Char­lie Nel­son

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CO­FOUNDER, NEL­SON’S GREEN BRIER DIS­TILLERY

About eight years ago, my dad, brother Andy, and I were driv­ing to a butcher in Green­brier, Ten­nessee. We stopped for gas, and I saw a his­tor­i­cal marker for the de­funct Green Brier Dis­tillery, which Charles Nel­son had owned. I thought, That’s my name! Be­fore the Civil War, I dis­cov­ered, my great-great-great-grand­fa­ther had come to Nashville and later bought a whiskey dis­tillery. It was known as Old Num­ber 5, be­cause it was the coun­try’s fifth reg­is­tered dis­tillery. Jack Daniel’s is num­ber 514. When we got to the butcher, we asked him about Green Brier. “Look across the street,” he said. A metal-bar­rel ware­house still stood, with a nearby spring. We drank the coolest, purest spring­wa­ter you’ve ever tasted. Then we vis­ited the his­tor­i­cal society, which had two un­opened bot­tles of Nel­son’s Green Brier Ten­nessee Whiskey. Ev­ery hair on my body stood up. My brother and I looked at each other and said, “This is what we’re here to do.” Our plan was to raise money, build a dis­tillery, and start bar­rel-ag­ing whiskey. We’d sell it when it was ready. That was a tough pitch for in­vestors, es­pe­cially com­ing from guys barely old enough to drink. In­stead, my fam­ily and I put up ev­ery­thing we owned to guar­an­tee a loan, then we worked with a con­tract dis­tillery to cre­ate Belle Meade bour­bon. The new idea was to build a brand and a dis­tri­bu­tion net­work, then at­tract cap­i­tal. It worked. This year, we’re bot­tling Belle Meade at our new dis­tillery, and we’ll start dis­till­ing Green Brier Ten­nessee Whiskey ac­cord­ing to my great-great-great-grand­fa­ther’s recipe. We didn’t have any­thing when we started out—just an idea, a dream, and a vi­sion. We want to be in this busi­ness for the rest of our lives.

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