This is the kind of thing I like to cover. Sourced whiskey, yes, but from an actual startup distillery with an actual still that is now producing its own actual distilled whiskey. Nelson’s Green Brier distillery in Nashville, Tennessee was a pre-prohibition powerhouse in the Tennessee Whiskey scene (complete with the Lincoln County Process, which is now required by law to bottle something called Tennessee Whiskey). The distillery closed its doors at the advent of Prohibition in 1909. Descendants of the original Charles Nelson reinvigorated the brand starting in 2009 and rebuilt the old distillery in Nashville.
To get the ball rolling, as many new distilleries must, they purchased bourbon (note: not Tennessee Whiskey) from Midwest Grain Products (MGP, formerly known as LDI), and bottled it under the Belle Meade label, one of Charles Nelson’s original brands. In a fitting ode to the way the industry worked then as now, the pre-prohibition Belle Meade was actually originally contracted to Nelson from a third party. The whiskey chosen from MGP was a 6-8 year-old “high rye” straight bourbon in batches of four barrels each, and was bottled without chill filtration at 45.2% ABV. The modern Nelsons also finished a number of casks in a variety of wine barrels, and an array of Belle Meade finishes can be found on shelves.
The distillery itself has been laying down Tennessee Whiskey under the Nelson’s label from a recipe cobbled together from historical sources, which we should see in distribution soon.
So, yet another MGP bourbon, huh? Let’s see what $35 worth of MGP gets us:
Nose: Oak-heavy, with strong astringent woody notes, cherry juice, cherry cough syrup, cloves, and dark brown sugar. As the drink rests in the glass, that brown sugar aroma intensifies, and it picks up additional rye spice notes, like mace and cacao.
Palate: A little dry up front, with a thin body. A strong tongue burn interrupts tasting, but resumes with a nice array of hard candies, cinnamon red-hots, corn syrup, molasses, and almond extract (marzipan).
Finish: A nice balance between dry and sweet, and not bitter. Fades with cherry, blanched almonds, and a bunch of baking spices, including cinnamon.
With Water: A few drops of water makes the aroma a lot sweeter – including vanilla frosting and sweet cream. The palate is largely the same, as is the finish. Water is welcome, but not needed.
Overall: A very nice but very middle-of-the-road bourbon. It’s a little pricey for the category at $35, though, where you can find gems like 1792 or (VOB if you’re lucky enough to live where it’s sold) for under $30. Still, I can’t be sad about MGP high-rye bourbon at 6 years of age. Any amount of the bottle that I don’t drink neat will make very nice Old Fashioneds and Whiskey Sours.