Have you ever had one of those moments that just seemed to come together? Like when you randomly decide to order a pizza and it turns out that the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie is on. Radical.
Well that’s kind of what happened with Corsair Distillery, a craft distiller based simultaneously out of Nashville, Tennessee and Bowling Green, Kentucky. Two friends, both homebrewers, have somehow found themselves distilling some of the finest spirits in the country, and in the process, picking up 40+ international awards over the last three years.
Frustrated with the red-tape involved with Tennessee liquor laws, Darek Bell and Andrew Webber opened their first distillery in Bowling Green, KY in 2007. By the time the dust clouds settled in Tennessee, they had opened a second distillery in the old Yazoo Brewing space in the Marathon Motor Works Village in downtown Nashville. The site in Kentucky focuses on cleaner spirits, such as their mind bogglingly complex, yet fluent gin, while the Nashville locale cranks out experimental whiskeys from a pre-prohibition copper still.
A good buddy of mine recently re-re-located back in Nashville, and managed to pick himself up a job brewing for Corsair. Naturally, I had to check up on him.
We visited the distillery on a Sunday, when they were closed to the public, and were given a special empty nest tour of the place by Darek Bell, co-founder and author of the book Alt Whiskeys. Lest you think I’m special or something, you can take a tour most weekdays, and there’s a good chance it’ll be Darek showing you around, too.
Our tour consisted of a run down of the equipment, the history of the building and still, and a pop into their tap-room. Yes, I said taproom. It came with the Yazoo brewery, and it would be a shame not to use it. It’s open to the public Tuesday through Saturday, 3 pm to 8 pm.
(The benefits of our quiet Sunday tour were outweighed by the fact that the tap room was closed, and you can’t sell liquor on Sundays; and these guys apparently still have scruples when it comes to the law.)
What was blatantly apparent during the whole tour, and what I love about Corsair, is that their underlying philosophy, “Screw it, just do it.” is 100% homebrewer. These guys will, and have, distilled anything fermented. From a rich, nutty Quinoa Whisky, to an oak aged Pumpkin Moonshine, and even a Russian Imperial Stout that’s distilled over whole leaf hops – if it sounds interesting, they’ll try it. And if they try it, you better believe it’ll be good.
Even the ideas that don’t make it to production are stellar. I got a sneak sample from a barrel of distilled Lambic — brewed and aged traditionally for a year before being spirited away into a barrel for another six months. Don’t bother looking for this one in the liquor store, it was purely for fun.
It seems like the only problem Corsair has run into is being able to keep up with demand. When you have a good product, time and space are always against you. By aging in 5 gallon barrels, they’re able to breath a whiskey into submission in six months. (Smaller barrel means more surface contact inside, and less time required to impart wood flavors and mellow the spirit) Still, six months is a long road to plan for in a growing business. They’ve even increased fermenter space recently, but the crunch is still there.
You can find plenty of Corsair spirits in Knoxville, either at the liquor store or being poured in our town’s finer establishments. You’re most likely to find their gin and Triple Smoke whiskey, since their experimental and one-off bottles tend to sell out quickly. However, if you find yourself in Nashville on a non-Sunday day, stop by the distillery in the old Marathon Motor Works Village and see what they’ve got on hand. And swing into the tap room, too. You’ll be hard pressed to find a better selection of local and regional brews in one spot.