The beer brewing industry in Tennessee did not really see any significant growth until after the Civil War. Many of Tennessee's breweries, like the William Gerst Brewery in Nashville or the Tennessee Brewing Company in Memphis, were started by German immigrants. By 2011, Tennessee's wholesale beer tax was generating over $16 million in revenue, and a growing number of small craft breweries were operating across the state.
Tennessee is probably best known, however, for its distilleries. Tennessee's first distillery was probably Evan Shelby's East Tennessee distillery, which was operating by 1771. By 1787, there was a distillery operating in Nashville. Andrew Jackson owned two stills with his partner Thomas Watson, and those stills produced nearly 500 gallons of whiskey between December 1802 and February 1803. In 1909, the General Assembly passed a law outlawing the production of alcohol in the state, and Tennessee's distilleries either closed or moved their operations out of state. The ban stayed in effect until 1937, even though National Prohibition was repealed in 1933. Despite the lifting of the state ban, however, distilling operations were allowed in only 3 of Tennessee's 95 counties (Lincoln, Moore, and Coffee). In 2009, the General Assembly passed a law expanding distilling operations to an additional 41 counties.
In 1893, William Gerst bought out Christian Moerlein, his partner in the Moerlein-Gerst Brewing Company, and renamed the company the William Gerst Brewing Company. The company then gained a reputation for producing some of the best ales and lagers in the South. During Prohibition, the company stayed in business by making sodas and malt beverages.
William Gerst died in 1933, shortly before Prohibition was repealed. His sons took over running the company after his death and they resumed brewing operations after the ratification of the 21st Amendment. "Brewed in Dixie" became the company's slogan.
The William Gerst Brewing Company closed in 1954 and the brewery, located at 821 6th Avenue South in Nashville, was torn down in 1963. In 2011, the Yazoo Brewery in Nashville introduced its replica of the original Gerst Amber.
Born in 1846, Jack Daniel became a licensed distiller at the age of 20. In 1866, he began leasing a piece of land called the Hollow and a water-source called Cave Spring in Lynchburg, Moore County, Tennessee. In 1884 he purchased the Hollow and Cave Spring outright, along with 142 additional acres; that property has been the site of the distillery ever since.
Since he never married and never had any children, Jack Daniel took his favorite nephew, Lem Motlow, into the business. He turned over operation of the distillery to Motlow in 1907. Jack Daniel died in 1911 from blood poisoning.
After the passage of a statewide ban on the manufacturing of alcohol in 1909, Motlow moved distilling operations to St. Louis, Missouri, and Birmingham, Alabama. After the repeal of Prohibition with the passage of the 21st Amendment, Motlow resumed distilling operations outside of Tennessee because the state's ban on manufacturing alcohol was still in effect. The ban was finally repealed in 1937, and distilling operations resumed in Lynchburg. Motlow died in 1947 and passed the business to his four sons: John Reagor, Robert, Daniel Evans ("Hap"), and Connor.
In 1877, the Cascade Hollow distillery, located a few miles north of Tullahoma in Coffee County, was founded by John F. Brown and F. E. Cunningham. George Dickel, a Nashville merchant, bought controlling interest in the distillery in 1884 (and opted to spell whiskey the Scottish way — without the "e"). After George's death in 1894, his wife, Augusta, took over and ran the distillery until her death in 1916. After Tennessee banned the manufacture of alcohol in 1909, the company moved its distilling operations to Kentucky. It shut down entirely after the passage of the 18th Amendment and would not reopen again until 1958.
Charles Nelson, a German immigrant who became a prominent Nashville businessman, purchased the Green Brier Distillery in Greenbrier, Robertson County, in 1870. It quickly became one of the largest distilleries in Tennessee. By 1885, it was producing 380,000 gallons of whiskey a year and shipping it as far away as San Francisco, California and Paris, France. It was also paying the state about $341,000 annually in taxes (ca. $8,230,000 in today's dollars). The distillery was forced to close after the statewide ban on the manufacture of alcohol was passed by the General Assembly in 1909. In 2009, the company was resurrected by two of Charles Nelson's great-great-great grandsons.
Tennesseans, perhaps naturally, also sought out establishments in which they could partake of alcoholic beverages being produced in the state. The 1837 Report of the Joint Committee of the General Assembly, on Tippling Houses ("tippling house" is an antiquated term for a bar or saloon) states:
It is deemed proper to say, that by the laws of this State, up to the passing of the act of 1831, all persons who had a license to keep an ordinary, or house of entertainment, were authorized to retail spirituous liquors; such license was granted to almost every one applying, and under wholsome [sic] and salutary regulations, if the law was complied with; enabling all who chose, to indulge occasionally in a social glass. This then appeared commensurate with the wants of the people. Scarcely an instance of complaint was heard, that the rights and privileges of any citizen were curtailed, or his liberties infringed upon.
According to the Report of the Comptroller of the Treasury, in Relation to the Number of Tippling Licenses Issued, &c., to the General Assembly of Tennessee, there were 247 licensed tippling houses in Tennessee in 1846, and the revenue from the license fees that year was $6,164.06 (ca. $187,000 today). In 1847, 324 licensed tippling houses across the state generated $8,720.77 (ca. $246,000 today) of revenue from license fees.