Corsair Distillery is one of my favorite craft distillers in America right now. They’re innovative, they’re interesting, they do unique and weird things, create tasty products and are staffed by some incredibly interesting, and most importantly passionate, people. They’re a rag-tag group of rebels in an industry steeped in tradition who are constantly pushing the envelope and blazing new trails while keeping a respectful eye on said traditions and methods of the past.
Looking at it from the outside you might not think anything interesting was happening inside the old red brick building above, but the historic Marathon Motor Works building is just one of many old buildings and factories in Nashville that are now enjoying a second life as a home to coffee shops, restaurants, boutiques and a host of other new businesses as young entrepreneurs flock to the cheap real estate available on this side of Nashville.
A little ways down the road is Greenbriar distillery, makers of Belle Meade, and it’s a hard place to miss with their name painted on the front of the building in huge letters. In contrast here at the Marathon building the only outwards mention of Corsair Distillery, and brewery, is a little black and red sign hanging at an angle from the stairs on the side of the building. It would be easy to miss and even after walking through the doors there’s again only one small sign pointing to towards Corsair… this is not a flashy affair.
Though outwardly mundane, once inside you’re greeted with a wonderful beer menu and a friendly staff who’s more than happy to answer questions and talk about anything from the weather to why you’re in town and where to eat. Southern hospitality even extends into a crowd of tattooed and pierced rouge brewers and distillers. Here you can sign up for a tour of their humble facilities, but I was here as “press” so I got to skip the sign up and get shown around by one of their brewers.
The tour started at their 240 gallon copper pot still where every distilled spirit they make gets made – at least until their new distilling facility is finished with 2 massive Scottish style pot stills is completed that is. I did get to tour that facility as well, but there’s not much to report since at the time it was nothing more than an open warehouse with a concrete slab laid for the stills.
After the still we just shifted our gaze to the right and saw their kettle and fermentors followed by all the other equipment one might expect in a distillery and brewery that’s all but running 24 hours a day to pump out great tasting adult beverages. It was at this point in our 360 degree turn that we met one of their distillers who was working on a top secret project. A project I wasn’t allowed to document, but did get to taste and it was pretty darn tasty. It’ll be interesting to see if it ends up coming out later this year or not.
The Corsair Distillery guys experiment like crazy and more often than not these experiments never become actual products. They have a rack at the back of the distillery, another area I was asked not to take photos of, that was filled with experiments. Different grains they’d tested, vapor basket experiments, smoked experiments, clear spirit experiments and so on. A huge catalog of years worth of distilling RnD and I was lucky enough to get to try a couple. Some you could see why they wouldn’t be made while others were fantastic, but would never see the light of day due to other issues, like the cost.
From there we headed out back and saw the giant boiler they used as a backup to the kettle inside and a dumper full of grain that was about to get milled and distilled. It was sprinkling lightly and looking around this courtyard at the Marathon Motorworks building created an odd sense of time. Cracked and fallen brick and old rusty machinery that used to service the brick behemoth butted up to shiny pipes and modern machinery used to create modern versions of beverages humans have enjoyed for hundreds, even thousands, of years.
At that point our small group turned around and looked back inside to see the distillery and brewery in its entirety. All of the equipment used to distill resides on the left 3/4 of the photo above while most of the brewing equipment sits in the right 1/4. Considering how much these guys put out, and how far across the US it goes, I couldn’t help but be impressed by everything they accomplish with such a humble facility.
From there we went a few steps back inside the door and to our right was their “rickhouse” which was basically just a medium sized room filled with barrels stacked on top of each other. When I toured their new facility they also had several racks just like these in what will become their new “rick house” and this expanded capacity will allow them to experiment more with variables like aging and barrel size, to name a few, in their whiskey production.
We had a lovely chat about some of the aging experiments they’ve already done and what experimental stuff they had in the barrels already. We also found out that several breweries in Nashville and the surrounding area take their used barrels to age beer in, some of which they carry at the distillery. I tried an ale that, if I remember right, was aged in either their Quinoa or Outrage barrels and it was a delicious rustic and creamy ale. However, those beers don’t make it too far out of Tennessee from what I understand so you’d be hard pressed to find one unfortunately.
The final stop on our tour was the tasting room. I’d already tasted every whiskey they had on display, so I opted for the non whiskey route and tried everything from their red absinth to their naturally flavored vodkas, gins and more. After trying a few things I asked our host about spirits I knew existed, but weren’t on the shelves and as with so much of life it’s not about just what you know, but who you know and our gregarious guide rolled out the red carpet.
From under the bar and out of back rooms came other spirits to taste. Steampunk, Old Punk, basically all the punks, Nashville Bourbon, Wry Moon and more. I wish I had brought my tasting book to take notes on everything that came out, but it was back in the hotel. I wasn’t expecting such generosity even with my hookup, but on that same note it can be nice to just relax and enjoy yourself without worrying about things like notes – and we definitely enjoyed ourselves.
After enjoying a cocktail made by the fantastic bar staff there at Corsair Distillery, the group I brought with me and myself grabbed our things, said our good byes and hopped in our Lyft. We would have loved to stay longer, but we were meeting up with the George Dickle crew for a night in downtown Nashville where we would eat some amazing food at Pinewood Social, hear 10,000 covers of Garth Brooks songs and my mustache would get molested by many drunken revelers who would ask “dude, can I touch your mustache?” and immdiately start touching my handlebar curls – never waiting for a response.
The next day however I got to come back for a private tour from one of the owners which is when I got to tour their new / under construction facilities where we climbed through racks to pull samples and try various whiskies at full cask strength, watered down to about 101 proof and then bottle strength (46%). We tasted Citra, Triple Smoke, Oatrage, a sibling to their 9 grain bourbon Grainiac and more. Some of the whiskies showed better with water while others, particularly their vapor hopped ones, showed much better at full CS.
All-in-all the trip to Nashville was fun and touring Corsair Distillery was a blast. Their staff and owners were fascinating and fantastic people and after spending time chatting, laughing and drinking with them the secret to their success is plain to see: they have an unbridled curiosity and passion for what they do. These folks are not just mad scientists who’ve been let loose in a distillery / brewery; they’re passionate master alchemists who’re successfully transforming solids into liquids that turn into awards and accolades. If you’re ever in Nashville I highly recommend taking a tour.
Till the next tour. Cheers!