My obsession with bourbon didn’t actually start in Tennessee, though the story finds its way here—eventually. Rather, I left my home state at age 22 when my palette was too young to be refined, and I thought Jäger bombs and whatever was cheapest on tap—usually, something watery and disgusting, thanks to my years roaming Knoxville’s lively Strip as a penny-pinching student at the University of Tennessee—were the way to go on a Friday night (and a Saturday, and a Tuesday, if I’m being honest).
Young Kristin didn’t know any better, y’all. Don’t blame it on her; blame it on the a-a-a-a-a-a-alcohol.
It wasn’t until I reached the shrewd age of 25, and we started hanging around Leah and Simon regularly out in California that they introduced us to the beauty of Bulleit. I consider it my gateway drug to the magical world of bourbon, though it still remains one of my favorites even nearly a decade later.
In the near decade since then, we have consumed a respectable amount of bourbon. But if we’re being fair here, bourbon and I were bound to find each other eventually.
Many of you long-time readers know that I hail from Tullahoma. Don’t know where that is? Well, I’ll just go ahead and show you:
That’s a reputable 12.5 miles from Jack and 4.5 miles from George. I’d long been taking all my out-of-towners to Jack for the full distillery experience, though I’d never been an actual drinker of it (at the time) due to being underage and whatnot. George, on the other hand, became one of our go-to pours when I was of legal drinking age and had moved back to Tennessee five years ago; living with my parents for a year, then since having a family dinner every week or so at their house where the Dickel flows freely, SVV and I became Dickel cheerleaders, often which we pair with that other Tullahoma staple, Sun Drop, for the signature local drink of choice: the Dickel & Drop.
Then, around the time we returned to Tennessee, bourbon and whiskey started having a moment—and not one limited to the state just north of us, Kentucky, either. Our return coincided with Nashville’s own SPEAKeasy Spirits putting out a delicious sipping cream, Whisper Creek, as well as Bowling Green-born Corsair opening two Music City outposts—in Marathon Village and Wedgewood-Houston—and the Nelson brothers discovering their booze-soaked heritage and debuting Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery, a must-visit for anyone coming to Nashville, no matter the day (fun fact: it’s still one of the only places in town you can buy a bottle of liquor on a Sunday!).
These days, (one of) our liquor cabinet(s) is substantial in its bourbon selection: We buy it while traveling—as evidenced by returning from four days in Lexington last month with 10 new bottles added to our selection—and we purchase it locally from the distillery source itself or at Craft Brewed in Nashville, sipping on a bourbon and ginger (me) and a bourbon on the rocks (SVV) nightly while at home or maybe opting for something a bit fancier, like a Seelbach, when out on the town.
All that to say, we keep the bourbon industry in business.
Now, let’s talk about another love of mine: The Smoky Mountains.
Did you know that the Smokies is the United States’ most visited national park, with nearly 10 million people annually coming to see its beauty for themselves? It’s true, I swear it. My grandfather grew up right near there in Alcoa, while my grandmother spent the first 30 years of her life in the Fort in Knoxville. Her brother, my Uncle Tom, he had a cabin—yes, really—right on the park’s fringe, and summer trips as kids were spent making our base from his house, biking Cades Cove, tubing on Fort Loudoun Lake, floating the river in Townsend. For those who have yet to experience the majesty of the Smokies in all her glory, I feel for you—you need to remedy that, stat.
Segue coming in 3, 2, 1…
So how about making that first time in November when you can enjoy all my favorite things—Tennessee bourbon, Southern bites and the Smokies’ fall foliage—all at once via the inaugural Grains & Grits Festival? Now, that is a trifecta I can support with my every last taste bud.
In collaboration with the Smoky Mountains, Blount Partnership and Blount Chamber, a group of whiskey-loving Tennessee folk are putting on the first ever Grains & Grits Festival that celebrates craft spirits and gourmet grub in one scenic setting, the heart of Townsend, which is nestled within the Smokies.
You may be wondering who all is participating. Well, from the looks of things, just about every major distillery in Tennessee—I’m sure more than a few of these names will sound familiar:
- Jack Daniel’s
- George Dickel
- Old Forge Distillery
- Sugarlands Distillery
- Thunder Road Distillery
- Popcorn Sutton and Avery’s Trail Distillery
- SPEAKYeasy Spirits Distillery
- H Clark Distillery
- Nelson’s Greenbrier Distillery
- Corsair Distillery
- Tennessee Legend
- Chattanooga Whiskey
- Pyramid Premium Vodka Distillery
- Short Mountain Distillery
- Leiper’s Fork Distillery
That’s a whole lot of delicious liquor in one place! But it gets even better.
And, lastly, what’s bourbon and food without some live entertainment and delicious beer to round it all out? Tara Thompson, cousin to Loretta Lynn, will be playing a set to get you into the mountain spirit as you sample tastes from Blackberry Farm Brewery, Bluetick Brewery and many other local craft breweries, all poured by The Casual Pint Maryville.
Now, here comes the best part of all. Are you ready for this?
I’m giving away THREE pairs of tickets to the event plus swag bags to all winners. I’ll select two lucky people, each of whom will receive a set of tickets, from this blog post and one winner via Instagram—be sure and follow me there so you know when that contest is live. And I’m making this super easy for you—all you have to do is tell me via the widget below: What’s your favorite bourbon? In fact, you should probably pour yourself one right now to get into the spirit (get it?); that will probably increase your likelihood of winning 😉
And if you aren’t fortunate enough to win—though I do hope you are!—you can purchase tickets of your own to the one-day festival here.