Meet One of Tennessee Whiskey’s Oldest Brands. Andy and Charlie Nelson of Nelson’s Greenbrier Distillery


It’s a great pleasure to feature the Nelson Brothers of Nelson’s Greenbrier Distillery(@TNWhiskeyCo) located in Nashville, TN. These guys and their family have a heritage and history in the whiskey business unlike anyone else. It’s a great story. Enjoy!

Sherman: For the benefit of our readers, share what business were you guys in prior to the Robertson County Tennessee epiphany that lead you to the business of distilling great whiskey? Was there anything in your backgrounds other than genetics that prepared you to launch a whiskey brand?  For benefit of our readers, a link to their extended story.

Andy: Charlie and I both studied philosophy in college because we enjoyed learning it and we weren’t sure what we wanted to do with the rest of our lives. I knew what I didn’t want to do and that was sit in a cubicle all day. Not my thing. Right out of college I got an internship at the Country Music Association here in Nashville, and then I started as a video editor for a software publishing company. I was the low man on the totem pole, teaching myself the ropes and really enjoying it. Then, when we discovered the family history I knew exactly what I wanted to be doing. I always say that my background with the study of philosophy prepared me well for this business despite what most think. My personal belief is that it can prepare you for anything

Sherman: You’ve now done a considerable amount of family research as a result of the heritage you uncovered and quickly verified about your ancestors. What are two or three qualities you’ve now learned that are predominant in the family that were present in your third generation Great Grandfather and Great Grandmother?

Andy: Certainly entrepreneurship is a quality that runs in our family, but I didn’t fully realize it until fairly recently. Charles Nelson started his own business as a grocer and then took control of the distillery that was producing the whiskey he was selling. He ran the distillery quite successfully, but he also helped fund the opening of a bank that had great success of its own. After he passed, his wife Louisa, my great-great-great grandmother, took over the distillery operation and continued its successful operation for an additional 18 years. Our dad started his own educational software company, our uncle is a successful restaurateur, our aunt has started and owned multiple successful companies of her own, so it’s obvious that an entrepreneurial spirit runs in the family.

Perhaps another quality that runs in the family, and a great source of pride, would be the acceptance and celebration of all types of people with all different backgrounds. This is a quality that Charles and Louisa taught their children and it became apparent as the children struck out on their own as adults. Their daughter Emma attended Vassar College and gave the 1886 commencement speech about the imperative for the fair and equal treatment of African Americans. This was a woman who didn’t even have the right to vote, but who felt strongly enough to speak publicly about the issue as a singular voice on stage. Integrity in one’s beliefs is something I admire greatly and I am extraordinarily proud to know that our family practices it with passion. With such polarization in today’s global cultural and political climate, it makes me proud to think that my ancestors have always tended to be on the right side of history when it counted the most.

Sherman: For those with a passion around spirits, wine and beer, what would you offer as the best two tips for launching a brand? 

Andy: One of the most important things is to keep the passion burning, without allowing anyone to extinguish that flame. It’s the single most important thing to motivate you because in the process of starting, the one word you will hear most often is “no.” However, if you truly believe in what you are doing, you can make it happen. Secondly, and this goes with any new venture, be cool-headed and reasonable in any negotiations and dealings. When you have great passion for something, it’s easy to lash out if you don’t hear what you want to hear. Its important to make sure that  you always remember to see the other person’s point of view in an honest and fair way.

Sherman: You’ve received rave reviews and awards for your release of the new barrel-finished product, an Oloroso Sherry Cask edition. You’ve received accolades for your bourbon aged in barrels used for the aging of fine Cognacs, i.e. the Cognac Cask Finished Belle Meade Bourbon.(@BelleMeadeBRBN) What was it about the pursuit of this set of flavor profiles that made them so attractive to you? Something tells me that market and profit potential are not the only questions you guys ask of yourselves when you’re considering line extensions. What drew you to these choices? 

