The Love List

12 YEARS OF CULTURE AND STYLE IN THE MODERN SOUTH

MAY15

How Two Tennessee Brothers Revived Their 19th Century Bourbon Legacy in Present-Day Nashville

NASHVILLE, BOOZE, MAY15, PEOPLEJess Graves

Charlie and Andy Nelson at their Nashville distillery and tasting room.

Words: Laura Scholz | Photos: Caroline Fontenot | Production: Jess Graves

At last year's Atlanta Food & Wine Festival, we met the affable Nelson Brothers. Charlie and Andy shared family anecdotes between sips of their heirloom whiskey, and invited us up to Tennessee to see their distillery in-person. Both in their early 30's, the brothers have established a sophisticated business beyond their years, one that's quickly become a treasured Nashville foothold. They're back at the festival again this year, so we figured it was as good a time as any to sit down and chat business, bourbon, brotherhood -- and of course, their favorite bars.


Jess enjoys a whiskey tasting at Nelson's Green Brier.

Chances are if you’re from the state of Tennessee, whiskey is in your blood.

But the Nelson family didn’t just dabble in avocational hootch. Andy and Charlie Nelson’s great-great-great grandfather Charles Nelson owned and operated Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery, which in the late 19th century sold 380,000 gallons (nearly 2 million bottles) of whiskey annually, easily outselling the likes of now-household names like Jack Daniels and Maker’s Mark.

“We always knew there was a family whiskey thing,” explained Andy Nelson, the elder of the two brothers.

“But we didn’t know if it was legal, or just moonshine, or what. From time to time at family gatherings around the holidays, our great uncles would reminiscence and say ‘if only we could find that old spring in Greenbrier and get the family business up and running again,’ but we never took them seriously."

A serendipitous trip to a butcher ten summers ago changed everything.

Whiskey barrels at Nelson's Green Brier in Nashville.

Andy and his younger brother, Charlie, made the 20 mile trip north to Greenbrier to to buy meat from a butcher and ended up chewing instead on their family legacy.

“We'd stopped for gas before heading to the butcher, and we saw a historical marker that read Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery. We couldn’t believe our name was on that sign,” Charlie recalled.

As fate would have it, the old family distillery, started by Charlie’s namesake great-great-great grandfather (coincidentally himself a butcher before getting into the whiskey business), was housed on the same land as the butcher’s shop. The brothers could see the remnants of the old whiskey barrelhouse, while the spring house was still standing... and the spring was still flowing.

Charlie and Andy talk us through the distilling process.

“The butcher sent us to the Greenbrier Historical Society, they had old pictures and ads and bottles of whiskey with our family name on them,” said Andy.

“That was the moment when Charlie and I looked at each other and said, ‘we have to do this.’”

Reviving the nearly hundred years-dormant family business was no small feat. Andy was fresh out of college working for a software publishing company, and Charlie was a 20 year old college senior studying philosophy. Neither had any experience in business--whiskey or otherwise.

Fast forward a decade, and the Green Brier Distillery is not only back--it’s thriving. The brothers started selling Belle Meade Bourbon using Charles Nelson’s original recipe four years ago. A new distillery bearing the family name opened in Nashville in 2014, and over the past decade, the company has grown to 25 employees and sells 25,000 cases of whiskey annually.


Aging whiskey barrels at Nelson's Green Brier.

Q&A

The Love List: What was the biggest challenge to getting the distillery off the ground?

Charlie Nelson: Raising capital. When we started working on resurrecting the distillery, I was barely 21 years old. Nobody would invest in a kid who was barely of drinking age, had no experience, and no money. People loved the story and could see the passion, but just would not write a check. It took over two years of trying to raise money every day before our first investor wrote our first check.

TLL: What’s it like to work with family?

Andy Nelson: Charlie and I are 16 months apart, so we’re very close. We work together because my strengths are Charlie’s weaknesses and vice versa. I am way more introverted. And he’s more extroverted. Charlie is sales and marketing. I’m production and operations. We’re kind of each others’ checks and balances.
 

CN: You can absolutely trust that everyone is going about things with the best of intentions.

Charlie and Andy Nelson speak in detail about the distillery's stills.

