charcoal before being barreled and put into warehouses for aging. This is supposed to mellow or soften the whiskey, something brands like George Dickel and Jack Daniel’s claim to make the flavors shine.
There are smaller producers in Tennessee nowadays too, making whiskey that might not meet the legal definition of “Tennessee whiskey” (rye and single malt, for example), but is certainly distilled and aged in the Volunteer State. Here are the best bottles of Tennesse whiskey, according to bartenders, beverage directors, and members of the United States Bartenders’ Guild.
Best Bourbon: Heaven's Door Straight Bourbon
Tasting Notes: Baking Spice, Vanilla, Caramel
Heaven’s Door is known as being Bob Dylan’s whiskey brand, no small point of recognition. A distillery is being built in Nashville where the whiskey will eventually be produced. In the meantime, the brand sources different types of whiskey, including this release. The straight bourbon is a standout, produced in Tennessee but without undergoing the Lincoln County process. It’s aged for at least six years, and brings a mouthful of flavor and texture to every sip. Try this back to back with some Kentucky bourbon to see how well it stands up.
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Jonah Flicker is an experienced writer who has been covering spirits and traveling the world visiting distilleries for many years. His work has appeared in various national outlets reporting on trends, new releases, and the stories and innovators behind the spirits. His first love remains whiskey, but he is partial to tequila, rum, gin, cognac and all things distilled.