View Full Version : Tennessee Research

03-26-2001, 17:14
As promised, I am going to make a more complete report about my trip to Nashville to look into Tennessee distilling history. First of all I want to thank Tom Kanon and Darla Brock for all of the help they gave me. This help put me ahead of the game and allowed me to spend more time researching and less time looking for collections to read. They are great people who are both professional and efficient as well as friendly and knowledgable.

As I said before, I did not find any history making revelations but did find many interesting bits and pieces. I started by looking at a ledger from a distillery in Smith County, Tennessee (owner's name not in the ledger but Darla is going to see if there is any name in the accession records for me). This ledger is from 1817-1821 and mostly covers sales to his neighbors with sales ranging from the pint to the barrel. The sale that caught my eye as the most interesting was the 26 Feb. 1818 sale to William Driver for 2 qts. of whiskey at 25 cents each and paid for with a hen turkey worth 50 cents. There were other barters such as a book titled "Life of Washington" worth $1.25 and several who paid for their whiskey with a day's labor. Cash was only used about 50% of the time.

I then looked through the account book of Kindred Pearson dated from 1811-1837. He was again selling whiskey and brandy to his neighbors in Bedford County (now Moore County), Tennessee. On the 5 Oct. 1815 he hired Aaron More who "began to stil for me at 12 dollars pr month". There was once again a lot of barter sales but not as much as in Smith County. I need to get a good map of Tennessee to check the geography of these places to see if that might effect the amount of cash available in each area.

In the Demoss Family Papers there was a wealth of information about their distillery and mill. Their mill ground grain and was also a saw mill. The papers date from 1806-1935 and they kept many ledgers of their sales. They also sold whiskey and brandy from the pint to the barrel. It also looks like they were using 32 gallon barrels and would take an old barrel in exchange for the barrel charge on their whiskey. Barrels cost 50 cents each.

The next collection was that of John Overton who was the tax collector in Tennessee in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. His letter book of 1800-1804 is very interesting. He describes the difficulties of collecting the still tax. While I had no luck with the whiskey rebellion (Tennessee was not a state until it was over) you can see many of the same problems in Tennessee as there would have been in Kentucky. On 8 Jan 1802 John McAllister (Overton's boss in Washington) writes that he he has received a letter stating John Hammer has been distilling spirits and brandy for the last 3 years and should be paying his taxes. There is a form letter from Washington explaining to the tax collector the whiskey tax and how it should be enforced.

The whiskey rebellion records were not a complete bust in Tennessee because I did find a ledger in the Jacob McGavock Dickinson papers that list the legal distilleries in Tennessee from 1795-1801. They were all what we would call farmer distillers with one to three stills ranging in size from about 40 gallons to 160 gallons in capacity. This list the still size, location, owner, and tax paid.

The Daniel Montgomery Papers 1788-1964 also had a wealth of distilling information in the 1840's. Barrels had gone up to $1.00 each. but more importantly you start seeing request for aged whiskey. There are several request in these papers from a J. H. Franklin for whiskey "the older the better" for making tinctures and other medicines. There is also an 1846 letter explaining the "Tippling Law" regulating houses selling liquor.

I also did a little "fishing" while researching these collections checking into slave records to see if any of the slaves were involved in the distillery or as coopers. Unfortunately I did not find any such records this trip, but I will keep fishing. You know that on these big plantations that the slaves were involved so it would be nice to find out more about their role.

Mike Veach

03-27-2001, 19:32
Wow! What a gold mine of information. Was this expedition centered on early transactions and records? Are you planning to explore commercial Tennessee distilleries in operation say, between 1900 and 1910 (Tennessee prohibition)? Or has someone already published anything about them? I'm curious as to why there were no revivals, save two that had gone on to become Kentucky distillers. And were there also other Tennessee distillers who fled to Kentucky and WEREN'T successful?

There's a fellow doing some research on old Tennessee whiskey JUGS who I put in touch with you. Did you get a chance to visit with him while you were there?


