A few weeks ago, prior to the coronavirus outbreak, I had the privilege of traveling to one of my favorite cities, Nashville, Tennessee, for what was supposed to be a weekend full of honky-tonks, whiskey, more whiskey, and general relaxation. I had plans to visit three wonderful distilleries in the City for private tastings and tours, but unfortunately the looming pandemic swept over the city quickly and many of our plans had to be postponed. However, I was lucky enough to get in a few visits before facilities started closing their doors to the public. One of these visits was to a distillery that has been on my radar for a long time: Pennington Distilling Co.
First and foremost, I have to give a huge shout out to the founder and president of Pennington Distilling, Jeff Pennington. Jeff was kind enough to take a few hours out of his busy day to give me a private tour of the distillery and to taste and talk whiskey. Once you strike up a conversation with Jeff, it becomes abundantly clear that he is someone with a wealth of knowledge and experience in all facets of the spirits industry. His experience goes well beyond making whiskey – he can tell you all about distribution, allocation, packaging, etc. He also has intimate knowledge of the growth and development of the Tennessee whiskey industry over the past decade, particularly in the Nashville area. Suffice to say, all of this made for great conversation! But what really stood out to me about Jeff is his sincere passion and dedication to all of the products coming out of Pennington Distilling. Jeff went into great detail about the history, people, and process at the distillery, and I knew before even tasting any whiskey that I was going to enjoy it because I already had a fond appreciation for what was in the bottle.
Pennington Distilling was founded in 2011 by Jeff and his wife, Jenny Pennington. They began by producing vodka and various other products, which allowed the distillery to grow and obtain the additional time and resources necessary to make their own quality whiskey. Pennington Distilling did not want to be just another company sourcing whiskey. After 6 years of hard work and dedication, Pennington released their first whiskey: Davidson Reserve Rye. Since then, the company has released three more varieties of whiskey all made in house: Davidson Reserve Four-Grain, Davidson Reserve Genesis, and Davidson Reserve Tennessee Whiskey. Recently, the company has also started releasing a barrel strength, single barrel variety of their Tennessee whiskey. Currently, Pennington is also making a variety of non-whiskey products, including Pickers Vodka, Pickers Unplugged Vodka Soda, Whisper Creek Tennessee Sipping Cream, and Walton’s Finest Vodka, a unique vodka made from Tennessee Red Winter Wheat.
You can read more about the history of Pennington Distilling and their products here.
Pennington Distilling is located only a few short miles west of downtown Nashville so next time you are in the city, make sure to stop by the Distillery. Tours are offered Thursday – Sunday, all of which include a tasting of some of Pennington’s quality products. All of the tours at Pennington are also ‘hard hat’ tours, meaning visitors are actually taken out to the distillery floor to witness every step in the process, from grinding grains, to fermentation, to distilling, and finally, to bottling finished products.
The first thing that really stood out to me were the fermentation tanks. Pennington utilizes three large Cypress fermentation tanks where grain ferments for three days. You can literally walk up to these tanks and witness (and smell) the fermentation process underway.
After visiting the grain grinder and fermentation tanks, visitors get to see all three of Pennington’s beautiful stills. The first still, which is where all of Pennington’s whiskey is made, is a beautiful 550 gallon Vendome copper hybrid pot still. Pennington also has a 110 gallon stainless steel hybrid pot still from Vendome that is primary used for experimentation, as well as a 24 foot column still where all of their quality vodka is made. These stills are literally works of art!
I was also given the opportunity to take a look inside Pennington’s warehouses to see their products aging. The folks at Pennington utilize different aging methods for their different products, so some whiskey is aged in the traditional rick style while other barrels are stacked and aged vertically. I was very impressed with the stock of whiskey they have aging, some of which is already nearing 7 years old.
Finally, after a lengthy tour and some fascinating insights into the whiskey making process, Jeff and I sat down for a few pours of Pennington’s quality whiskey. We tasted through their entire lineup, all of which were impressive, but one of their more recent releases really won me over. The Davidson Reserve Tennessee whiskey is made from a mash of 70% Tennessee white corn, 25% Tennessee white cereal rye, and 5% malted barley. The bottle I tasted was a single barrel of this whiskey that was aged for over four years and bottled at the barrel proof of 120.9 (60.45% abv).
Appearance – orange amber.
Nose – the nose is warm and pleasant with little ethanol for a 120 proof whiskey. There is a hint of toasted grain initially, but the nose opens up to plenty of brûléed sugar, cinnamon, banana custard, and a touch of oak char.
Palate – an initial grain notes gives way to a slight amount of alcohol burn, but this whiskey is generally well-tempered for its age and proof. A sharp spice develops on the tip of the tongue and ushers in a fairly traditional and balanced profile of caramel, vanilla, baking spices, and oak.
Finish – this whiskey leaves a pleasantly oily mouthfeel, and more spice and heat transition from the palate and become more intense. The heat is not overpowering and generally works well with the sweeter notes that develop, including sweet vanilla candy and maraschino cherry. The sweet notes give way to lingering oak that makes for a long, dryer finish.
Overall – this is a great whiskey from a great distillery! The nose was pleasantly sweet, with little alcohol and plenty of rich, deep flavor. On the palate, it was very smooth and flavorful, especially for a four-year old whiskey. I can only imagine how good this juice will taste with another year or two in the barrel. I also really enjoyed the medium-long, oily finish that provided some extra spice and heat. As I said, all of Pennington’s products were wonderful, but this bottle really stood out to me.
Pennington Distilling Co. is doing some great things up in Nashville and I know for a fact that they have many more great things in the works. The distillery is full of hard working people who are passionate about the products they make and this fact is evident in all that they do. I know I will be visiting the distillery again in the future and I highly recommend you add it to your short list of places to visit in Nashville.