Andy: We came out with the Sherry Cask Finished Belle Meade Bourbon (@BelleMeadeBRBN) because we wanted a fresh idea for a new line extension. Up to that point, we had only ever sold the Classic BMB, as we call it, and it was time to add to the portfolio. We knew that Scotch Whiskeys did (and do) a lot of Sherry cask finishing and we were interested in learning more. We got really lucky – we immediately fell in love after our first experiment with Oloroso. I knew we didn’t even need to test out PX, Fino, or any other type of Sherry because the Oloroso impressed the hell out of me. The complementary flavor profiles of the Bourbon and the Oloroso cask could not appeal more to my personal palate. From the nose through to the finish each sip is like a roller coaster of flavor – that’s how I like my whiskey. With the success of the Sherry Cask Finished product we realized it would be foolish to stop there. People were clamoring for more and the exciting prospect of releasing new ideas and products energized us. The Cognac Cask Finish followed, it’s quite different from the Sherry Cask Finish, drawing in a diverse set of palates. Most recently we released the Madeira Cask Finish and it’s more of the same response – great excitement and enthusiasm. Perhaps more similar to the Sherry Cask, it provides a bit more candied sweetness, giving our line of Belle Meade Bourbon an even greater appeal to whiskey drinkers.

Sherman: Share with us a couple of your favorite bars. Could be in Nashville but they don’t have to be. Share with us a couple of your favorite places to enjoy your product.

Andy: I love 308 (@No308)here in Nashville, it’s right down the street from my house, so it’s a go-to. I have lots of favorites in the DC area, in particular Derek Brown’s (@betterdrinkingplaces are some of the best anywhere – The Columbia Room, Eat the Rich, Southern Efficiency, and Mockingbird Hill – it’s impossible not to feel at home in those places. Alexandria, Virginia has another great bar called PX (@BarPX) and I’m a huge fan of it. Great drinks and a very cozy atmosphere.

From GreenBriarDistillery.com

Sherman: What is it like to go in and see your product on the bar and featured on the menu? Describe that feeling.

Andy: It will really never get old and of course now I have a completely different focus every time I walk into a bar. It’s one of the coolest things ever seeing a bottle with your own name behind the bar and it’s an entirely different thrill to overhear someone call that pour by name. If that ever happens I’ll buy the drink for that person and thank them for enjoying my product – it’s not a feeling that can be easily described.

Sherman: I mentioned previously, the authenticity of your story and your brand. There are few in the market with the heritage of your company. How is this history conveyed as a part of your company culture? How do your employees experience the pride and history of your brand? Do you guys do anything intentional in the hiring of people to propagate and promote the history?

Andy: We absolutely make sure that every employee of our company understands and has a deep appreciation for the history of our family and company. We know that without the history, Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery (@TNWhiskeyCoas it is today would not exist. Fortunately, our passion seems to be contagious. Our employees truly exude that same sense of passion with each tour they give and with each bottle they fill. We believe that everyday we are a part of making history and our employees are a real and important part of that history.

Sherman: Nashville saw 13.2 million visitors in 2016. My guess is a significant number of them came to see your facility and take the tour. Is expansion in the works anytime soon? 

Andy: Nashville is most certainly booming right now and we are much better off for it. We have grown with each year in terms of guests walking through the door and participating in our distillery experience. The production portion has also experienced growth and we are in the process of searching for more barrel warehouse space. While this could be seen as a problem, it is a problem we feel lucky to have. It has always been our plan to max out the capacity of our current distillery and in the future build a much larger production facility, and we are hopeful that we can do that as close to the original in Greenbrier, Tenn. as possible. We will, of course, keep our current spot here in Marathon Village near downtown Nashville, but expansion is on the horizon.

Sherman: What’s next for the Nelson brothers? Stay the course?  Launch more of the 30 odd types of whiskey distilled by your ancestors?

Andy: We do have plans to expand those brands in the future but this is a long, slow process and we remain patient in our growth.

Sherman: This has been great guys. As a long time bourbon fan and a 27 year resident of Nashville, I thank you for what you’re doing for Middle TN, for the bourbon culture, and for history in general. How might the reader of this article best connect with Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery? 

Andy: Thank you very much, this has been a real pleasure! We appreciate your interest and support and hope we can make you even more proud to be a Nashvillian! The best way to connect with us would be through our website or any social media channels, all listed below…

greenbrierdistillery.com

Facebook: facebook.com/GreenBrierDistillery/

Twitter: @TNWhiskeyCo

Instagram: @TNWhiskeyCo