An Expert’s Guide to Tennessee Whiskey

  • Photo by Richard Carleton Hacker
    Photo by Richard Carleton Hacker

Too often when a bartender is asked which bourbons his or her bar carries, the list invariably includes Jack Daniel’s sour-mash Tennessee whiskey. But as most residents of the Volunteer State know, Tennessee whiskey is an entirely different libation from bourbon, even though they share many traits. Bourbon must be made in the United States, but contrary to popular belief, it can be made anywhere in the country. It is by a unique combination of history and geography that 95 percent of all bourbon is now made in Kentucky—the Civil War, the realignment of state boundaries, and the proximity of waterways are among the reasons.

Tennessee whiskey, on the contrary, can only be made in Tennessee, which has been the case for well over a century. But there is another equally important characteristic of Tennessee whiskey: While both bourbon and Tennessee whiskey, by law, must be made from at least 51 percent corn and aged in new charred white-oak barrels, making Tennessee whiskey involves an additional step.

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