TLL: What’s the biggest misconception people have when you tell them you own a distillery?

AN: Some people think that we just sit around drinking whiskey all day. While tasting is part of the job, we still work in a factory setting that can be a high-hazard environment. There are a lot of safety precautions we take that don't exactly work for drunk employees.
 

CN: That this is just a hobby. People will ask, ‘so, what's your real job?’ I usually just laugh. Owning a distillery is more than just a full time job, it is pretty much a 24/7 way of life.

Nelson's Green Brier employees give visitors a warm welcome to their distillery, offering full facility tours and sips in their tasting room, above.

TLL: Where’s the strangest place you’ve ever talked about whiskey?

AN: We once did a little talk to a Baptist Church group in Greenbrier. We were the youngest people in the room by about fifty years, and they were a bunch of teetotalers. But even though they didn’t drink, they loved the history and the story behind what we’re doing with the family business.

TLL: Anything new on the horizon for the brand?

AN: We've begun testing out some line extensions of our special barrel finishing program that started with our sherry cask-finished Belle Meade Bourbon. We have some bourbon sitting in Cognac casks as we speak, and it's coming along quite nicely. We plan on trying some other types of casks as well, but I don't want to ruin too much of the secret!
 

CN: We are also really excited about the eventual launch of our Nelson's Green Brier Tennessee Whiskey, which is still a couple of years away.

Rolling a whiskey barrel across the facility.

TLL: Favorite drink with your namesake bourbon?

AN: I am completely a seasonal drinker, so I'm more intorefreshing warm weather drinks at the moment. That said, I love a Belle Meade Mule (Belle Meade Bourbon, ginger beer, lime) or mint julep. Otherwise, my go-to is just a Belle Meade Bourbon neat. That never fails.
 

CN: My favorite drink with Belle Meade Bourbon is always changing. There are so many great bartenders out there making delicious cocktails, so it's tough to choose. I think what's more important is the company and the atmosphere. I've got to say though, I always go back to a good ol' Old Fashioned.

Nelson's Green Brier Distillery is located in Nashville's Marathon Village, offering tours and tastings daily.

TLL: Can’t-miss Nashville haunts? [Ed. note: for our favorite city watering holes, check out our Drinker's Guide to Nashville]


AN: Obviously Nashville has a whole lot of great music. I personally prefer a smaller, dive-type atmosphere like Exit/In, but Marathon Music Works is really great as well. And if any of our out-of-town guests at the distillery ask, I tell them to go to Robert's downtown. It's the honky-tonk where the locals go, and it can't be beat. I'm also really big on the outdoors and love to go hiking and camping. We're very fortunate in Middle Tennessee to be so close to all kinds of beautiful trails and parks like Big South Fork and Virgin Falls.

CN: Nashville has grown so much over the last few years that it is getting hard to keep track of all the new places opening. One of my favorite places to eat and drink in Nashville is Rolf and Daughters. The food is outstanding, the drinks are killer (they even have their own Single Barrel of Belle Meade Bourbon), and the people who work there are some of the best in the business.


The 2016 Atlanta Food & Wine Festival takes place from June 2 - 5 in Midtown Atlanta, Georgia, and we can't recommend the festivities enough. We'll be there, will you? Grab tickets here.

Parties: An Intimate Atlanta Dinner Full of "Real Talk"

AGENDA, BOOZE, FOOD AND BOOZE, MAY15, PARTIES, PEOPLE, STYLE, ENTERTAININGJess Graves

We owe a big thanks to Domino magazine, who recently featured a dinner party we co-hosted with our friends Helen Ballard and Bradley Odom at Bradley's shop Dixon Rye in Atlanta. Chef Zach Meloy cooked us an amazing meal, the overall event a collaboration with apparel brand Kit + Ace who brought along cheeky "Real Talk" cards to inspire conversation. We had a fabulous night!

Many thanks to our creative friends and guests Ginny Branch, Sally Benedict, Mary Logan Bikoff, Elizabeth White, Joshua Charles, Carolyn Malone, and Sarah Dorio for attending. You can see the full feature (and many more pretty pictures!) on domino.com.


