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H Clark Bourbon from H Clark Distillery in Thompson's Station, Tennessee

How to Find The Best Whiskey in Franklin

While some consider a glass of whiskey or whiskey-based cocktails appropriate all year round [raises hand], others like to wait until the leaves start turning and the weather gets a bit cooler before they trade in their lighter summer cocktails. Well, whether you are a seasonal whiskey fan, a seasoned connoisseur, or just intrigued by the boom in whiskey’s popularity across the country, there is a way to find the whiskey that is just right for you, right here in Franklin, Tennessee!

First things first, let’s get something clear from the start. There is no wrong way to enjoy your whiskey. It is all about the experience you have, so don’t let any of the whiskey snobs of the world tell you otherwise! I would recommend trying it ‘neat’ to begin with, just so you can taste it in its original form but after that, if you want to add a few drops of water to open it up, do it! Prefer it chilled over rocks? – That’s what us cool; experienced connoisseurs call the ice – Go for it! Feel like it needs to be mixed into a cocktail? Awesome!

Now that the air has been cleared about that let’s get to the business of finding the perfect whiskey for you!

Leiper's Fork Distillery in Franklin, Tennessee

I’m new to whiskey

The thing about whiskey is that it is about far much more than just a few ounces of brown liquid in a glass. The ‘whiskey experience’ is about learning the stories behind each bottle, then sharing that story and experience with friends, or making new friends along the way. There is no better place to learn about whiskey than at Leiper’s Fork Distillery and having ‘Pops’ guide you not only through the process of how whiskey is made in Leiper’s Fork, but also through the history of whiskey being made on their land. I won’t spoil his story, but let’s just say an old-time duel in the middle of Main Street was involved!

Suggestion: Make sure to include a tasting with your tour of Leiper’s Fork Distillery. Pops will not only share with you the fine spirits you just saw being made, but he’ll also teach you the proper way to sip and chew – yes, I said chew – your whiskey. The entire experience will be capped off with a toast you are sure to remember, and if you are there on the right day, you may be able to also stick around for a night of music at their Stillhouse Sessions or sample some of their signature cocktails.

Heath Clark of H Clark Distillery

Give me whiskey with history

Like I said before, whiskey is as much about the story as it is what’s in the glass, and there is hardly a story like that of H Clark Distillery owner Heath Clark. In short, the lawyer by day has long known he was destined to make whiskey from his days growing up in the shadow of Tennessee’s legendary Jack Daniels Distillery. The only problem he had was that state law prohibited the distilling of whiskey in all but three of Tennessee’s 95 counties. Clark, with the help of his dentist (yes, I said dentist)  re-wrote Tennessee law and got it passed through the state legislature. Only a few short years later there are now over 40 new distilleries across the state, and a Tennessee Whiskey Trail linking them.

I can’t give away the entire story, but when you take a tour of H Clark Distillery, you learn just how a lawyer needed a dentist to get state law changed. That’s not the only historic story inside the distillery that itself is a former granary and sits on a Civil War battlefield. Those who love the nuts and bolts of how whiskey is made will fall in love with the brandy still used to produce H Clark’s signature spirits.

Suggestion: Only steps away from the distillery is Circa, a locally owned restaurant, and cocktail bar. Sample ‘The Station Mule’ which uses H Clark’s unique Black & Tan whiskey for a unique take on the classic Moscow Mule.

Cocktails in Franklin, Tennessee

Put my whiskey in a cocktail

If you know you like your whiskey best in a cocktail, head directly for the bar at Cork & Cow in downtown Franklin. The food there is to die for, but we’re here to talk whiskey, so the first thing you do is ask for Zach. All the bartenders there are top notch, but Zach is known widely as “The Drink Whisperer” for a reason. If there is a bartender or cocktail competition around the southeast, he’s probably won it before. Seriously, if you are a fan of Manhattans, Old Fashioneds, or any of the other classic whiskey drinks, Zach’s version is sure to be one you’re telling your friends about. But if you are feeling creative, all you have to do is tell him I like a wheated bourbon, or I love higher proof, a rye, whatever… and just let him do the rest. Trust me; you will not be disappointed.

