With over 100 years of history, Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery in Greenbrier, Tennessee, was once one of the largest producers of Tennessee whiskey putting out approximately 380,000 US gallons (1,400,000 litres) of whiskey each year under brands such as Nelson’s Best, Nelson’s Green Brier Tennessee Whiskey, Belle Meade bourbon, and Nelson’s Hand Made Sour Mash Tennessee Whiskey. Shut down by prohibition in 1909, the distillery and its brands lay dormant for over 100 years. In 2006 they were accidentally rediscovered, and subsequently revived in 2009 by the great-great-great grandsons of the original owner and distiller Charles Nelson. Like most newly established distilleries, owners and great-great-great grandsons Andy and Charlie Nelson sourced their initial aged bourbon stocks from MGP Indiana whilst the pieces fell into place for them to start producing their own whiskies. These sourced bourbons are released under their great-great-great Grandfather’s original brand Belle Meade Bourbon, which is a high-rye bourbon that’s bottled at 90.4 proof (45.2% abv). According to their website, Belle Meade Bourbon is made in small batches using a propriety blend of four complimentary barrels of 6- 8 year old bourbon from two different mash bills and yeast strains. It’s also stated that Belle Meade Bourbon’s signature recipe was designed to create a versatile Bourbon to be enjoyed either neat, with a drop of water, on the rocks, or in a whiskey cocktail.
To date there have been 5 different expressions of Belle Meade; Belle Meade Bourbon, Belle Meade Cask-Strength Single Barrel Bourbon, Belle Meade Sherry Cask-Finished Bourbon, Belle Meade Cognac Cask-Finished Bourbon, and Belle Meade Madeira Cask-Finished Bourbon. Nelson’s have also since released a limited release (distillery only) of their own-made wheated Tennessee Whiskey, Nelson’s First 108, in July 2017. This review will look at the entry level expression, Belle Meade Bourbon.
Name: Belle Meade Bourbon
Age: Not age stated (made from a blend of 6-8 y.o. bourbons)
Proof: 90.4 proof (45.2% ABV)
Type: Sour Mash Straight Bourbon
Mashbill: Not disclosed (High-rye content of 30%)
Producer: Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery, Nashville TN (Sourced from MGP, IN)
Appearance: Gold with fast legs
Nose: On the nose there’s notes of soft caramel, light vanilla, baking spices, oak spice and a slight bit of an alcohol sharpness that burns the nostrils a bit.
Palate: The palate begins light with sweet and floral vanilla up front, followed by deep caramel, very slight earthy and herbaceous oak with a wave of rye spice in the back
Finish: The finish opens with a wave of earthy rye spice which fades to light herbaceous oak, intense caramel and a touch of roast nuts, baking spices and cherries.
As the entry level expression from the Belle Meade range this bourbon left me impressed. This is a bourbon drinker’s bourbon. It’s packed full classic bourbon flavours from start to finish and although it’s a blend of two different mash bills and yeast strains, it still very much keeps those traditional bourbon notes and character that we have grown to expect from good MGP-sourced bourbons. With this bourbon, Nelson’s GBD are showcasing their skills in blending and so it’s not surprising that it has won several prestigious awards (i.e. Double Gold Medal – Straight Bourbon Whiskey SFWSC 2015)
The nose starts with great bourbon character and combines all the traditional bourbon notes, and the palate follows through giving you a lovely light and very pleasant bourbon that becomes more complex as you chew it and still has that nice high rye kick. In the finish, the rye shines through and brings the whole flavour together nicely whilst leaving a delicious and slightly tannic aftertaste.
As I said, this is a bourbon lover’s bourbon and ticks all the boxes for what a basic bourbon should to taste like. I found it very drinkable neat and can imagine that the high rye content would carry through in a well-made whiskey cocktail. This is the kind of bourbon that I would keep on my shelf as a daily sipper, and use in the occasional Old Fashioned. When drinking this bourbon it was important for me to remember that this is an just an entry level bourbon and so to compare it to more premium expressions as it went down would be a sure way to start knocking it. I enjoyed this bourbon for what it is, and as the first in the Belle Meade range it has definitely resulted in the full range being added to my list of whiskies to try.
Try or Buy?
If this bourbon was readily available in the UK at a decent price I’d definitely buy a bottle or two. It’s a very good daily sipper and from what I’ve heard the single barrel picks are definitely worth seeking out. If this isn’t available in a store near you definitely try and source an ounce or two at a bar.