Prohibition ended in 1933, but it was just 10 years ago that Tennessee reformed its prohibition-era laws, eliminating the legal barriers to entry for whiskey distilleries. Since then, the number of whiskey distilleries has jumped from three to 30, with more than 6 million people from around the world having visited the Tennessee Whiskey Trail. Officially launched in 2017, the trail was created to raise awareness of the history and craft of Tennessee whiskey making.
It was the transportation of bootlegged moonshine during prohibition that led to one of Charlotte’s favorite past times. Bootleggers responsible for “runnin’ shine” would drive small, quick cars that could be easily maneuvered to evade the law. These cars would be rigged with extra shocks and springs to protect the glass jars from the rough mountain roads. Moonshine drivers loved the thrill of outrunning the police and eventually began competing with one another in races for bragging rights. Ultimately, rules were established, and NASCAR was born.
While we don’t recommend pulling a bump and run, we do suggest taking to the old moonshine running roads for a getaway. With the closest stops under four hours from the Queen City, it’s an easy weekend road trip.
From Charlotte, the nine closest distilleries are located in Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and Sevierville. Let us map it out for you:
Fun fact: Sugarlands is the official moonshine of NASCAR and partner of Discovery Channel’s Moonshiners.
Hours: Monday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-10:30 p.m.
Fun fact: This location, known as The Holler, is the most visited distillery in America and home to the most awarded moonshine in the world.
Hours: Monday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-11 p.m.
Fun fact: Started by William ‘Doc’ Collier who delivered moonshine on horseback, visitors of this distillery can see some of the original equipment that has been used for generations.
Hours: Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sunday noon.-7 p.m.
Pigeon Forge area
Fun fact: This distillery uses freshly ground grains from The Old Mill, located on property, which has been operational since 1830 and is one of the oldest and most photographed mills in the country.
Hours: Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sunday noon-6 p.m.
Fun fact: The Pigeon Forge Island outpost of Ole Smoky Moonshine, The Barn, has a dedicated outdoor stage featuring live bluegrass music.
Hours: Monday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-11 p.m.
Fun fact: This location was formerly known as Thunder Road Distillery, the code name given to an undercover federal operation to nab moonshiners during prohibition.
Hours: Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 9 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m.-7 p.m.
Fun Fact: Its triple-gold-award-winning White Lightening moonshine is its claim to fame.
Hours: Sunday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m.
Fun fact: The made-from-scratch, small batch spirits at this distillery are the only certified organic spirits on the trail.
Hours: Tuesday-Sunday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.
Fun fact: Thought to be the smallest batch distillery in the country, Bootleggers brews by the pot, not by the tank, to focus on quality.
Hours: Monday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
Whiskey Trail passport
The Tennessee Whiskey Trail website offers a variety of maps and itineraries that span the entire Volunteer state. Whiskey connoisseurs should consider getting the Whiskey Trail passport, available at participating distilleries or through the Tennessee Whiskey Trail app. You must register online prior to getting started and collect stamps along the way. Once you’ve received stamps from all of the distilleries, submit your passport and you will be a proud owner of a Tennessee Whiskey Trail t-shirt.
“We believe we have a huge opportunity to continue to grow the Trail and continue to enhance our position as a primary driver of tourism throughout the state,” noted Mariko Hickerson, representative from the Tennessee Distillers Guild. “We have a lot of big, exciting plans in the years ahead, including even more official Tennessee Whiskey Trail events, a new restaurant and retail store coming soon to the Nashville airport, new distilleries joining the Trail, an expansion of the Trail and Guild’s leadership team, and much more.”
Where to stay and eat
There are dozens of hotel and food options in Eastern Tennessee, but a few are unique. The Inn at Christmas Place features year-round holiday décor and themed suites. There are even daily breakfast visits from Jolly Old St. Nick himself. Any Jimmy Buffett fans? Check out Margaritaville Island Hotel, which boasts “a perfect blend of mountain latitude and island attitude.” For a more relaxing getaway, Riverstone Resort and Spa features condos and log cabins along with a full menu of spa treatments.
If you are on the hunt for some good food, Old Mill Restaurant and Log Cabin Pancake House are consistently local favorites. And the Austrian-inspired teahouse, Wild Plum Tea Room, is a lunch spot worth making a reservation for. It was named one of Tennessee’s 10 best restaurants by The Tennesseean newspaper.