With Beale Street, Music City, and the Great Smoky Mountains on our minds this June, we’re waltzing into summer with a storied spirit, the humble beginnings of which went on to take the world by storm. And we promise, wherever the season finds you, with Tennessee whiskey in your glass, you’ll be feelin’ finer than frog’s hair.
There is one decisive detour that distinguishes the state’s beloved spirit from the bourbons of Kentucky, its neighbor to the north: sugar maple charcoal filtering. And we have Nathan “Nearest” Green—an expert distiller who was born into slavery and freed at the end of the Civil War—to thank for the advent of this now-famous method. Many, in fact, think Green might’ve adapted this practice not from how other spirits may have been filtered in America and worldwide, but from the traditional methods of treating water in West Africa. While Green’s legacy wasn’t widely recognized until 2016, back in the mid-1800s everyone knew whose heart, soul, and hard work was responsible when smoke was billowing out over the rolling hills of Lynchburg.
By contrast, everyone knows Jack Daniel, but the record has now been updated to reflect that Jasper (his birth name) was just an enterprising young boy ready for work when he was introduced to “Uncle Nearest,” who’d by then already mastered his craft and was amenable to teaching it. So began an apprenticeship for Jack and a lifelong friendship between the two that would kickstart the black-labeled Old No. 7 and turn it into a global icon, with Green staying on to distill as a free man and his children and grandchildren following suit.
Who knows how many missing pieces of history are out there, likewise waiting on thousands of hours of research to be uncovered? But we do know that, today, countless other tales are being told right before our eyes, especially when it comes to the Volunteer State’s light-bodied stamp on the spirit. Keep in mind, there are officially recognized Tennessee whiskeys—which must adhere to the Lincoln County Process of sugar maple charcoal filtration—and then there are simply whiskeys made in Tennessee, which skip the process at which Green so excelled but honor his passion and dedication by proudly telling their own stories in a bottle.
To spin a few yarns of their own with cocktails, we’ve got two Tennessean tour guides who are eager to bring you the beautiful vibes of their home state by serving up its legendary spirit in imaginative, summer-ready ways. Light your torches and kick back on your porches, because the Out to Tennessee Box is coming right up for some warm and hazy Southern-style sippin’! Subscribe now through June 10th to get this box—it’s shipping throughout the week of June 7th.
Second to sunscreen, the essential you’ll need to thrive in the high temps and bright rays will be a tall, sparkling glass of Hiwassee River Water. Nneka Ijeoma crafted this cocktail with summer fun in mind, name checking a Tennessee waterway known for fishing, rafting, and other rousing recreation. Grab your spot on the banks for a picnic and be sure to bring this whiskey and tonic, with a nudge of lemongrass and punch of cooling honeydew. While the proverb states that one swallow doesn’t make a summer, luckily that won’t be an issue with this one beckoning.
Nneka is a classically trained actress and singer who happened to fall in love with food and beverage on the way to her dreams. After moving to be with family in Chattanooga, she found it difficult to break into the local hospitality game—but since she got her shot behind the bar, she’s since had the pleasure of working with numerous chefs and bartenders of renown.
At the heart of your upcoming Summer Fling is a shrub with great depth of flavor from earthy, rich beets and fragrant rosemary. The color is a resplendent tone of red and the taste quite tempting when brilliantly balanced by Tennessee whiskey, sparkling water, and orange bitters. The effect is surprisingly stimulating and a supremely cooling and crushable way to drink your veggies. Swipe right on this peppy refresher from Samir Osman, and prime yourself for a second . . . third . . . and fourth date!
Samir Osman, a Nashville native, has worked in the hospitality industry for 25 years and has created cocktail programs in New York, New Orleans, the Bay Area, and, of course, in his hometown. His focus is on building creative cocktails using fresh quality ingredients that fit the local culture and palate.
Just like its musical influence, the cocktail Pancho and Lefty (remix) is a memorable study of two sides. The song doesn’t end well for the titular traveling outlaws but, in the glass, you’ll find that both teams within Tennessee whiskey—the faint char and sweet—aren’t in a duel, but a dance made even more delicious by another of Samir Osman’s recipes.
He’s turned the volume up on both, with smoked pecan wood coalescing with the spirit’s other wood elements, and bright peach and maple syrup lifting up its notes of vanilla and caramel. In the end, it’s a warming and summery taste—akin to a grilled peach—and an easygoing companion to happily bring back to camp.
The entire world knows this state’s whiskey well—but with many more distillers being added to the marquee, an inspired revival is underway. Come with us Out to Tennessee to greet the first signs of summer with great tunes and fantastic cocktails to match!
The Shaker & Spoon Team
*not vegan: nothing