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Which Tennessee Whiskeys Are the Best? We Asked the Pros

The expert-approved bottles you need from the Volunteer State.

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There is a debate in the whiskey world about whether Tennessee whiskey actually qualifies as bourbon. Technically, you could argue that it meets all of the qualifications, including being made from a mash bill of 51 percent corn and aged in new charred oak containers. But one step that stands out is the Lincoln County process, in which the distillate is filtered through charcoal before being barreled and put into warehouses for aging. This is supposed to mellow or soften the whiskey, something brands like George Dickel and Jack Daniel’s claim to make the flavors shine.

There are smaller producers in Tennessee nowadays too, making whiskey that might not meet the legal definition of “Tennessee whiskey” (rye and single malt, for example), but is certainly distilled and aged in the Volunteer State. Here are the best bottles of Tennesse whiskey, according to bartenders, beverage directors, and members of the United States Bartenders’ Guild.

Best Overall: George Dickel Barrel Select

George Dickel Barrel Select

Image Source / ReserveBar

  • Region: Tullahoma
  • ABV: 43%
  • Tasting Notes: Vanilla, Spice, Charcoal

“For me, George Dickel Barrel Select is the best Tennessee whiskey,” says Belmond El Encanto food & beverage manager Tyson Torres. “Barrel Select bottles are aged 9-12 years and only ten barrels are selected by the master distiller, making very unique small batches. It has got to be one of the best Tennessee whiskeys to sip on for me with… a palate with loads of vanilla and baking spices.”

Reniel Garcia, bar director of Miami's Havana 1957 on Española Way, agrees. “On the nose, cocoa and oak,” he says. “Sweet and not overpowering. It has a nice warm rye spice, vanilla and cherry, at a great price.”

Best Budget: Jack Daniel’s

Jack Daniel's Old No. 7 Tennessee Whiskey

Image Source / ReserveBar

  • Region: Lynchburg
  • ABV: 40%
  • Tasting Notes: Banana, Vanilla, Oak

“Jack is both underrated and has a cult following at the same time,” says Benjamin Pozar of Fogo de Chao in Philadelphia.

Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 also happens to be one of the world’s best-selling and well-known whiskey brands, an iconic spirit that is usually priced very affordably at less than $30 per bottle. Throughout its history, celebrities like Frank Sinatra and Keith Richards have counted themselves fans. “Slip [Jack] into a blind tasting and it will get some great reviews,” says Pozar. “Some people think it's lowbrow. Screw that, it's whiskey.”

Read Next: The Best Whiskeys

Best Sipping: Nelson’s Green Brier

Nelson's Green Brier Tennessee Whiskey

Image Source / Drizly

  • Region: Nashville
  • ABV: 45.5%
  • Tasting Notes: Brown Sugar, Cocoa, Cinnamon

Nashville’s Nelson’s Green Brier has a lineup of carefully sourced and really tasty bourbon, some with different cask finishes, available as part of its Belle Meade lineup. But this Tennessee whiskey is distilled by the team in-house from a mash bill of corn, wheat, and malted barley. The whiskey is filtered through sugar maple charcoal before aging, resulting in a young but flavorful whiskey that is an excellent choice for sipping.

Best Bourbon: Heaven's Door Straight Bourbon

Heaven's Door Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Image Source / ReserveBar

  • Region: Nashville
  • ABV: 46%
  • Tasting Notes: Baking Spice, Vanilla, Caramel

Heaven’s Door is known as being Bob Dylan’s whiskey brand, no small point of recognition. A distillery is being built in Nashville where the whiskey will eventually be produced. In the meantime, the brand sources different types of whiskey, including this release. The straight bourbon is a standout, produced in Tennessee but without undergoing the Lincoln County process. It’s aged for at least six years, and brings a mouthful of flavor and texture to every sip. Try this back to back with some Kentucky bourbon to see how well it stands up.

