Andy Nelson and his brother Charlie are proprietors of the original Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery in Tennessee, created by their great-great-grandfather Charles Nelson prior to Prohibition. After a trip to Greenbrier, Tenn., to see the original barrel warehouse and springs, the brothers decided to revive the defunct family whiskey company — which produced one of the largest and most popular brands of whiskey in the country during its heyday; it sold about 20 times more than Jack Daniel’s. After that trip, the two researched, planned and built the team for Green Brier Tennessee Whiskey. They began small, using a contract distillery to release their Belle Meade Bourbon in April of 2012. They finished building their own distillery just north of Nashville, which opened in the summer of 2013. Andy will continue his current role in operations, but will also act as the Green Brier master distiller and begin testing and producing their great- great-grandfather’s original recipe for the Green Brier Tennessee Whiskey. We sat down with Nelson and discussed a broad spectrum of topics, ranging from Music City’s must-visit stops to his favorite spots around the globe.
What are your favorite cities?
I’ve been to Europe and I did a semester abroad in Germany. During those four months I traveled as much as I could around Europe, which was very cool. I would say Cologne, Germany and then Bruges, Belgium are some of the coolest places I’ve been. Bruges is like a movie. We stayed in this little hotel that was an old barge sitting on the river attached to the dock. You look out and there’s the river and a beautiful park. And then of course there’s Paris. Who can go to Paris and not name that one of their favorite cities? New York City and L.A. are two obvious ones because they’re places that I love visiting. In New York, everything’s happening all the time. I went to college out in L.A. at Loyola Marymount University and every time I go back to visit friends I realize how glad I am that I don’t live there.
What are your favorite restaurants?
The one that pops out in my mind is Empire State South in Atlanta. I am kind of obsessed with that place. Just everything about it is so cool. And it’s sort of endeared itself to me. The last time we were there in Atlanta, Charlie and I were going to do some tasting events and sales calls, and everything was so delicious and original and comforting. I just felt like a million bucks after leaving there. Another place in Atlanta is Holeman & Finch. I really want to try that cheeseburger. And in Baltimore, Thames Street Oyster House is very good.
Who is your favorite traveling companion?
I have traveled with my brother Charlie more often than I traveled with anybody else just based on the fact that we’re business partners and we’re going to do the same thing. But I really like traveling alone. I’m much more of an introvert than an extrovert. I’m totally fine just being by myself with my own thoughts. I think I’m one of those rare people that doesn’t let travel stress me out. I can totally relax. If my plane is late, there’s nothing I can do about it, so I might as well enjoy it and get where I can when I can.
What is the best trip you have ever taken?
My semester abroad if you can count that as one trip — I really liked experiencing multiple new cultures and languages and architecture. You go to a restaurant and you take your time — they don’t constantly give you attention like, “Are you ready to go yet? Let’s get your check.” In fact, being in a group of Americans, we’d be like, “God let’s hurry, why are they taking so long?” Well, it’s just not the way life goes there. They prefer to take it easy and relax and enjoy that time.
What are your favorite cocktails?
My favorites are the Bloody Mary, a bourbon version of the Moscow Mule — I love ginger in anything — and an Old Fashioned. The Patterson House [in Nashville] is the first place I had a bacon Old Fashioned and that was just pretty incredible. I tend to prefer bourbon or whiskey cocktails.
What are your favorite things to do in Nashville?
1. You have experience the honky-tonks on Broadway.
2. Go to a Nashville Predators game. I never thought Nashville would be a big hockey town but people love it. Nashville always supports its own and hockey is really fun to watch.
3. Sitting down or standing on a corner of Broadway and people watching is really awesome. It’s fascinating to see all the different kinds of people, styles — or lack of style. I just love seeing it all.
4. Take a drive out into the country away from downtown. Nashville is a big city but it has a small-town vibe, so it’s not far from the country.
5. And then I’d say visit The Belcourt. It’s one of the really great gems of Nashville that you may not know of if you’re a tourist. Belcourt is a really cool, old independent theater.
What is your favorite time of the year in Nashville?
Spring or fall certainly are the best times to visit. It’s cold enough in the winter that it can be tough to deal with Broadway and downtown. The summer is a little hot, but that can really add some grit to the honky-tonks. But I think spring or fall because the weather’s nice and if you’re taking a drive out in the country, there’s a lot more beauty to appreciate. You can be outside with shorts and a T-shirt on and be just fine.
What are your favorite restaurants in Nashville?
Where are your favorite places to hear live music in Nashville?
Robert’s [Western World] is one of my favorite places. There’s nothing pretentious about it. It’s very laid-back, loud, crazy and crowded. It’s one of a kind. Also Springwater [Supper Club & Lounge] — I’m sure there will be plenty of people who’ll make fun of me for this but it’s just that hole-in-the-wall rock ’n’ roll place that doesn’t even serve liquor, just beer. It’s a lot fun. You can act like you don’t have to have any manners. I love places like that — the divey places. The Ryman [Auditorium] is pretty standard. You can’t come to Nashville to see live music without going to the Ryman. I’ve been to Mercy Lounge/The Cannery Ballroom/The High Watt so many times. That’s one of the great places around town.