Andy and Charlie Nelson are, like many brothers, polar opposites. Andy is detail oriented and more of an introvert. Charlie, the younger of the two, is the outgoing wander lusting extrovert with the heavier accent. However, while running the family business, Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery, their opposing personalities become something of a virtue.
Don’t jump to conclusions, though. The Nelson brothers didn’t inherit the family business nor were they bred to run it. They have built the business from the ground up, resurrecting their ancestor’s whisky recipe from the nineteenth century. Up until stumbling upon historical remnants of their family’s business near their hometown of Nashville eight years ago, the Nelson brothers were on different trajectories in life and oblivious to the history and the importance of their family’s business. Their newfound mutual curiosity for family history aligned their missions and brought them on a path to reestablish the family name, and the original recipe for Nelson’s Green Brier Tennessee Whisky.
“We knew that there was a distillery, but we weren’t sure that it was even legal,” said Andy Nelson, reminiscing about a fateful road trip the brothers took with their father in 2006 to visit a butcher in Greenbrier, TN, where they learned about their great great great grandfather’s distillery. “We had seen all these historical markers for Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery at the gas station near the butcher’s house, so we asked him what he knew about it. We realized that not only was it legal, but it had been one of the biggest distilleries in the country.”
With the warehouse’s infrastructure still intact, the Nelson’s were eager to start researching the history of Charles Nelson’s distillery, and bring it back to life. Their journey began by researching the family history, industry history, the town of Greenbrier and its inhabitants. They also interviewed several industry veterans who knew much about the distillery’s history, and were eager to share their knowledge about the once well-known brand.
“Because it was so big back in its day, people in the industry had heard about it,” added Andy. “They had enough respect for it that they were able to help us bring it back to life.”
Andy and Charlie Nelson revived Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery 105 years after prohibition shut it down.
However, even with the distillery’s deep history, the Nelson’s met some challenges when it came to raising capital. They weren’t independently wealthy like many entrepreneurs who decide to delve into the spirits industry. When it came to acquiring investors, they believed in the Nelson’s and their compelling story, but at 25 and 26 years old, Charlie and Andy’s young age and lack of experience made them a high-risk investment.
“For us, starting the businesses was mostly about carrying out the family name,” said Charlie, whose passion for seeing his mission out brought him back to Nashville, rather than continuing his post graduate studies abroad. “People can see that passion in the product.”