Suggestion: If you aren’t feeling up for a surprise concoction, ask for the Whiskey Wish. It uses Buffalo Trace with A.E. Dor Pineau de Charentes, Peychaud’s Apertivo, and Angostura Amaro. It will seriously be one of the best things you’ve ever sipped.

Sampling whiskey at Southern Whiskey Society in Franklin, Tennessee

Let’s get the samples flowing

One of the best ways to find great whiskey is to find a classic whiskey bar that prides itself on having a stellar collection. One such place, with over 150 selections greeting you when you walk in the door is O’ Be Joyful in downtown Franklin. The newest player in downtown Franklin’s bar scene OBJ – as the cool crowd calls it – is THE PLACE to try something new. The bartenders are knowledgeable to every level of whiskey lover, so if you are new to the game, they can guide you to something you’ll love. For you experienced tasters they just might surprise you with something new and hard to find. While there, take in multiple samples by doing a flight of samples. Also, because again whiskey is as much about the story; OBJ gets its name from the concoctions Civil War soldiers would make on the battlefields.

Suggestion: No offense to our Kentucky neighbors to the north but this Tennessee boy is going to suggest starting your night on the featured shelf of Tennessee whiskeys and bourbons at OBJ. The big boys of Jack Daniels and George Dickel get a lot of international attention, but some of the craft distilleries in Tennessee are changing the game with the incredible stuff they are putting out. Because you’ve already had H Clark & Leiper’s Fork offerings, ask for a dram of Belle Meade Bourbon, Davidson Reserve, or Chattanooga 1816 Cask Strength.

Red Pony in Franklin, Tennessee

I only drink when I eat

As much as a great whiskey experience is about the brown liquid in your glass and the story behind it, it’s also about the people you experience it with and the environment around you. The bar at Red Pony is the perfect setting for an incredible, sophisticated evening with friends that is sure to produce an incredibly memorable meal. The red building and it’s deep red walls set the mood for exactly what you would expect in a great place to have a steak with your whiskey. The bar and its multitude of options for the sophisticated sipper can really put that next level of enjoyment on any meal.

Suggestion: Don’t giggle when you order, but merely ask for a Tickle of Dickel. The cocktail made with a rye from Tennessee’s own George Dickel is mixed with Fernet Branca, Peychauds Apertivo, gomme, and Angostura bitters. You may not be able to pronounce all the ingredients in this one, but that’s ok because this cocktail is going to leave you speechless anyway.

Southern Whiskey Society in Franklin, Tennessee

I wish there was a group of whiskey lovers like me

You may have noticed a theme from me that whiskey is about far more than just the liquid poured in a glass. Nothing in the world shows just how true that is then the annual gathering of the Southern Whiskey Society each year in Franklin. Don’t let the word ‘society’ scare you; there are no fees or dues to be a member of this society; only a love of good people, good food, and great whiskey required. Each year the folks from Made South produce the event that not only brings in over 70 different whiskey’s from the region’s leading distillers but also pairs that with tasting dishes from 10 incredible chefs who are preparing the dishes right in front of you. The whiskeys include something for the person brand new that just wants to try something new, to exclusive pours of incredibly rare bourbons. During the entire event the Franklin-based podcast The Podcask, which is one of the top-rated whiskey podcasts in the world broadcast and welcome you into their community of bourbon lovers. It’s hard to put in words the feeling of camaraderie at this event, paired with simply incredible food and whiskey; it truly is something that simply must be experienced.

Suggestion: If you don’t already, start listening to The Podcask. Hosts Will & Greeze have a lot of fun and a little whiskey on each episode and keep your eyes peeled for an announcement of next year’s Southern Whiskey Society dates. You will not want to miss it, I assure you. If you simply can’t wait (and we’re not judging if you can’t!) the guys from The Podcask have also given their guide on how to ‘Bourbon Your Way Through Franklin.’