What is Tennessee Whiskey?

Whiskey is a classic liquor found across many cultures and countries around the world with its rich history dating back thousands of years. While there’s numerous versions of this particular spirit with origins sprawling across the planet, Tennessee’s is unique. Here’s why:

Tennessee whiskey can only be made in Tennessee

This probably comes across as obvious, but in order for a whiskey to behold the Tennessee name, it has to legally be produced within this southern state. The distilled spirit moved west to the Americas with our founding fathers before settling south. Its popularity even allowed it to become one of their top ten exports according to Distilled Spirits of the United States (or DISCUS for short), and it’s been as such even before the Civil War! In fact, the nation’s very first act of prohibition was in part to the popularity of this hard liquor due to the Confederates’ need for manpower and resources during wartime. Whiskey’s had a home in those Blue Ridge mountains ever since. Needless to say, Tennessee’s climate and geography make it the perfect home for whiskey production; it has over thirty of its own distilleries, and the state’s become more inviting to more after ridding itself of nearly impregnable prohibition era laws.

Not only does Tennessee Whiskey have to be made within state lines, it has to follow strict guidelines and an exclusive production process to carry the title.

Smooth as Tennessee Whiskey: The Lincoln County Process

Otherwise known as Charcoal Mellowing, this filtration measure is exclusive to Tennessee Whiskey, which provides it with that signature smooth taste. This technique is largely credited to Alfread Eaton for inventing, and the process involves seeping the liquor through charcoal chips before being aged in charred barrel oaks. The process leads to a rich, mellow flavor. In addition, the LCP also allows for the liquor to leapfrog the aging process which many spirits adhere to, and could be consumed much earlier. Even though all Tennessee Whiskeys must follow the Lincoln County Process according to law, some of the other requirements are much more vague, such as the time it has to age, or how often the charcoals need to be changed. Because of this, there’s a plethora of options at bars and on liquor store shelves for us to choose from.

Pro tip: although there’s no clear guidelines as to how long Tennessee Whiskey is aged for, we could get an indication right on the label. If it says “Straight,” it’s been aged for a minimum of two years, and when the label reads “Bottled-in-Bond,” then it’s at least four years of age.

The Taste of Tennessee Whiskey

Although this liquor could be compared to its bourbon brother just a state over with its similar make and ingredients, it would be unfair to use them synonymously. They may share vanilla, caramel, and toasted oak notes, but Tennessee Whiskey is much mellow than its Kentuky sibling. The Lincoln County filtration process also leads to Tennessee’s to be sweeter and smoother in texture.

For the adventurous eaters and culinary types, you could even cook with Tennessee Whiskey! I don’t mean manning the barbeque grill with a cocktail next to the chef (nor do I advocate for open liquor and a buzz near open flames no matter how fun it sounds), but the liquor makes a great flavor enhancer for many recipes. From marinades, to pan searing, this spirit could bring to life many recipes. Although it’s used on a lesser scale than its bourbon brother for cooking, the use of Tennessee whiskey in the kitchen is ever growing in popularity.

Circling back to the Lincoln County Process and its loose yet strict guidelines, the flavor could surely vary within the many brands too due to its age and the charcoal used.

How it’s served

Tennessee Whiskey is very mellow compared to most alcoholic beverages. It’s often enjoyed neat (without water, ice, or mixers) by casual consumers and connoisseurs alike, but if you’re the latter of the two and consider yourself an aficionado, you may even consider the glass your whiskey is served in for optimal flavor.

Glencarin glass is the drinking vessel of choice for whiskey buffs who enjoy theirs neat or with a drop of water. It’s often found in labs as it’s specifically engineered to bring out the aroma and flavors of the liquor. If you don’t have one of these readily available, tulip shaped glass and whiskey tumblers would do just fine.

Straight shooting Tennessee Whiskey is not for everyone (see also ‘Best Whiskey To Drink Straight‘). It makes a perfect companion to colas as found in Jack and Coke because of its vanilla and caramel notes, or accented with citrus commonly found in Lynchburg Lemonade.


Tennessee Whiskey is a staple in American liquor. From its rich history predating the civil war to its smooth transitions into current pop culture. Although it can only be distilled within state lines, the spirit is surely available worldwide at liquor stores and bars alike.

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