At Home with The Whiskey Gentry

MAY15, MUSIC, PEOPLEJess Graves

Words: Jess Graves | Photos: Caroline Fontenot

The band's founding couple throw open the doors of their Atlanta area home for an intimate interview and live session.


It wasn't long before waltzing into Jason and Lauren Morrow's Georgia home that we were offered a whiskey.

And then another whiskey, just a hair past noon. Why not? "I knew I liked you guys." Jason says. The couple are the founding members of The Whiskey Gentry (named for a line in Hunter S. Thompson's "Decadent and Depraved"), an Atlanta-based country/folk band enjoying a steady ascension on their own terms."We don't need to be rock stars." Jason says. "We're happy sustaining ourselves as musicians, just playing music, hopefully selling out shows, and producing great records."

Their home, a happy collection of tour memorabilia, family heirlooms and the stray thrift store victory, is inhabited by two more members of the TWG family; their golden retrievers Jack and Toby. Toby is sage, strong and steady - he keeps the boundless, bouncing Jack in check as he darts from person to person. But Jack always has one eye on Toby, watching him for direction, silently making sure what he's doing is right. The dog's dynamic isn't unlike that of their human parents. Lauren is still and sweet, but quietly possessive of the formidable, sensible strength that so many Southern women are born with. She's the perfect foil to her animated husband, who busies himself fiddling on the guitar, wrestling with Jack and skateboarding on their back yard ramp, which yes, he built himself. He cracks, "My fifteen year old self would be very proud of my house."

"We met at trivia night at [Atlanta bar] The Local." Lauren laughs at the memory. "We won. I remember one of the questions was, 'What 90's band covered Simon and Garfunkel's Mrs. Robinson? And I knew it was The Lemonheads. Jason was surprised I knew that. He kind of raised his eyebrow at me like 'hey girl, what do you know about The Lemonheads?' We spent the whole night dancing, then made out in the bathroom." She laughs again. "Real classy." 

"We were in separate bands then." Jason says. "I kept telling her that we should start [a band] together, but she wasn't having it at first. Then we went to see Old Crow Medicine Show play in Chattanooga, and that kind of changed things. We looked at each other and thought, 'we can do this', so we formed The Whiskey Gentry pretty soon after. Six months later, we were opening for Old Crow at [Papa Joe's festival] Banjobque."

“It was a face I’d seen a thousand times at every Derby I’d ever been to. I saw it, in my head, as the mask of the whiskey gentry–a pretentious mix of booze, failed dreams and a terminal identity crisis…” – Hunter S. Thompson

As we wander through their house, Lauren points out a needlepoint tapestry framed in the kitchen. "This was actually the cover for our most recent album, 'Holly Grove'." I squint at it. Sure enough, I recognize the little house in the woods that serves as the focal point for the cover. "That reminds me," I laugh, thinking of the album's title track, "what the hell possessed you to write a song about two little boys who die in the woods?"

She smiles slyly and gives me a little shrug. "I was listening to a lot of 'This American Life' on NPR." "Morbid." I interrupt, laughing again."Yeah, a lot of the time, yeah!" She says. "There was this story on there called 'The Ghost of Bobby Dunbar', about a little boy who goes missing in a swamp in Louisiana. He's found months later with this creepy, wandering handyman in Mississippi. That got me rolling on the lyrics." 

The band's sound dwells most generally under the country category, but to stifle them with that label isn't fair. Lauren's voice, as thoroughly Americana as any of her folk counterparts, rings as clear as a bell through the basement recording studio we're posted up in. There's some honky-tonk in their DNA, a wink at bluegrass, but there's also some pissed off garage punk. They write their own songs. Jason's never missed a day in the studio, resting comfortably nearby their producer, John Keane (REM, Indigo Girls), all hands on-deck. They don't need gimmicks, tricks or a lot of takes. They don't need you to think they look or sound shiny. They just want to catch you tapping your toe. 

 

Tour The Band's Home:

 

VIDEO: The Love List Presents

The Whiskey Gentry At Home

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The Whiskey Gentry will perform in May at both 2015's Shaky Knees and Shaky Boots festivals in Atlanta. Their album, "Holly Grove" is available now. 


