Tennessee Whiskey Trail: Spotlight on Williamson County

Adventures run on Tennessee whiskey, as the motto for the famed state trail says. So it’s no surprise that the Volunteer State truly shines in terms of craft makers and distilleries with a specialty in all things whiskey.

This impressive and varied collection of over twenty-five distilleries stretches from Memphis in the west all the way to Bristol in the east. (Just keep in mind that not every distillery in the state is a designated stop of the trail, as only Tennessee Distillers Guild members can be included on the formal trail listing.)

Diehard whiskey lovers should consider downloading the official Tennessee Whiskey Trail App. The trail’s trip planning tool suggests spending a full two weeks exploring the twists and turns of the Tennessee Whiskey Trail. For those with less time to expend, there’s another more approachable, less intense option close to the state’s largest tourist draw, the bright lights and big city of Nashville. Two especially impressive distilleries can both be found in upscale Williamson County in the rolling hills of Middle Tennessee, just south of The Music City.

With easy access to the major airport in Nashville, BNA, shorter term travelers should be sure to add this section of the Tennessee Whiskey Trail to their boozy bucket lists.

Coronavirus update: Both distilleries are open and doing full tours, they have adjusted to smaller group sizes and stressed the importance of online scheduling versus just walking in.

Leiper's Fork Distillery

Leiper’s Fork Distillery (image via Leiper’s Fork Distillery)

H Clark Distillery

In a non-shocking twist, the titan of Tennessee, Lynchburg’s Jack Daniel Distillery is the most visited stop on the statewide whiskey trail with almost 300,000 yearly pilgrims. After all, Jack does hold the prestigious honor of being one of the oldest registered distilleries in the whole United States and is on the National Register of Historic Places to boot.

What is a surprise is the teeny tiny spot that holds the number two ranking, H Clark Distillery. This operation is located in sleepy Thompson’s Station just twenty minutes south of Franklin, Tennessee, the largest city and county seat of Williamson County. Named for proprietor Heath Clark, it opened in 2014 as the first legal distillery in the county in over 100 years. A lawyer by day and distiller by night, Clark actually helped to change Tennessee’s formerly archaic, Prohibition-Era liquor laws that used to only allow for three counties to legally produce craft spirits. Since legislation to address these issues was passed in 2009 and 2013, Tennessee whiskey has grown swiftly, helping the United States in its production of over 37 million cases last year.

H Clark occupies a small, renovated granary and offers Tennessee Bourbon, Tennessee Black & Tan, Tennessee Rye, and Tennessee Dry Gin in its current arsenal. All these spirits are produced using hand-crafted, small batch methods with many local grains, malts, and botanicals. While complimentary tours are offered daily on the hour, the accompanying tastings cost $10.

Pro tip: Visitors to H Clark should also keep their eyes peeled for the distillery’s chief security officer, a black cat aptly named Stout.

Leiper’s Fork Distillery

The second distillery located in picturesque Williamson County is located in the artsy, funky hamlet of the same name, Leiper’s Fork. Open since mid-2016, this artisan operation embraces pure limestone-filtered water and local Southern charm. Their spirits portfolio consists of Leiper’s Fork Premium Rye, Old Natchez Trace White Whiskey, Colonel Hunter’s Single Barrel Tennessee Bourbon, and Colonel Hunter’s Select Barrel Tennessee Bourbon with more forthcoming.

Multiple daily tours are offered and can be booked online to ensure there’s availability. Tours with a tasting are $10 for anyone over the age of 21, and half off for military and veterans with their ID; the tour is free for anyone under 12, and $5 for those aged 12-20. Travelers will also enjoy the large gift shop on the premises, the occasional live music offerings, the fact that they named their still Ms. Ginger, and the setting in a 200-year-old log cabin.

Pro tip: If you decide to do the tour, try to secure Pops as your tour guide. He is a captivating gentleman who will add a lot to the overall experience.

The Visit Franklin Tourism Board also celebrates the creativity of the city and its surrounds, with the Masters & Makers Trail. The four stops on this tourism trail include both distilleries explored above, as well as the scenic Arrington Vineyards (from Kix Brooks of Brooks and Dunn country music lore) and Mill Creek Brewing, home of the Nashville area’s best burger.

For even more about the Williamson County distilling options, check out our past coverage of Leiper’s Fork Distillery.