It's a new era in the world of Tennessee sipping whiskey. "There used to be only Jack (Daniel) and George (Dickel)–now there's also Darek, Amy Lee, and Andrew," says Corsair Artisan Distillery cofounder Darek Bell.
Last year Darek and his partners, Amy Lee Bell and Andrew Webber jumped on a change in Tennessee's liquor laws that made it easier to distill spirits legally in the state. They already owned a distillery in Bowling Green, Kentucky (which still makes gin, vodka, rum, and absinthe), and moved the whiskey and moonshine-making part of the business–lock, stock, and barrels–to Nashville.
Their Corsair Artisan Distillery also brought changes to the former Marathon Motor Works automobile factory at 1200 Clinton Street in Midtown. The renovated factory had been home to the Yazoo Brewing Company, which relocated to a larger facility five minutes away on Division Street.
In the former car factory the partners now create batches of whiskey in a salvaged 240-gallon still that predates Prohibition–but their products are purely for the 21st century. Offerings include Wry Moon, a sort of legal white lightning that delivers the peppery spice of traditional rye in a clear, unaged whiskey, and Pumpkin Spice Moonshine, a clear whiskey infused with ginger, nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon, and pumpkin. The partners also plan to continue small batches of experimental recipes–one under development involves using persimmon and sassafras.
Having trained at Bruichladdich Distilling Academy in Scotland, Darek was living in Manhattan when he met some fellow brewing hobbyists dabbling in unaged spirits. "These guys were from Brooklyn, and making moonshine," he recalls. "I thought, 'I'm the Southerner here, I should be doing that.'"
With their whiskey operation fully underway, Darek, Andrew, and Amy Lee invite visitors to tour the distillery. They also run the Corsair Artisan Brewery Taproom, serving craft beers from around the country. As Darek explains, "Beer is just whiskey that hasn't reached its full potential."