The Luminary's "Famous Quality" Kentucky Gambler's Punch

BOOZE, MAY15, RESTAURANTS, RECIPESJess Graves

Words: Jess Graves | Photos: Caroline Fontenot

Atlanta barman Jeff Banks pulls inspiration from his time inside the circle for a bourbon punch worthy of Kentucky's biggest party. Plus, five more Derby-inspired libations and a playlist for your adult celebrations with our friends at Town & Country magazine.


"Thousands of raving, stumbling drunks, getting angrier and angrier as they lose more and more money. By midafternoon they’ll be guzzling mint juleps with both hands and vomitting on each other between races. The whole place will be jammed with bodies, shoulder to shoulder. It’s hard to move around. The aisles will be slick with vomit; people falling down and grabbing at your legs to keep from being stomped. Drunks pissing on themselves in the betting lines. Dropping handfuls of money and fighting to stoop over and pick it up.”  - Hunter S. Thompson, "The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved"

 
decadentdepraved.jpg

To anyone that's been, the Kentucky Derby's refined reputation is at best, a very beautiful facade. The peacocking, pageantry, jockeys and juleps are all very lovely, but in truth, it wears on into a loud, bawdy, drunken and debaucherous party; one folks dress up real nice and put on fancy hats for. "I've seen things there I've never seen anywhere" barman Jeff Banks muses from behind the brass and Thonet-laden bar at The Luminary, Atlanta's hip brasserie run by Top Chef alum Eli Kirshtein. "Drugs out in the open, people just losing their minds." His eyes twinkle. "It's a pretty good time."

 

"I'm not a 'sports guy', but I love the Derby. I've had the honor to work inside the circle a few times making drinks. I came up with a punch, nothing is worse when you’re having a party and making guests’ drinks every few minutes - especially when you drink like I do." - Jeff Banks

 

Ingredients:


·         1 bottle of Woodford Reserve Kentucky bourbon
·         2 liters of fresh brewed tea
·         1/2 cup sugar
·         15 Lemons
·         15 Sprigs of mint
 
Directions: 

Peel the lemons (avoiding as much of the pith as possible). Place the peels into the punch bowl with the sugar. Pick the leaves of 10 sprigs of mint and place into the punch bowl with the lemon peel. Brew tea directly into punch bowl with lemon peel, sugar, mint and lemon juice and mix well. Juice the peeled lemon into the punch bowl. Allow mixture to cool then add ice and bourbon. Serve over ice, garnished with mint.

 

Can we interest you in another?

We teamed up with Town & Country magazine for five more debaucherous beverages - perfect for serving at your Derby party. Read more

...and no party is complete without the proper playlist. Here's one we made in the spirit of horsing around (get it?), also over at Town & Country. Read more


Sweet Pea, Palmetto Bug is Just 'Southern' for Cockroach

STYLE, PEOPLE, MAY15Jess Graves

Words: Ashlyn Stallings | Photos: Olivia Rae James | Illustrations: Maggie Mathews

Mini Hay, the next generation of storied King Street jeweler Croghan's Jewel Box, carries on her century-old family tradition by boldly gilding one of the South's most ubiquitous pests in the heart of gentile Charleston.


Charleston near-about paints a good mood on us all,

with the peninsula’s treasure trove of shops and restaurants, and enough architecture that you think the elegant city deserves to brag a smidge louder about that (but she’s just so dadgum polite). Not to mention, there’s that romantic Confederate jasmine scent lilting down every street offering well-appointed forgiveness for the havoc pollen season wrought. 

Next time you’re in town, take note of a single-house on King Street reigning along the famed thoroughfare: Croghan’s Jewel Box. The century-old jewelry store is an institution, and family-owned for four generations. Jewelry maker Mini Hay’s great grandfather beget his family a grand inheritance to carry on, and Mini’s grandmother, mom, aunt, and sister have all done their part to deliver. After studying art at Clemson and an internship with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Mini now saddles-up to her workbench in the store, where she crafts the company’s line of Goldbug jewelry.

5qs-mini-hay.jpg

1. How on earth did the cockroach become elevated to this level? Any jitters or nerves with putting a line of bug jewelry out?