03-28-2001, 07:29
Great report Mike! Thanks for keeping us informed on your research findings. Anything about the use of charred barrels? Was charcoal leeching ever used in lieu of charred barrels?

Linn Spencer

Have Shotglass. /wwwthreads/images/smile.gif Will Travel.

03-28-2001, 16:40
I concentrated mostly on the early history this trip and will probably do so again on the next trip. I do plan to look at later Tennessee distilling but I hav some information already from my research on Dickel and Jack Daniel's. One thing I want to look into is Sanborn Maps. I hope there is a whiskey survey in Tennessee like there is for Kentucky and if there is I will be able to see just how many were using the leaching vat process.

Mike Veach

03-28-2001, 16:43
I am looking for descriptions of the distilling process in the form of letters and such as I do my research. So far no mention of leaching vats or charred barrels. Wouldn't that raise some eyebrows if a distiller in the 1780's in Tennessee was using charred barrels?
Mike Veach

03-30-2001, 23:36
Thank You for that wonderful report Mr. Veach! We are happy to see that you've put our modest research grant to good use. We here at the Bourbon Research Advancement Society are more than happy to help. Anyone who would like to contribute to this worthy cause may do so by simply sending me a private message to HA-BRAS for more information.

Heronimus Anonymus

Director - Bourbon Reaserch Advancement Society

06-07-2001, 16:27
Yesterday I had to travel to Nashville for work and I was able to get in a couple more hours of research at the state archive. I spent this time looking at Sanborn Insurance Maps from 1885 to 1910. I avoided Dickel and Jack Daniel because I have seen them before and I wanted to see other Tennessee distilleries for comparison. what I found was very interesting.

First of all I found only one distillery with leeching vats and that was the Greenbrier Distillery owned by Charles Nelson in Springfield, Tennessee. It was also the only distillery of any great size of the dozen or so that I found. It had one warehouse with a 5,000 barrel capacity with Patent Racks (modern barrel racks patanted by Stitzel). It was built in 1867 and re-built in 1882, probably after a fire, made a sour mash whiskey with 6 fermenters and 3 leeching vats. Greenbrier jugs and labels do call it a "Tennessee Whiskey".
Springfield was interesting in that it seemed to be the Bardstown of Tennessee with 6 distilleries. Three of them were owned by the Woodard family and one was owned by J.S. Brown who I thought at first was J.T.S. Brown but a later map hap it identified as Josephine Brown. This is only the second time I have found a distillery owned by a woman. The other was Mary Dowling who owned Waterfield and Frasier during prohibition and moved it to Mexico. She had a small warehouse with only 265 barrels in bond in 1888 and made sour mash whiskey in a still of 21 bushels capacity. A true farmer distiller. The distillers was listed as the "Wart Race" distillery but this could have been an error since there is a town in Tennessee called War Trace. By 1903 it is listed as closed and going to ruin.
I also found it interesting that there were several "Sweet Mash" distilleries. This may be because of the size of their operations. Maybe they never made whiskey on a large enough scale to make a sour mash whiskey.

Mike Veach

06-08-2001, 20:49
Thanks for sharing your research with us. I find it fascinating and informative.

Your last paragragh raises a few questions. What does a sweet-mash whiskey taste like? (I am assuming that it would have a different flavor profile than sourmash.) Has anyone here tasted a sweet-mash whiskey? I wonder how the distiller obtained any sort of consistency between batches?


06-11-2001, 15:43
Before prohibition there were several distillers that advertised their products as "sweet mash" bourbon, including Jim Beam. I don't know what the taste difference was because I have never had a bourbon that I knew for sure was "sweet mash". I don't think it would have been too much different in taste since the sour mash process is mostly a quality control process, but I could be wrong. As far as consistancy goes, I would guess that had more to do with their ability to keep their yeast strain pure and that their mash cooker and fermenters were clean and bacteria free.
Mike Veach

06-12-2001, 08:05
Regarding the taste of "sweet mash" bourbon, Mike wrote: "I don't think it would have been too much different in taste since the sour mash process is mostly a quality control process."

