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Sipping in Style

Savor the experience at these distilleries full of history, craft, and sophistication

By Linden M. Bayliss

A group bourbon tasting at  Angel’s Envy in Louisville, Kentucky
A group bourbon tasting at Angel’s Envy in Louisville, Kentucky || Photo by Nathan Pedigo, courtesy of Angel’s Envy

When it comes to planning an event, thinking outside the box can be difficult. Planners want the perfect combination of fun, elegance, and logistics, while giving attendees an experience to remember. Complete with Southern flair and tasty concoctions, distilleries tick off all the boxes with grace.

The distilling industry in the U.S. has seen a huge boom over the past two decades—from 2001 to 2021, the number of distilleries in the country increased by 22 times according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. For meeting and event planners, distilleries not only offer opportunities for sipping and celebrating, but also fun add-ons like behind-the-scenes tours, guided tastings, and classes you won’t find at other venues. From rustic and charming outdoor spaces to Prohibition-era lounges, distilleries across the Southeast just might have the perfect package for your gathering.

Bourbon & Whiskey Country
Tennessee and Kentucky are obvious destinations for any planner seeking a distillery experience. Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery in Nashville, Tennessee, specializes in true Tennessee whiskey. “Our recipe is a family recipe,” says Philip Heil, events manager at Nelson’s Green Brier. “It’s one of the oldest on the market and actually dates back to 1860.” Its Coopers Club Lounge has an intimate, speakeasy vibe and can accommodate 35 attendees seated or 50 reception-style, while the adjacent and whimsical Whiskey Garden brings the outdoors in with a live greenery wall and impressive skylight along with space for up to 75. The Oak Room includes a stage with full audiovisual technology and theater lighting for galas, showcases, and other large gatherings for up to 200. Nelson’s Green Brier also offers customizable gift options from its store, along with private tours and tastings to finish a long day of meetings. It has a restaurant serving Southern comfort food like fried green tomatoes and specialties like Bavarian soft pretzels.

A craft cocktail at Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery in Nashville
A craft cocktail at Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery in Nashville || Courtesy of Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery

A discussion of distilleries would not be complete, of course, without taking a gander down the well-known Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Established in 1999, the trail is made up of 46 distilleries across the Bluegrass State. At Angel’s Envy in Louisville, Kentucky, one of the larger distilleries along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, planners will find a team of on-site event planners who can help curate experiences for attendees. Book the Finishing Room, which can accommodate up to 75 attendees for a cocktail reception, or the larger Toasting Room and Bar, which holds up to 75 attendees seated or 120 for cocktail receptions. Both rooms offer beautiful views of Louisville and a unique atmosphere. Planners can even add on private distillery experiences like tours and tastings. The distillery offers personalized gifting for events and partners with local caterers for a variety of food options.

he Oak Room at Nelson’s Green Brier
he Oak Room at Nelson’s Green Brier || Courtesy of Nelson’s Green Brier

Southern Craft & Charm
Muddy River Distillery near Charlotte, North Carolina, is devoted to crafting exceptional rums—it is the oldest legal rum distillery in the Carolinas. Currently located in Belmont, Muddy River is planning to move into a new, bigger space in late spring or early summer; the new digs will be at the historic Mount Holly Cotton Mill, a 20-minute drive from Uptown Charlotte in the city of Mount Holly. The space has undergone an extensive renovation and will feature scenic views on 5 acres along tranquil Dutchman’s Creek. Caroline Delaney, Muddy River’s co-owner and chief financial officer, says the space’s 2,000-square-foot third floor will accommodate up to 120 attendees and showcase a movable bar and a drop-down screen and projection system. The second floor will contain a semiprivate space crafted for more intimate gatherings, featuring dinner seating for up to 74 attendees and panoramic views of the stills and fermenters. The new location will also have a conference room that can accommodate 25 attendees. The distillery offers private tours for groups of 15-plus and cocktail classes for smaller groups as additional activities planners can book.

Production area in Muddy River Distillery’s new space
Production area in Muddy River Distillery’s new space || Courtesy of Muddy River Distillery

New event space at Muddy River Distillery in Mount Holly, North Carolina
New event space at Muddy River Distillery in Mount Holly, North Carolina || Photo by Christan Freudenberg, courtesy of In Bloom Photography

At Grey Matter Distillery in Atlantic Beach, Florida—the Jacksonville area’s first craft distillery—the team specializes in craft cocktails and spirits including vodka, rum, whiskey, and moonshine. Its cozy space full of modern, beachy charm can host up to 75 attendees for private events. “We do tours for large corporate events and even offer the opportunity to bottle your own vodka to take home with you,” says owner and CEO Paul Grey. “We also have a full bar using our spirits and can do short classes on how to make cocktails such as an old fashioned or dirty martini.” This year, Grey Matter celebrates its 10th anniversary and will be releasing a barrel-aged moonshine as part of the festivities.

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