Well, I don’t usually have ideas before I start – I’d just want earrings or a cuff to wear to whatever I was going to that night, and get working. After Clemson, I was interning at the Met’s jewelry manufacturing department. But I tend to get a little homesick, so that lasted a summer! Back home in Charleston at Croghan’s, Mom expressed she wanted something representative of Charleston. ‘There are already sweetgrass baskets, palm trees on everything … And not a crab, either,’ she said. So, I’m in the house mom grew up in, this old home downtown, and ha, it’s the South, so there are some cockroaches around … so, I decided to just make one: Just make one and see if people like it. It sold instantly that day. And that Christmas, I’d wear the Goldbugs to deb parties – and then get 6 calls the next day from whomever saw it on me! I didn’t study jewelry making – I was a sculpture major at Clemson. I thought ‘You know, I like it, I’ll try it. And if no one else likes them, I’ll have a cool pair of earrings.’

2. What’s next on your docket?

The Goldbugs have been out about 14 months. Of course, I want to move on and dream up what’s next, but everyone is telling me to slow down, ha. Things pick up speed, word is getting out about the bugs, and I need to keep working on them for now! I would like to see them engraved – like an old pressed ring. I’m doing some fine jewelry too, and working with a 3D printer to make these cluster earrings with materials like turquoise, coral, and topaz.”

3. Young women in the Charleston art community are on everyone's lips right now, like CofC alumni magazine cover girl Lulie Wallace, Raven Roxanne, and Teil Duncan. Tell us about that from your vantage point.

I think it’s so cool what they’ve done. You know it just all of sudden happened where people were paying attention to Charleston. The bloggers here have really helped, too: they promote Charleston and the arts so well. My mom and I wanted to get on board, and the local Visitors Bureau had this weekend for bloggers, and we hosted an event here at Croghan’s on the portico and stuff. We gave them each a pair of Goldbugs, which ended up being great for us because they’d post pictures of them. The Goldbugs seem to be such a conversation starter.

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4. What’s the best part of the creative process for you?

So, I have the Goldbugs casted, and when I get the bugs back – it’s so fun – I get to just arrange them on myself, like my wrist or neck is this blank canvas. I’ll play with it, and curve all the wings around, or even bend some … I just try things, and if it doesn’t work, I can hide it in my workbench and never see it again!”

5. You’ve got so much family history in the single-house story. What’s one of your favorite memories?

Ha, I wish we had more photos – I guess we’re too busy enjoying life for pictures! One of the best is when I was, I don’t know, maybe two years old, and I’m looking out the door. I’d wrap Christmas gifts in the back when I was really little, and we’d get so busy. Mom would be like, ‘Come out here! We need some help!’ I so disliked it, that I chose to work for my dad’s tire company before the jewelry store! It just seemed nerve-wrecking to answer questions on the floor about jewelry with people all day. Finally, she roped me in working one weekend. I loved it. You know, you’re part of people’s lives on the happiest occasions – marriages, new babies, christenings ... I don’t want miss a day of that.

Mini Hay's Goldbug by Mini line is available on Taigan.com


South By Far East: The Story of An Atlanta Chef's Quiet Refugee Redemption

PEOPLE, MAY15Jess Graves
One of Bhojanic’s early IRC hires, Rachna, exemplifies the spirit of the resettlement program  . Formerly in Nepal, Rachna lived in refugee camp awaiting international relief. She now manages Bhojanic's kitchen.

One of Bhojanic’s early IRC hires, Rachna, exemplifies the spirit of the resettlement program. Formerly in Nepal, Rachna lived in refugee camp awaiting international relief. She now manages Bhojanic's kitchen.

Words: Katherine Michalak | Photos: Caroline Fontenot

The American Dream is alive and well behind the kitchen doors of Atlanta Chef Archna Becker's Bhojanic restaurants, where a booming refugee community has quietly thrived for nearly a decade.


