When it comes to bourbon, Charlie Robbins can put the finest bourbon connoisseur to shame.
He’s been to 48 different whiskey distilleries throughout Kentucky and Tennessee and has strong opinions about each of them. And so he was the one Mint Julep Experiences tapped to train all of their tour guides when they decided to expand into Nashville, Tennessee. As a side note, he happens to also be a Stave & Thief Certified Bourbon Steward and a “brew guru” as well as an attorney, but that’s for another article.
We got a chance to sit down with Charlie this week and pick his brain on some of his most memorable experiences along his favorite Nashville area whiskey tour experiences offered by Mint Julep. And he didn’t hold back on the secrets he knows, his favorite drink of all, and his absolute favorite parts of the tour. The interview with him was very enlightening, entertaining, and downright chock full of memories and opinions. So here are some of the questions we asked him, and his honest and colorful answers:
So Charlie – out of all the 48 distilleries you’ve visited, which one is your favorite, and why?
“Well, I’ve gotta say – out of ALL the distilleries I’ve ever been to over the years, I’d have to say my absolute favorite has got to be Jack Daniel Distillery. It’s just SO large and such an American legend – they’re known all over the world. You get to see them set fire to the sugar maple to make their own charcoal. You get to see the cave with the underground spring with the exact water they use to make their whiskey. You get to see Jack’s old office, including his old desk AND his old safe, which he kicked in anger one day and resulted in an injury that ultimately ended his life. Plus, at the end of the Jack tour, you get to spend time in the quaint town of Lynchburg, which is a treat in and of itself. Old country stores, ice cream shops, and lots of Jack Daniel’s paraphernalia – you just can’t beat it for old Southern charm.”
You’ve said before that you’re also partial to craft distilleries. Why is that?
“Man, you can’t beat a distillery that makes this incredible whiskey, and it’s like one or two guys doing everything, from being the Master Distiller to the guy that grinds the grains to the one who literally fills and stores all the barrels.”
What are some of your favorite craft distilleries?
“Pops” Mayo, giving a tour
“Leiper’s Fork Distillery is at the top of the list. First of all, they have these relocated log cabins that they’ve repurposed as a gift shop, a bar, a tasting room, and a still house, all right next to each other. Their owner and Master Distiller – Lee Kennedy – he is just the nicest guy in the world. They’re just super people there. The first time I visited, we had a tour guide who was incredible, and I didn’t know who he was until the end of the tour – he was “Pops” Mayo, the distillery’s head tour guide. It’s just really impressive for a craft facility – just gorgeous – high beams, vaulted ceilings, wooden cabins.
Then there’s H. Clark Distillery – they have a total of three people running it all together, in one room. They literally store barrels right next to where they distill. They are a great example of how every craft distillery has their own unique personality and approach to making great whiskey.
Interestingly, another craft distillery – Nashville Craft – is owned by Bruce Boeko, who was a DNA lab director. Bruce takes a very scientific approach to distilling, and his tours are very interesting because he delves into the science of distilling more than most other tours.
Is there much Civil War history in and along the tour on the way from Nashville to Lynchburg?
“Of course, the areas surrounding Nashville have a rich history in Civil War sites, monuments, and legends. My dad is a huge civil war historian, and so throughout my life, I’ve been to many of those battlefield sites. The Battle of Franklin was probably the larger ones I’ve been to in the Nashville area. Then there’s Stone’s River, which is near Murfreesboro. You have to remember though – when the Union won a battle in the South, Southerners weren’t real keen on preserving the battlefields!!! Our tour doesn’t go directly by any of these memorials or battlefields, but we often reference some of our history on our tours, because we have so many out of towners who are curious about it.”
Why do you have such a passion for whiskey and bourbon distilleries?
“Because when you think about it – every single distillery out there once started as a craft distillery! One guy in a barn somewhere, making whiskey. Everybody’s got their own spin, their own way they do things. Plus what’s fascinating to me – you take the grain, the wood/barrel, yeast, mash, water – with just those 5 ingredients, there are thousands of different tastes and types of whiskeys that you can get from those same ingredients.”
What’s your favorite legend about the Nashville whiskey history?
“I have two favorite legends, and they both have to do with Jack Daniel. First of all, Jack was NOT a large man – in fact, he was 5’ 3”. Even so, he was the ultimate ladies man about town. He never married and never had children, but the ladies; they all swooned over him. When you’re in Lynchburg, there’s a place where you can look up a hill, and see Jack’s ultimate resting place. And there are two wrought iron chairs placed by his grave, and rumor has it that it’s so the ladies of the town could go sit by his grave and cry and mourn his death. It’s actually a pretty cool thing to go sit up there and do a shot of Jack, right in front of his grave.
Also, another legend that really strikes me – the cemetery where Jack is buried, right across from what is called the Lynchburg African-American Cemetery. Buried in that cemetery was someone very near and dear to Jack. His name was Nearest Green, and he was a slave of Dan Call, who was a preacher. The preacher had taught Nearest his method of making whiskey. When Jack met Nearest, he taught Jack the process that he had learned, and they use the very same method to this day. Once slavery was abolished and Nearest Green became a free man, Jack hired him and made him his very first Master Distiller. Nearest Green is buried there and there’s a little container of sugar maple charcoal that’s part of his grave. And interestingly, in the 150-year history of the Jack Daniel’s company, there has always been a member of the Green family working at the distillery – even to this day.”
Mint Julep Experiences in Nashville is an upscale tour where you get to experience the culture and craftsmanship of Tennessee. Find the best Tennessee whiskey on your adventure from Nashville to the Jack Daniel Distillery in Lynchburg or other popular Tennessee Whiskey Trail tour destinations. We also specialize in putting together exclusive custom tours for groups. Click here to book your tour now, or call us at 615-436-0187 to put together a specialized tour for your group.