If you’ve never been to Nashville, Tennessee in late summer, it’s about as close to a sauna as you’ll get. Except there’s also piercing sun rays singing your skin and cicadas ringing in your ears. Not that it isn’t a beautiful city full of friendly people, but this Pacific Northwest-bred girl couldn’t take the heat. That was, until I visited Corsair.
The distillery is located in the beautiful historical Marathon Motor Works building that’s been converted into commercial and studio spaces for local businesses. It also happens to be the former Yazoo brewery location, a Nashville beer stable. Speaking of beer, you enter the Corsair taproom to begin your tour (I had no idea they also had a full brewing operation) and are welcome to a cold pint while learning about the distillation process.
Corsair is the booze baby of childhood friends Darek Bell and Andrew Webber, who homebrewed beer and wine in Bell’s garage. While working on a prototype biodiesel plant (they both have science backgrounds), Webber joked that making whiskey would be easier, but soon after they were studying distilleries and spirits. The Nashville natives are now making some of the most interesting spirits in the country at both of their locations (they also opened one up in Bowling Green, KY – which requires a certain kind of chutzpah in the land of the Bourbon Trail).
Bell graduated from the Bruichladdich Distilling Academy in Islay and, as the story goes, the inspiration for the label came not from ‘Reservoir Dogs’ but rather was a mental image he saved of three men leaving a bar during a night out on the town in Scotland.
Corsair uses alternative grains, smoked grains and “unusual” botanicals to create their unparalleled tastes. It has not gone unnoticed: many of their whiskies won either gold or silver medals over the last few years. And what are those whiskies, you ask? Well, the list is quite long when including all of their seasonal and experimental offerings. Let’s not forget they’re also distilling gin, vodka, spiced rum and absinthe. And yet, despite the variety, quality is never compromised (maybe it’s the pre-prohibition era copper still they use).
If you take the tour, you’ll get to sample the current offerings: Triple Smoke (cherry wood, peat and beechwood smoked malted barley barreled in oak that combines sweetness of American whiskey with the smokiness you’d get from an Islay single malt); Quinoa Whiskey (the seed adds an earthy and nutty flavor to the American-style spirit) and Ryemageddon (the aged version of their Double Gold Medal-winning Wry Moon Rye White Whiskey distilled from malted and chocolate rye).
And, just in case you’re not completely satisfied with your experience by the time the tasting is over, you can enjoy a cocktail made by the distillers themselves–either in the light-filled tasting room or out on the perfectly southern patio. While some whiskey makers shy away from advertising their products in mixed drinks, Bell and Webber took it to another level playing with ingredients like imported coconut milk to create drinks that you would never guess had the spirit in them. They just want everybody to know the spirits are delicious whichever way you choose to enjoy them.
Are they mad scientists? Maybe. Successful distillers? Definitely. Corsair, should you want to check them out, is open for tours various days of the week and reservations are strongly encouraged.