New Oxford American Dictionary:

refugee |ˌrefyo͝oˈjē, ˈrefyo͝oˌjē| (noun)

a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster
ORIGIN late 17th cent.: from French réfugié ‘gone in search of refuge,’ past participle of (se) réfugier, from refuge (see refuge

 

Refugee - The word itself throbs with negative connotation, harkening a sense of strife and despair, along with visions of war-torn nations, political unrest, and the proverbial huddled masses yearning to breathe free. It’s a term conjuring images of foreign lands flickering from newscasts or award-winning performances in dramatic films. I, for one, recall anecdotal tidbits of ancestral history shared at family reunions, school projects about Ellis Island, and descriptive blurbs on countless museum exhibit plaques …  I identify only from distant reference, not from personal experience.

Yet, the etymology of refugee, stemming from a French gerund, echoes a sentiment far more familiar... a path we each navigate at some point in our lives . ‘Gone in search of refuge’. Seeking safety and shelter. Finding a place to rest, to breathe, to settle the soul, to nourish the body and regain balance. Hoping to find someone else at that refuge, an ally offering guidance and support to our exhausted bodies depleted by struggle.

A few years ago,

Executive Chef Archna Becker found herself struggling to staff her successful Bhojanic restaurants with capable employees. Sitting across the table from me at her Lenox location, Archna speaks quickly and definitively. Always on the move, with one hand on her phone and an ear toward the kitchen, Archna lifts up a palm gesturing emphatically, “We didn’t know what to do to get the right people in here to work. The people that were applying either didn’t have any papers or didn’t know anything about the food.” She’s committed to hiring employees with a connection to the culture of her cuisine in order to maintain authenticity. Continually packed tables at her restaurants indicate her approach hits a target.  

As the business grew, Archna kept hitting these same staffing obstacles, increasingly stressed over the search for qualified workers ready for the challenge of a bustling kitchen simmering with her traditional North Indian recipes. “Then one day someone over at IRC [in Clarkston] called saying they had 2 sisters looking for jobs, all their papers processed, and they didn’t know where to start looking. I said ‘Send them over!’ That’s how we started hiring from the refugee community. I helped them, they saved me!”

About 30 years ago, the federal government tapped Clarkston, Georgia as one of the ideal spots for refugee resettlement and the DeKalb County town has played gracious host ever since. Thousands of eager families arrive in Clarkston, embracing freedom and building their future with the aid of the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), designated state programming and dozens of private organizations such as the International Refugee Committee (IRC). Diversity thrives in this community devoted to new beginnings.

One of Bhojanic’s early IRC hires, Rachna, exemplifies the spirit of the resettlement program. Formerly in Nepal, Rachna lived in refugee camp awaiting international relief. Her journey brought her to Clarkston, and in 2009 she interviewed with Archna. Now, six years later, she manages the kitchen of the Lenox location while her husband manages the kitchen of Bhojanic’s Decatur restaurant. They own their home and cars, and their children flourish in local schools. They’ve each established fulfilling careers and anticipate successful futures for their family -- the American Dream in glorious technicolor.

Currently, Bhojanic employees over 2 dozen refugees, guiding them through a rigorous training process, helping them learn English and facilitating the transition into American society in a way that still allows them to celebrate their own culture. “We throw parties and organize employee events. This has become a family, our family. My husband and I recently attended an employee wedding -- a big family wedding that the whole community came together, participating. Everyone there knew us. Everyone!”

Bhojanic Executive Chef Archna Becker.

Bhojanic Executive Chef Archna Becker.

Archna views her efforts as a means of honoring her heritage and maintaining a link to tradition,

as well as celebrating America’s vast opportunities. As a young girl, she came to this country with her parents when they decided to leave India; while the circumstances of her arrival were quite different than those in an ORR program, she relates to the assimilation process. Archna encourages more business-owners to build similar relationships, “It’s definitely an investment in the training, but the risk/reward ratio of that… the ROI… makes it totally worth it. It’s incredibly rewarding. Some employees stay with us and some have moved on to open their own businesses. This community is filled with kind, family-oriented, dedicated, educated, hard-working people… This is what this country is about. If I can be a conduit for that energy, of course I will!”

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Bhojanic has two locations in Atlanta; in Buckhead at 3400 Around Lenox Rd. NE and in Decatur, at 1363 Clairmont Rd.