Best Rye: Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Rye

Jack Daniel's Rye Tennessee Whiskey

Image Source / Drizly

  • Region: Lynchburg
  • ABV: 45%
  • Tasting Notes: Spice, Banana, Vanilla

This is a relative newcomer to the Jack Daniel’s family and the first new mash bill for the distillery in about 150 years. It’s made from a recipe of 70% rye, which means the spice is at the forefront but is softened by the classic Jack Daniel’s flavors of fruit and vanilla, as opposed to a 95% rye from MGP. It’s charcoal mellowed in the same way as all other Jack products are, making this a great cocktail component and welcome addition to the rye whiskey category.

Read Next: The Best Rye Whiskeys

Best Single Malt: Corsair Triple Smoke

Corsair Triple Smoke

Image Source / Drizly

  • Region: Nashville
  • ABV: 40%
  • Tasting Notes: Malt, Smoke, Cherry

Corsair is a craft distillery located in Nashville that produces a wide range of Tennessee-made whiskey. Triple Smoke is a single malt which is a less common style of whiskey in this state. It’s made from three different smoked malts—cherry, beechwood, and peat—infusing the rich malty flavor with an interesting array of smoky notes. Try this one on its own to start, then branch out and make a cocktail like a Manhattan to try something a bit different.

Best New Distillery: Uncle Nearest 1856

Uncle Nearest 1856 Premium Whiskey

Image Source / ReserveBar

  • Region: Shelbyville
  • ABV: 50%
  • Tasting Notes: Dried Fruit, Stone Fruit, Vanilla

“I don't think any back bar would be complete without a bottle of Uncle Nearest,” says Erin Scala, beverage director of Common House in Virginia. This Black-owned brand, which currently sources its whiskey, was inspired by the story of Nathan “Nearest” Green, credited with teaching Jack Daniel how to distill as well as being the first African American master distiller.

“The whiskey is smooth and delicious, and it honors the origins of Tennessee whiskey and the charcoal filtering process,” says Scala, “which originated in enslaved African American communities and was used by master distiller Nathan 'Nearest' Green in the mid-late 1800s.”

Read Next: The Best Gifts for Whiskey Lovers

Best for Cocktails: George Dickel No.12

George Dickel Superior No 12 Whisky

Image Source / ReserveBar

  • Region: Tullahoma
  • ABV: 45%
  • Tasting Notes: Oak, Vanilla, Maple

“George Dickel has great notes of pecan and maple syrup which come through, especially in classic cocktails,” says Carlos Lopez, restaurant manager at Miami's Moxy South Beach. The whiskey is named after Dickel’s recipe number 12—this is not a 12-year-old whiskey, but it’s still great for mixing.

"Affordability and availability make this increasingly popular spirit an easy to find daily drinker,” says Jonathan Cunningham, bar manager at Husk Barbeque in Greenville, SC.

Read Next: The Best Bourbons

Best Craft: Chattanooga Whiskey 111

Chattanooga Straight Bourbon Whiskey 111 Proof

Image Source / Drizly

  • Region: Chattanooga
  • ABV: 55.5%
  • Tasting Notes: Caramel, Vanilla, Oak

“For an unfiltered, barrel-strength whiskey, it’s the best buck for your money,” says Jose Medina Camacho of Automatic Seafood & Oysters in Birmingham, Ala. Chattanooga Whiskey was founded in 2011 and has been making really delicious craft whiskey since then, including this high malt, two-year-old spirit. “I love it in a Manhattan or just on the rocks. Also, if you can find any of their experimental batch, I would snag that too.”

Why Trust Liquor.com?

Jonah Flicker is an experienced writer who has been covering spirits and traveling the world visiting distilleries for many years. His work has appeared in various national outlets reporting on trends, new releases, and the stories and innovators behind the spirits. His first love remains whiskey, but he is partial to tequila, rum, gin, cognac and all things distilled.

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