Connecting Communities through Craft Spirits
Nashville’s Distillery Explosion Benefits Local Economy
As Nashville continues to forge a path as a culinary destination, it makes sense that the craft cocktail culture gets a piece of the action. That means, of course, an explosion of distilleries producing gin, whiskey, rum and other spirits.
According to Nashville Craft Distillery founder Bruce Boeko, only two distilleries existed in Tennessee in 2000, and by 2009, there were only three. Today, the state boasts almost 40, with most of them situated in the Music City.
“This is an emerging industry,” explains Boeko, whose distillery opened in March 2016 in a sleek industrial space in the Wedgewood-Houston neighborhood. “When I first started looking into (launching a distillery) in 2012, I think there were about 300 distilleries in the country. There are 2,000 distilleries in the country now, and we’re in the exponential growth phase the way breweries were 20 years ago.”
It’s an industry that longtime restaurateurs like Michael King of Monell’s welcome with open arms. “It’s fun with the distilleries because for years there was only the Jack Daniel’s distillery,” he says. “Now you have people taking chances and creating some really great new spirits that are amazing. Some people are willing to move the mark and challenge taste buds.”
Boeko credits the distilleries’ popularity to people craving more locally owned products. Bartenders, he continues, act as ambassadors when they use their products at their establishments.
“One of the best things is to bring (the bartenders) in here for sampling,” says Boeko. “In the past, they had to visit liquor stores to buy all their products. This explosion means that now these craft bartenders can now come to a place and see and smell the whole process.”
He invites local restaurants to bring their entire bar staffs to Nashville Craft Distillery to interact with them. “It’s a great opportunity for them, and it’s a great opportunity for us because they show us things we can do with the spirits,” he says. “The bartenders are extremely creative people.”
In all, Nashville Craft Distillery concentrates in a 20-mile radius of the city and its products are in approximately 50 establishments. “We’ve been adopted by many of the cool places around town who especially love our gin,” says Boeko.
For him, it’s important to conduct tours at his distillery so guests can see the operations and learn their story. That includes telling guests about the local farmers with whom he’s forged relationships for their produce. That ranges from sorghum grown by Muddy Pond Sorghum Mill for Nashville Craft Distillery’s Naked Biscuit sorghum spirit to wheat, which comes from Windy Acres Farm, for the signature gin.
The explosion of these craft distilleries, explains Boeko, has helped the state’s agriculture industry because they have been utilizing the local farmers. “(We’re) reclaiming the tradition of whiskey because the rural community is interested in agriculture, economic development and tourism.”
Part of that interest has resulted in the Tennessee Whiskey Trail, which launched in 2017. Thirty distilleries are on the trail throughout the state, which includes Chattanooga, Memphis and Nashville.
“A lot of people who come here are travelers from around the world who are whiskey enthusiasts,” says Boeko. “They’ve been to distilleries in Scotland and Ireland and Kentucky and now they want to explore the rebirth here in Nashville.”