Behind the Barrel with Belle Meade’s Andy and Charlie Nelson

Straight from Red Clay Soul’s Instagram

Things have a strange way of working out.  On a recent trip to an upscale liquor store here in Atlanta, I accidentally came across Belle Meade, a Tennessee ‘Bourbon,’ and was immediately intrigued.  Now, anyone that has any bourbon knowledge knows that not all bourbon comes from that county in Kentucky.  Being a bourbon lover is hard work.  There are so many good options to choose from, and there are quite a few that don’t deserve a second sip.  Half the fun is in the hunt.  When you find one you like, it gets added to the artillery.  Extra points if there is a good story that goes along with that bottle.

Belle Meade is just that for me: delicious bourbon that mixes well, is delicious over ice, and is mighty fine served neat.  It is 90 proof, so beware.  The flavor is just what I like, and the price point right where it should be.  This isn’t cheap bourbon, but it isn’t going to break the bank.  I did a little research on Belle Meade, and really enjoyed the story behind the bottle.  Belle Meade is a product of the Nelsons’ Green Brier Distillery, a family owned and operated outfit that produces one hell of a small batch bourbon.  Charlie and Andy Nelson, the great-great-great grandsons of Charles Nelson, the original founder, run the distillery today.

From the Nelson Green Brier Distillery website:

“Brothers Andy Nelson and Charlie Nelson have always had a lot in common. Both graduated from Loyola Marymount with degrees in the Humanities concentrating on Philosophy; both are history buffs, true southern gentlemen and proud of their family roots. But when they set out to resurrect Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery, founded in the 1800s by their great-great-great grandfather Charles Nelson, the boys realized their kinship ran deeper than blood. They both had spirit pulsing through their veins. So in their mere 20s, the Nelson brothers have set on a grand journey—not just to make and sell whiskey—but also to rebuild a business that helped bring the term ‘Tennessee Whiskey’ to America and Europe. Through researching, seeking capital, crafting brands from Charles Nelson’s original recipes and putting bottles of their small-batch bourbon on shelves, they are the essence of the American dream and spirit”.  Couldn’t have said it any better.

Andy and Charlie were nice enough to sit down for a chat:

How did you two get into the Bourbon business?  We really rediscovered the history of our family’s company about 7 years ago. We were in Greenbrier, Tennessee with our Dad buying some meat from a butcher. Our Dad had gone in with some friends to buy a whole cow worth of meat and we were there picking up our quarter. We had grown up hearing the story of Charles Nelson (our great-great-great grandfather) coming to America on a boat after his father had fallen overboard and drowned with the family fortune sewn into his clothes and we knew that there was a Nelson family distillery in Greenbrier, but we didn’t know quite how big it was. We asked the butcher if he knew anything about the distillery and he told us to look across the street. There were three buildings still standing from more than 100 years ago – a barrel warehouse, a grain house, and the springhouse- and the original spring was still running. We drank from the spring and then were told to check out the nearby historical society. When we got there, we saw two original bottles of Nelson’s Green Brier Tennessee Whiskey and immediately fell in love. We knew right then that we were going to get the family back into the business.

Over the past few years, Bourbon has gone from ‘your granddad’s drink’ to ‘mainstream’.  How do you guys feel about that?   I love it. Not only because it helps our own business but also because bourbon, and whiskey in general, is such a fantastic spirit with so much depth and history. There’s this romantic aspect to bourbon that people really latch onto and it is a real pleasure to be a part of. Not to mention, bourbon is truly America’s native spirit and knowing that we have a hand in the enjoyment and storytelling that goes along with sipping on a nice bourbon makes it all worth it. I might add that bourbon isn’t just your granddad’s drink; it’s your great-great-great granddad’s drink!

Describe the taste and flavor of Belle Meade?   Belle Meade Bourbon has a nice sweet nose with vanilla, caramel, and even a little citrus zest. The high rye content really shines through on the front end, giving the tongue some tingle and spice. It rounds out on the finish with some fantastic stone fruit notes developing on the back of the palate.

What is a typical day like for you two?   Busy. We recently brought a new team member on board but we are still a small team and we all really do everything, which means there’s no such thing as a “typical” day. We generally start off the day responding to emails and phone calls but we are currently working on planning our tourist facility and tasting room so there are plenty of legal issues to deal with there too. Wrangling current distributors and dealing with potential future distributors can at times feel like herding cats and takes a lot of time and energy and traveling is a big part of our business right now. It’s exciting though, I know there’s nothing else in the world that we’d rather be doing and despite the paperwork and unexciting things about running a business, it’s part of our job to travel to great cities, talk to the best bartenders and chefs around, drink whiskey with our own names on the bottle, and talk about our family. A lot of people tell us we have the dream job and I don’t disagree one bit.

What is your favorite way to drink Belle Meade?   Easy question. Neat.

College football season is coming up, which is synonymous with Bourbon here in the South.  Who are you pulling for this year?   If it’s not too politically incorrect to say, we’re both Vandy and Tennessee fans. It’s been hard to be a Vanderbilt football fan until pretty recently, so we’re excited about that, but the rivalry has traditionally been so one-sided that it hasn’t been difficult to accept. I’m interested to see how things go this year and in the near future but I admit, I was pretty excited about a certain 41-18 victory (Vandy over UT) in Nashville last year.

What is playing on your iPods?

Charlie: Rodriguez, Father John Misty
Andy: Justin Townes Earle, Billy Joe Shaver

Be on the lookout for Belle Meade, folks.  It’s definitely worth a try.  Be careful, though…all those other bourbons may feel neglected in short order.

Thanks to the good folks at Onward Reserve for posting this on their Gazette.  Good company likes good company.

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3 Comments

  1. Stephen
    08/19/2013 / 10:19 AM

    I grew up with these guys. Good guys. Great bourbon.

  2. Steve
    08/19/2013 / 12:13 PM

    Did they give any indication as to when they would be distilling and barreling their own bourbon? The Belle Meade on the shelves right now is a sourced product (produced in either Lawrenceburg, IN or Bardstown, KY), and not a product of their ‘distillery’.

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