That is my understanding as well.

--Chuck Cowdery (http://cowdery.home.netcom.com)

09-22-2001, 12:00

I stumbled across the following page about TN distilleries entitled: "Tennessee Distilleries: Their Rise, Fall, and Re-emergence" (http://spider.georgetowncollege.edu/htallant/border/bs12/gaston.htm).

hope it helps!

09-22-2001, 19:15
Thank you very much, John. That is a very informative link.

I have been a big fan of George Dickel No. 12 for about 20 years. However, all the excellent bourbons I've been tasting for the past 10 weeks or so are pushing it hard. I need to re-sample it to see where it fits in.

Thanks again, Tim

09-22-2001, 20:25
Thanks John. It's good to have an active Tennessee representative on board. Your contribution now makes up about 85% of what little I know about Tennessee whiskey beyond GD and JD. I'm anxious to learn more.

Here's a small list of distilleries that were active in the Tullahoma area just before Prohibition (1910 in Tennessee)...

<LI>Rile Nutt
<LI>Jeff Davis
<LI>Cunningham & Kocsix
(these last two might be Henley, Cunningham & Kocsix -- it's hard to tell in the article)

This is from the Tullahoma News and Guardian, July 2, 1952

<A target="_blank" HREF=http://w3.one.net/~jeffelle/whiskey>http://w3.one.net/~jeffelle/whiskey</A>

09-23-2001, 07:27
This is very interesting. Thanks!
Mike Veach

09-24-2001, 11:35
One thing I found interesting is the potential connection between Tolley & Eaton ("In 1877....Tolley & Eaton was producing 300 gallons a day and Jack was second in Moore County with 83 gallons") and Lynne Tolley, present-day proprietress of Miss Mary Bobo's Boarding House, a southern institution in its own right.

I haven't confirmed this, but it seems like a pretty strong coincidence....Tolley isn't a very common name and Lynne Tolley is presently one of the tasters for Jack Daniels.

09-24-2001, 15:55
The Tolleys, Motlows, Bobos and Daniels go way back in Tennessee history. They've always been intertwined as part of the social and political fabric of the area around Moore County, and I have no doubt that that included the Tolley & Eaton distillery as well. There might have been a Bobo distillery, too. And they're all very much involved with Jack Daniel's. Lynne Tolley is Jack's great-grand-niece, and her own uncle Lem Tolley was Jack Daniels' master distiller from 1941 to 1964. Frank Bobo was another JD master distiller, I believe he was the one just before current master Jimmy Bedford. Lynne herself is actually more than just a taster at the distillery (they have lots of tasters); she's the master-taster and I presume that puts her right up next to Jimmy in determining what goes into the bottle.

In fact, the relationships among these families reminds me of the Beams and Nalleys and Dants and such in Kentucky. Let JoBettye Boone take you on a little trip through her Beam family scrapbook and you'll really walk away dizzy -- and that's just the Beam part, let alone the Boones!

Lincoln Henderson occasionally visits this forum. Lincoln, if you get a chance do you think you could point Lynne toward this site? We could really do with some Tennessee subjects to enrich our total American whiskey knowledge. And I'll bet she could go far beyond the JD company line in telling some tales of the old Tennessee distilleries that once were.

<A target="_blank" HREF=http://w3.one.net/~jeffelle/whiskey>http://w3.one.net/~jeffelle/whiskey</A>

09-30-2001, 21:02
I did think that most (all?) Irish Pot Still Whiskey and Single Malt Scotch would be considered "sweet mash" although they don't use those types of categories.

10-01-2001, 11:59
"Sweet Mash" simply means no backset is added to the fermenter. I can't speak to whether anyone outside the U.S. uses backset. I just know that everyone in the U.S. uses it.

<A target="_blank" HREF=http://cowdery.home.netcom.com>--Chuck Cowdery</A>

10-01-2001, 21:17
I wonder if US Sngle Malts like McCarthy's, Old Potrero and St. George might technically be "sweet mash"?