Chattanooga Whiskey has one of the best backstories in recent memory. Named after the city where over 30 distilleries once operated, Chattanooga (the city) traces its roots back to 1816 when Cherokee Chief John Ross established a trading post on the Tennessee River. Then 1909 rolled around and Tennessee saw its own Prohibition begin, which effectively continued until 2009 with Lincoln, Moore, and Coffee being the only counties permitted to distill spirits in the state. Enter Tim Piersant and Joe Ledbetter, who launched a social media campaign to jumpstart interest in both a distillery and potential change to Chattanooga’s distilling laws. The effort was successful, which ultimately allowed Piersant and Ledbetter to begin producing their own whiskey, with high-malt Tennessee bourbon being the backbone of their lineup.
Not content to simply change laws and make history for Hamilton County, Chattanooga Whiskey also utilize unique bourbon production methods while being impressively transparent. Per the company website:
“Made with 4 grains, including 3 select specialty malts, the extended 7-day fermentations highlight the rich, complex high-malt character, while providing nuanced, fruity complexity. Aged in two different charred and toasted white oak barrels, this combination delivers a balanced, confection-rich barrel character, and harmonizes with the malty-rich spirit. After aging more than 2 years, Chattanooga Whiskey 91 utilizes our version of the Solera finishing process – bringing together nearly 100 barrels into a 4000-gallon, charred, white oak Solera finishing barrel, which never goes empty.”
Furthermore, each bottle of Chattanooga Whiskey 91 mentions its unique mash bill of yellow corn, malted rye, caramel malted barley and honey malted barley, the batch number, and batch size (8-12 barrels), all without boasting itself as a “small batch.” Chattanooga Whiskey is also non-chill filtered.
All of this information is certainly impressive and worth commending, but what ultimately matters to the end consumer is the whiskey itself. Does all of this translate to an equally fascinating pour? Let’s find out (my bottle is batch 21B25R):
Nose: Sweet corn, honey, and a little dried apricot. Some citrus notes with drying vanilla and vague malt. Nice upfront, but the young backbone becomes more obvious with further nosing. Nutmeg, walnut, and sassafras emerge after sipping.
Palate: Cinnamon kettle corn with a sawdust-y wood note. Dry vanilla and muted orange peel accent the somewhat young backbone. A little apricot from the nose carries over. One of those pours that isn’t necessarily off-putting in its youth, but still noticeable and a bit distracting.
Finish: Pretty short. Toasted cereal and wood notes mingle for a few seconds before coming to a clean end.
We all know the bias that comes into play when drinking from a fancy or otherwise expensive bottle of liquor; simply looking at the bottle while drinking often makes us enjoy it that much more. I’d argue that a similar effect happens while drinking Chattanooga Whiskey 91, but for different reasons. Being aware of the aforementioned production methods and honesty on the label makes appreciating the final product that much easier. I emphasize this because when it comes to evaluating the whiskey on its own, I probably wouldn’t feel so compelled to write at-length about it.
To that end, “decent” is the primary word I’d choose to describe Chattanooga Whiskey 91. I realize such a succinct description contrasts with how the rest of this review has read, but there’s a fine line between appreciation and enjoyment. In this case, my appreciation is sky-high while my enjoyment is modest.
Chattanooga Whiskey ultimately have a good product on their hands here and, like other promising craft distillers, I’m both interested in and hopeful for their future. This particular expression may have a couple shortcomings, but I’d be hard-pressed to think of any product with a two-year age statement that delivers a superior experience. The cherry on top is that I’ve seen bottles of this for as low as $30, which makes recommending it even easier to justify for curious drinkers. Less than $40 for a decent yet unique whiskey from an ambitious craft distillery with a great backstory? That’s worth taking a chance on in my book.