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The Absolute Best Whiskeys From Tennessee

Best Tennessee Whiskeys 0 Hero
Photo: Sweetens Cove 21 Blended Straight Bourbon

Among the most revered whiskey regions in the world, Tennessee boasts some of the most wide-ranging spirits in the country, and without being held down by the stipulations of Kentucky-style bourbon. That said, the Volunteer State makes some fine bourbons as well — whether or not distilleries choose to label them as such — and can also claim to be the home of one Jack Daniel, whose spirits empire is nearly unrivaled across the globe. 

Following a statewide Prohibition in 1910, which in turn gave way to the federal Prohibition in 1920, the state of Tennessee — which once boasted upwards of 700 licensed distilleries in the late 1800s — lost all of its whiskey production at one time. After Prohibition’s repeal in 1933, Jack Daniel’s was the first to reopen, followed by George Dickel some two decades later. Now, Tennessee whiskey can shine once again, with a few dozen notable distilleries open today, and seemingly more coming each year. To highlight some of our favorites, we’ve compiled a guide to the best Tennessee whiskeys you should be on the lookout for.

Best Tennessee Whiskeys

Is Tennessee Whiskey The Same As Bourbon?

All About The Corn

Aside from the requirement that it be made in the actual state of Tennessee in order to label it as such, Tennessee whiskey is actually quite similar to bourbon — and often is bourbon. Bourbon, after all, can be made anywhere in the United States as long as it adheres to the six mandatory criteria — most importantly, that it be made of at least 51% corn. However, there are plenty of good rye options that come from Tennessee as well.

Conversely, there are no standards of regulation for Tennessee whiskey according to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. As far as state law, however, corn-based spirits produced in the Volunteer State must undergo an additional step called the Lincoln County Process, where the liquid is filtered through a layer of maple charcoal prior to aging. Practiced in the state as early as 1825, this charcoal filtering is said to improve the flavor of the whiskey and make it smoother.

Uncle Nearest 1856

Uncle Nearest 1856

Best Overall: Few distilleries have been as hot over the past couple of years as Uncle Nearest, named after Nathan “Nearest” Green, the emancipated slave who taught and trained Jack Daniel in the art of whiskey making, came up with the brand’s iconic recipe, and became its first-ever master distiller (and the first African-American master distiller in the U.S.). Launched in 2017, Uncle Nearest has a handful of spirits already, including this debut expression that underwent the Lincoln County Process and has been winning award after award ever since.

ABV: 50%
Tasting Notes: Maple, spice, pecan pie

George Dickel Barrel Select

George Dickel Barrel Select

Best Runner-Up: We’re all aware of Jack Daniel’s lasting heritage and importance to the whiskey world. But special mention should be made of George Dickel, whose lineage dates back to 1877, even though its current brand didn’t begin making batches until 1964 due to a Prohibition-caused hiatus. The second-largest Tennessee distillery makes plenty of quality expressions, but none of them draw the attention of enthusiasts like its Barrel Select, made from a batch of 10 barrels aged between 9 and 12 years. One of the best representations of what Tennessee whiskey is capable of, this expression features a palate of vanilla, spice, and smoke.

ABV: 43%
Tasting Notes: Vanilla, spice, smoke

George Dickel #12

George Dickel No12

Best Cheap Option: At around $20, George Dickel’s #12 (which has nothing to do with its age) is the best cheap option you can find. Sure, there are the Jack Daniel’ses of the bunch, but #12 gives you the complexity of a sipping whiskey without ever pricing out newcomers (or those on a budget). Of course, you can throw this in a cocktail as well, but don’t you want a spirit that can be versatile? Made from a mashbill of 85% corn, 8% rye, and 8% malted barley, this expression holds no official age statement yet has been winning awards for nearly 20 years.

