As Andy and Charlie Nelson were finishing up their college degrees in philosophy, they often were asked – sometimes derisively – what kind of career they expected to find with such a vague degree.
They weren't sure at the time, but it wasn't long until they decided they had found their calling – resurrecting the Tennessee whiskey business that their great-great-great-grandfather had built up in the late 1800s.
In 1885, Charles Nelson's Green Brier Distillery was the largest maker of Tennessee whiskey – with about 20 times the capacity of then-upstart Jack Daniel's. But like Jack, the Nelson distillery was shut down by Prohibition in 1909, and unlike Jack Daniel's, it never reopened.
Fast forward to 2006, and the college-age Nelson boys are visiting the town of Greenbrier with their dad, Bill Nelson, when a friend there points out the old spring and warehouse used by Charles Nelson in his whiskey business.
"That's when we decided that's what we wanted to do," Andy Nelson said on Friday, standing in the 30,000-square-foot building in the old Marathon auto plant complex in Nashville, where he and his brother are building their own distillery.
"Green Brier Tennessee Whiskey will be our main brand, but we have recipes for several of the other bourbons and whiskeys that Charles Nelson used to make," he said.
Just this week, the 750-gallon copper still arrived from the manufacturer, Vendome in Louisville, and the Nelsons are planning to have whiskey production up and running within the next few weeks.
The distillery's tasting room, gift shop and other amenities will take longer to complete, but they hope to have it ready to open to the public by early fall, Nelson said.