Biographical Non-Fiction posted May 18, 2023 Chapters: 1 2 -3- 4 

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Prohibition's Effect On Tennessee Whiskey

A chapter in the book Whiskey Talking

Prohibited Imbibing

by Brett Matthew West

Chapter One of this novella, entitled Nathan Nearest Green, depicts how a slave taught the young Jack Daniel how to distill whiskey.

Chapter Two, entitled Cottage Industry, compares Tennessee whiskey and Kentucky bourbon.


In 1930, Prohibition, the 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution, banned the manufacture, transportation, and sale of alcohol. Bootlegging, speakeasies, gang violence, and organized crime all thrived under the Cullen-Harrison Act during the thirteen years, or so, this law was in effect.

A long time before Prohibition reared its ugly head the state of Tennessee had labored the better portion of a century to eliminate John Barleycorn. That name is nothing more than a fancified personification of liquor, particularly those made from barley and malt.

The American Temperance Society formed in Boston, Massachusetts on February 13, 1826. This movement's members vowed to abstain from drinking distilled alcohol. Wine and beer were not included in this promise.

The organization became the first United States social movement to mobilize a massive national effort to reform the consumption of alcohol. Tennessee chapters of the American Temperance Society sprang up in Kingsport and Nashville.

Soon thereafter, in 1909 to be exact, liquor sales were banned within four miles of schools. Additionally, the manufacturing of "intoxicating beverages," as they became popularly known, was outlawed state-wide. However, Nashville and Memphis largely ignored these new ordinances.

Becoming law on December 5, 1933, the 21st Amendment of the Constitution ended the fiasco of Prohibition. This Amendment is the only one to repeal a prior one, as well as the only one ratified by state ratifying conventions.

The 21st Amendment stated, "The transportation or importation into any state, territory, or possession of the United States for delivery of, or use therein of intoxicating liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited."

Clay Risen, a New York Times reporter and editor, as well as the author of "American Rye: A Guide to the Nation's Original Spirit," stated, "At the end of Prohibition, Kentucky opened itself up to an industry that was consolidated and just needed a home."

In his book, Risen implied US bourbon drinkers are turning to rye as their drink of choice because of rye's spicy and herbaceous flavor.

Further elaborating, Risen explained, "Tennessee could have gone the way of Pennsylvania or Maryland, where the distilling industry completely disappeared. It's in some ways a testament to Jack Daniel's that they kept the lights on for the category. Otherwise, we might not be talking about it [Tennessee whiskey] today."

Jack Daniel's historian Nelson Eddy explained Tennessee's slowness to embrace distilling and the sale of alcohol after Prohibition ended. "Even in 1938, when Jack Daniel's starts putting whiskey up in barrel houses, it can't be sold in the state. Nashville wasn't liquor by the drink until 1967."

Launched in Lincoln County in 1997, Prichard's Distillery became the first new Tennessee distillery to open in the state since Prohibition ended. Lincoln County, found in the south central region of Tennessee, not far from the Jack Daniel's Distillery, was one of only three counties in Tennessee that permitted the production of liquor at that time.

Pritchard's Distillery originally opened in the Kelso, Tennessee schoolhouse in Lincoln County. Their top brand of bourbon is named "Double Barrel." This bourbon is barreled at 125% proof and taken down to 95% proof. At that point, it is re-barreled in new charred oak barrels. Pritchard's is the only distillery known to use this process for distillation to create their bourbon.

By 2009, when the Tennessee legislature opened most of the state to distilling, craft brewers operated throughout the Volunteer State.

Alex Castle is the first female Master Distiller for the Old Dominick Distillery, and a member of the Tennessee Distillers Guild. The Guild promotes and advocates for the distilling industry in Tennessee. She stated her thoughts on the matter when she asked, "I think a lot of people definitely felt it was about parity. If you're able to brew in these counties, why can't you distill in these counties?"

Originally operated in 1866, and restarted in 2017, Old Dominick Distillery is the first whiskey distillery in downtown Memphis since before Prohibition began. Located in Hurling Station, and named after an old train depot, Old Dominick's whiskey is bottled at 100% proof.

Clay Risen elaborated, "It's really been in the last five or six years that the distillers that emerged as the new leaders are putting their weight behind Tennessee whiskey."

New leaders in Tennessee distillation include Uncle Nearest and Nelson's Green Briar, the Sazerac Company , George T. Stagg, and Buffalo Trace. The Sazerac Company is currently distilling a yet-to-be-named whiskey that is aging in barrels and not expected to be released for another year and a half, perhaps longer.

The Kentucky whiskey destiller, who brews Pappy Van Winkle, as talked about in Chapter Two of this novella, is currently constructing a distillery in Murfreesboro, a city midway between Nashville and Lynchburg. This is, of course, the home of Jack Daniel's.

Alex Castle may have summed the current condition of distillation in Tennessee up well when she commented, "I think Tennessee whiskey is still evolving. It's still showing what its identity really is."


Days of Wine and Roses, by avmurray, selected to complement my novella.

In no way, shape, form, or fashion is this novella intended to promote alcohol consumption.

It is my staunch belief if someone has an addiction there are a myriad of organizations available to assist them.
Pays one point and 2 member cents.

Artwork by avmurray at

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