ABV: 45%
Tasting Notes: Toffee, molasses, roasted nuts, smoke, leather, tobacco

Sweetens Cove 21 Blended Straight Bourbon

Sweetens Cove 21 Blended Straight Bourbon

Best Top-Shelf: Back in 2020, Peyton Manning and Andy Roddick teamed up with Woodford Reserve Master Distiller Marianne Eaves to launch Sweetens Cove, which has now risen the ranks to transcend any stigmas about celebrity whiskeys. This hugely popular expression blends three barrels of 4-, 6-, and 16-years (the “21” on the bottle refers to the year it came out) and soars with warm and dynamic notes of vanilla, brown sugar, toffee, berries, and ginger, with a little extra heat coming from its 112-proof bottling.

ABV: 56%
Tasting Notes: Vanilla, brown sugar, toffee, berries, ginger

Heaven’s Door Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Heavens Door Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Best Tennessee Bourbon: While a lot of Tennessee whiskey is technically bourbon, only a few are willing to label themselves as such. One of the most prolific distilleries from the state also happens to be one that wears the “bourbon” label proudly (and is even looking to expand distillation into Kentucky) is Heaven’s Door. Co-founded by Bob Dylan in 2018, Heaven’s Door is not your typical celebrity-owned whiskey; it’s actually very good. This flagship expression was aged for 6 years in small batches before bottling at 92-proof. It has savory notes of caramel, dried fruit, bread, and butter.

ABV: 46%
Tasting Notes: Caramel, dried fruit, bread, butter

Chattanooga Whiskey 99 Straight Rye Malt

Chattanooga Whiskey 99 Straight Rye Malt

Best Rye: Launched in 2011 as the first legal distillery in its namesake city since Prohibition, Chattanooga Whiskey is one of the most popular craft distilleries in Tennessee. This 99-proof expression is made from four grains and aged for more than 3 years. As opposed to a standard rye whiskey, the rye grain in its mashbill has been malte, giving the liquid a dynamic and deceptively complex profile of fruit, herbs, butter, brown sugar, and unique rye spice.

ABV: 44.5%
Tasting Notes: Fruit, herbs, butter, brown sugar, spice

Corsair Triple Smoke

Corsair Triple Smoke

Best Single Malt: American single malt will soon be an official spirits category, but there are a handful of distilleries who’ve been doing it for years. In Tennessee, there aren’t a whole lot of options, but Corsair’s Triple Smoke is the clear winner regardless. Even within its category, the Nashville native has some fun with its award-winning expression, which combines three separate malts, each smoked with either cherry wood, beechwood, or peat. The peat is sourced from Scotland itself and provides a beautiful complexity to the overall whiskey, which also features cherry, honey, and caramel notes.

ABV: 40%
Tasting Notes: Smoke, cherry, honey, caramel

Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Barrel-Proof

Jack Daniels Single Barrel Barrel Proof

Best Barrel Proof: We couldn’t have a Tennessee whiskeys list without picking our favorite expression from Jack Daniel’s. Sure, you could spend hundreds of dollars on the brand’s Coy Hill or Twice Barreled releases, but any practical person would want to know what’s really the best Jack to purchase right now. Well, this is it! Bottled between 125- and 140-proof, depending on the batch, this was the company’s first-ever barrel-proof expression, building on the excellence of the already-popular Single Barrel and the best aspects of Old No.7’s vanilla and oak profile.

ABV: 62.5%+
Tasting Notes: Vanilla, oak, cocoa, pepper

Bib & Tucker 6 Year

Bib and Tucker 6 Year

Best Non-Distiller Producer: Non-distiller producers (companies who bottle and distribute liquid from other distilleries) are becoming more and more popular these days. However, few have managed to overcome the stigma like Bib & Tucker, a California-based producer who ages and distills its bourbon whiskey in Tennessee — which is what matters most — perhaps because the brand actually knows what it’s doing and is part of the actual process. It carefully selects its oak barrels, tailors the mashbill, and then artfully crafts its liquid. This expression was aged for 6 years before being placed in this Prohibition-style flask-shaped bottle that also looks great on your shelf.

ABV: 46%
Tasting Notes: Fruit, vanilla, caramel, dried apricots, ginger spice

The Best Bourbon Whiskey from Texas

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Photo: Milam & Greene The Castle Hill Series 13 Year

Curious about exploring non-Kentucky bourbons even further? Check out our guide to the best bourbon from Texas.