As many times as they’ve had to repeat it, it’s a story that Charlie and Andy Nelson never tire of telling.
After all, Charlie says, it was akin to being “struck by lightning” when they discovered — one summer day almost eight years ago — that their great-great-great grandfather owned and operated one of the largest whiskey distilleries in pre-Prohibition America.
Driving through the Tennessee countryside that day, they’d spotted a historical marker that read ‘Charles Nelson Green Brier Distillery.’ After puzzling over the analogous moniker, a local butcher pointed them in the direction of the still-standing barrel warehouse, grain house and a running spring.
“We looked at each other and knew,” Andy says. “In an instant, everything clicked.”
Shortly thereafter, a dip back into the Tennessee state archives — as well as a hodgepodge of family anecdotes — yielded some staggering facts. In its heyday, Charles Nelson’s distillery produced close to 380,000 gallons of whiskey annually, or 20 times the volume of renowned competitors Jack Daniel’s and George Dickel.
At its peak, the Charles Nelson Green Brier Distillery produced more than 30 brands of whiskey — in addition to brief forays into fruit brandy and gin. The brothers hope to attain something of a similar scale one day, and intend to brand their own creations with the ancient distillery’s original labels.