Peg Leg Porker Perfection: The Rise Of Hickory Filtered Tennessee Bourbon - The Whiskey Wash

Peg Leg Porker Perfection: The Rise Of Hickory Filtered Tennessee Bourbon

Whiskey and barbecue go hand in hand, there is no doubt about that. One pit master who gets that more so than most others is Carey Bringle. Bringle is at the heart of his Peg Leg Porker Tennessee barbecue brand that’s based in Nashville, Tennessee. Part of the offerings in his expanding BBQ empire is a popular Tennessee bourbon line up that he designed specifically in mind to go with meat done his way.

Whereas the traditional Lincoln County process passes Tennessee whiskey through a sugar maple charcoal filtration process prior to aging, Bringle turns that a bit on its head by filtering his already aged bourbon through hickory charcoal he’s burned down in the pit at his restaurant. It gives his whiskeys just a bit of hickory smoke consideration in the flavor profile.

We first interviewed Bringle back in 2016 to get a sense of what he was up to. More recently we caught up with him again to see what’s new and get a refresher on his whiskey making ways. Note this interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Peg Leg Porker Tennessee Bourbon

Peg Leg Porker Tennessee Bourbon (image via Peg Leg Porker)

The Whiskey Wash (TWW): Carey tell us first a little bit about your background in barbecue. How’d you get involved in that?

Carey Bringle: I’ve been cooking barbecue for about 35 years. I learned from my uncle and from my grandfather, then I started doing Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest. This will be my 28th year to cook down there. I took what was a hobby and a passion and made it into a brand and then a restaurant and now a bourbon.

TWW: The idea for bringing whiskey into the mix came about how?

Bringle: I had a long standing relationship with Jim Beam Black. They were a sponsor, and still are a sponsor for my Memphis barbecue team at Memphis in May, and I guess they had been for around 15 years, since Fred Noe is a friend. We’ve got a great relationship with the Beam team. And so, bourbon was always something that I was passionate about and really loved and had been around a lot and learned a good bit about the industry through our relationship with them.

I wanted to do something with them and take it to another level, but Beam is a big company and trying to do something like that with somebody that big is tough sometimes. The person that helped me start that relationship with Beam had moved on and was here in Tennessee and made me aware of a batch of Tennessee bourbon that I could buy and so I started a bourbon company. It was probably the most inopportune time. It was right after we started the restaurant, but I knew that if I didn’t jump on it then I probably wouldn’t do it. And so, I bought that batch of bourbon, experimented a little bit with it some and then we started putting our finishing touches on it and that’s where Tennessee Peg Leg Porker Straight Bourbon Whiskey originated.

TWW: Walk us through what makes your whiskey unique from other Tennessee whiskeys.

Bringle: Ours is a Tennessee straight bourbon. It’s not going through the Lincoln County process before it goes in the barrel. It’s distilled and aged in Tennessee, but what we do different is it’s kind of our take on a process like the Lincoln County process, but we take the bourbon and de-barrel it, then we filter it through hickory charcoal that I actually burn down in my pit at the front of my restaurant. We have a hickory charcoal finishing process that gives it our unique signature and flavor and taste.

TWW: Are you doing any additional aging after that or is it going directly in the bottle afterwards?

Bringle: It’s going directly in the bottle after that. We de-barrel it, we blend it, we proof it, and then we run it through our hickory charcoal to finish it. It gives it our signature flavor and taste.

A lot of people said, “Oh, you’re a barbecue guy. You’re gonna do a smoked bourbon or something like that.” And I never have had a smoked liquor or beer product that I really liked, that really appealed to me. It was too smokey. Distillers are not familiar with using smoke on a regular basis in most cases unless you’re talking about scotch.

And so, I understand how to work with smoke and the subtlety of it. That’s why I chose to go ahead and burn down coals and we would pick up a little bit of that smoke and that hickory flavor off of those coals rather than try and do a smoked product that might be overly emphasized on the smoke.

TWW: Talk more about what goes on with your particular filtration process in terms of flavor enhancement with the Tennessee straight bourbon.

Bringle: I think what we see happening is that because we have freshly burned down [hickory] charcoal we’re getting a little hint of smoke, a little bit of that hickory flavor and subtleness. I think that it’s probably filtering out some impurities before it’s bottled, but it’s also imparting a little hint of flavor to it, nothing that’s overbearing, but something that’s very subtle. That gives it a perfect pairing with dishes like barbecue or anything cooked on a grill like a hamburger or a steak. It’s unique. It’s something that not many people are doing.

TWW: How long would you say it took for you to dial in how you wanted it to be?

Bringle: We dialed that profile in in a matter of weeks. It was something that I experimented with on a very small scale and then we ramped that up to a larger scale. Our batches are still fairly small. We’re doing about 25 barrels at a time in our blend and in our bottling. And so we’re able to control it and we’re able to keep it dialed in to the flavor profile that we want.

TWW: It’s been mentioned in the past you might have a distillery in mind. Are you any closer to your dream of having your own distillery?

Bringle: We have certainly discussed it. It’s something that’s on our mind. We’re looking at potential locations where we might be able to do that. We’re 100% independent right now. I don’t have any backers or any investors. It’s me and my family and so that’s a large expense. At this time we’d like to focus on getting the word out about the brand and getting out into more people’s hands. We’re starting this year to lay down some new product with a co-distiller and then we would love to, in the next two to three years, build our own distillery as well.

TWW: What was it about pairing whiskey and barbecue that got you interested in doing this whole process in the first place?

Bringle: Whiskey and barbecue go hand in hand. Barbecue is something that takes a long term to cook and so you got that time, whether you’re cooking ribs for three and a half to four hours, or whether you’re cooking butts or shoulders or whole hogs over a period of 24 hours. It gives you the time to sit down and visit with friends and family. Whiskey is generally always been a big part of that because it’s something that you all can do. You can have drinks in the meantime.

For us, it’s always been a natural fit. Most barbecue people are whiskey and bourbon lovers. It fit right into the Peg Leg Porker lifestyle brand. We build smokers. We have wholesale and retail food products. We have a restaurant. We have clothing and it all really goes hand in hand.