Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery in Nashville Tennessee

nelsons distillery Nashville

Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery in Nashville Tennessee

While in Nashville, we got tipsy on some whiskey. Correction: Zach got tipsy on some whiskey. Steph sipped while Zach drank the majority of it because Steph is a wuss. 

We arrived at Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery in Nashville, Tennessee with low expectations. It was a stop on our city trolley tour so we figured, why not? Eleven dollars for a tasting sounds like a great deal, so let’s do it.  This little stop turned out to be one of our favorite experiences in Nashville- seriously.

What made this tasting & tour impact our day so much was simply the history we learned. The tour guide was so passionate about sharing the history behind the distillery and how two brothers brought it back to life. His passion made us feel like we knew these two brothers and we developed a love for the establishment… yes, even before we tasted any whiskey.

On the tour we spent about 30 minutes learning the history and touring the distillery where they were actively making whiskey at the time. Then we spent about 15 minutes tasting four kinds of whiskey. Zach loved the quality of their products and his favorite one was Nelson’s First 108 Tennessee Whiskey. Steph isn’t much of a whiskey person, but the tour was well worth it despite taking just baby sips of the whiskey.

We find ourselves sharing the story of this distillery with friends because it’s so incredible. It was an absolute privilege to hear the story so we must share it with you- with the hopes that if you ever visit Nashville, you’ll be moved to make a stop here.

Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery tour

The History of Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery

It all started in 1835 when Mr. Charles Nelson was born in Germany. Charles immigrated to the US with his parents and five siblings, but unfortunately his father didn’t survive the journey. His father was a savvy man who had all the family’s fortunes (of gold) sewn into his suit for the journey overseas. But unfortunately, winds and storms knocked him overboard and the gold weighed him down. The rest of the family made it to NYC but unfortunately without a cent to their name.

As the oldest of six children, Charles became the man of the household which proved to be even more important when their mother passed away from illness. He led the family in making soap and candles which was the family’s business in Germany. After saving enough money, he moved the family to Cincinnati to settle down. While there, Charles began working for a butcher and it is there he learned more about distilling whiskey. He fell in love with the process and this led to his decision to move to Nashville and start his own business.

There he opened a grocery store that sold just three items. Can you imagine keeping a business alive with only three things? They were meat, coffee, and whiskey. The quality of the whiskey was unmatched and nothing compared so it spread like wildfire. Everyone wanted his whiskey! He listened and decided to buy the whiskey distillery (that was already making his whiskey) and focus his business around just this one item.

By 1885 at 50 years old, his distillery was selling 2 million bottles a year and was being sold all around the world. He had a unique and high quality product that he distributed in bottles instead of jugs which increased the demand and ability to ship.

nelsons green brier distillery

In 1891 Charles passed away but his business-minded wife Louisa took over the business secretly. She signed her initials-only in correspondence so customers wouldn’t know she was a female. In those days, a business (let alone a distillery) was run by men only. She was a trailblazer and she kept the business alive and thriving.

Things were booming until 1909 when Prohibition hit the country which forced distilleries to close down. The End.

Louisa was moving onto a career in politics and Women’s Suffrage, so she tried to cover up the past about running a distillery. Therefore, the family stopped talking about it and passing the story along. They referred to charles as a moonshiner and that's it.

But wait...the story continues. And this is where it gets really good.

nelsons green brier distillery

In 2006, brothers Andy and Charlie, on a trip back home from college, were instructed to go pick up some meat at a butcher shop in Greenbrier, just north of their childhood home in Nashville. On their way, they stopped at a gas station and noticed a sign that said Nelson’s distillery. This reminded them of the stories they used to hear about their grandfather Charles “making moonshine.” Charles’s story never got passed down through the family so Andy and Charlie’s interest was peaked. Could they be related to this Nelson guy?

They asked the butcher and they learned of where they could go to discover more about this Nelson guy: The Greenbrier Historical Society. Oh boy, were they in for a treat.

The historical society had lots and lots of information on Charles Nelson and his distillery which even included his whiskey recipe and original whiskey bottles. Andy and Charlie knew right away- they were meant for this business. They had to re-open their grandfather’s distillery. In 2009 they made that happen, exactly 100 years after the distillery closed its doors. Since then they’ve been distilling their whiskey in barrels which they plan to release in 2019!

In our opinion: they’ve succeeded. The Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery is one big family business and we were pleased to be a part of it, if just for an hour.

nelsons green brier distillery

Visit Nelson's Green Brier Distillery

Tours are Monday-Saturday 11am-6pm every half hour and Sundays 11am-4:30pm every half hour but check their website to book in advance and be sure they’re open. 

1414 Clinton StreetNashville, TN 37203

(615) 913-8800


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About the Author

Hello, we are Zach (@zachdorworth) and Steph (@stephdorworth). We are Mr & Mrs traveling the world one romantic city at a time while perfecting obsessively organized travel.

  • Jean says:

    Looks like a great distillery to visit. Full of delicious drinks and a colorful history. My kinda place to go and visit

  • Anda says:

    Hahaha, my husband and I visited some some whiskey distilleries before and he did all the “tasting” because I am a wuss, like Steph! However, when we visited a distillery in Paso Robles that was making grape-based vodka, gin, and limoncello, I did most of the testing. Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery has a very interesting history. I guess the business survived because Louisa had the courage and determination to continue it.

  • Indrani says:

    I always try to know the history of places I visit, appreciate it a lot that the guide wanted to share it. And so good to know the grandsons are working hard to revive the distillery.

  • What a great story on how everything has started. Kudos to the grandchildren who re-opened their grandfather’s distillery 100 years later!

  • Shweta says:

    Meat, coffee and whiskey…haha…what a way to run a grocery store. It is amazing that you got to visit this family run business. I like visiting vineyards, distrilleries, cheese making small businesses on my travels as well.

  • layla says:

    This was AWESOME! I’ve always wanted to visit Nashville so this really put it high on my travel priority list. I love how happy you are in the photos too! Great read, thanks!

  • Suruchi says:

    That was quite an interesting read. I liked how Louisa kept the business alive and the best is opening up of distilled after 100 years by grand children. I am so fascinated by the story that I want to see this place in person. Great read.

  • Jitaditya says:

    What a great experience. Always like such places that have some history associated with them. This adds that extra dimension to the normal activities of drinking and eating.

  • carrie says:

    What a great backstory for a local institution like this. Meat, coffee and whiskey definitely sounds like the perfect set of products to open your grocery store with!

  • So many whiskeys to explore around the United States. I love stopping and trying all the different takes on whiskey. I have added this to my list of whiskeys to try.

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