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.
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 on 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.
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.