Rosemary and I recently took an American Queen Steamboat cruise that started in Chattanooga. We arrived on Sunday afternoon to check-in for the trip and found we had an afternoon free to explore the city. We decided to visit two whiskey distilleries in the city.

We started at the Gate 11 Distillery, located in the Chattanooga Choo-Choo Hotel. The hotel is the old train station with rail cars as hotel rooms. The distillery is in the old station building. It was closed for tours, but the bar was open and serving pours of their whiskey. We were able to get into the distillery to see the still and fermenters. It is a very small distillery making about a barrel a day. They use 53-gallon barrels and use a rail car as their aging warehouse. They have a rye whiskey that they have sourced from another Tennessee distillery. Their distiller was not around but the bartender did his best to answer any questions we had. They have been distilling a little over a year and make a vodka, gin, and rum, as well as whiskey. We purchased a bottle of their rye whiskey and here are my tasting notes:

Gate 11 Straight Tennessee Rye

Proof: 94

Age: Three years old

Nose: Rye grass and fruit – berries and banana, with a hint of oak and spice.

Taste: Rye grass, berries, banana, sweet baking spices and oak with a touch of vanilla. Tasted with a dried cranberry there is less fruit and the spice becomes cinnamon and nutmeg. Tasted with a pecan and the vanilla comes forward with just a hint of fruit and very little oak and spice.

Finish: Medium long with oak and spice. The cranberry made it very spicy and the oak fades into the background. The pecan made the finish very short but dry with sweet oak.

Across the street from the Chattanooga Choo-Choo Hotel is the other distillery in town, the Chattanooga Whiskey Distillery.  We arrived too late to join their last tour of the day, but we went to their tasting room. A glass wall allowed us to see most of their distillery and the person pouring the drinks answered our questions. A lot of the questions can be answered by looking at their labels. They list the Grains: corn, rye malt, caramel malt and honey malt, Fermentation time: 7 days, cooperage: 53-gallon toasted and charred, Finish: 4,000-gallon solera barrel that is charred, Age: over two years, Filtration: non-chill filtered, Batch: 8-12 barrels. They have a low barrel entry proof since the cask strength is 111 proof. They told me it was 110.  They had a special in the gift shop of two 375ml bottles of their high malt Bourbon, one bottle 91 proof and the cask strength 111 proof for about $40.00. We picked up these bottles and brought them home with us. They are the same mash bill and age with the only difference is the proof. Here are my tasting notes:

Chattanooga High Malt Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Proof: 91

Age: Two years old

Nose: very sweet – cotton candy, berries oak and baking spices.

Taste: Vanilla, corn, raspberries, ginger and oak. Tasted with a cranberry brings out even more raspberry with cinnamon and ginger spice but only a hint of oak. Tasted with a pecan and the berries fade away and corn and the baking spice dominate the flavor.

Finish: Medium long with oak and ginger. The cranberry makes the finish start sweet with raspberries but then the oak and spice dry it out. The pecan makes it long and dry with oak and spice.

Chattanooga High Malt Straight Bourbon Whiskey Cask Strength

Proof: 111

Age: Two years old

Nose: Sweet corn, raspberries, oak and spice.

Taste: Vanilla, raspberries, white pepper spice and oak. Tasted with a dried cranberry brings out vanilla with raspberries and baking spices. Tasted with a pecan and a citrus note comes out with oak and white pepper.

Finish: Long and dry with oak and pepper. The cranberry brings out more spice including ginger and pepper. The pecan made the finish very dry with lots of oak but not much spice.

I am pairing this with a Tennessee inspired cigar. In Decatur, Alabama, we met Charles Robinson, a Native American living in Franklin, Tennessee. He has started his own cigar brands after meeting master blenders Arsenio Ramos and Eradio Pichardo and discussing the importance of tobacco to the Native American culture. They agreed to work with him to create cigars that honor that tradition. Thus Atsiniki Cigars was born and he has three different cigars. I thought it only appropriate that Tennessee distillery products should be paired with a Tennessee cigar. I am having a Tashka cigar. It is a Toro with a San Andres wrapper. The information card given to me with the cigars states that the smoke is sweet, smoky nuttiness with dried fruit. I can agree with that but would toss in a little vanilla note. Here is how it paired with these three whiskeys:

Gate 11 rye: The rye brought out the dried fruits – prunes and apricots, with hazelnuts and vanilla. The smoke made the rye taste of blackberries with cinnamon and nutmeg.

Chattanooga High Malt Bourbon 91 proof: The Bourbon brought out a chocolate note in the smoke while the smoke made the Bourbon vanilla forward with notes of fruit and spice.

Chattanooga High Malt Bourbon Cask Strength: The Bourbon made the smoke very fruity with notes of cranberries and raspberries with lots of vanilla. The smoke made the Bourbon very sweet with fruit and vanilla but dried out the finish enhancing the oak.

This was a very good choice as a cigar pairing. I like the pairing with all three whiskeys, but I think my favorite was the Gate 11 rye. I really liked the way the rye brought out the dried fruit in the smoke. I may have to try this again with his other two cigars: Nanaiya, a corona with a Connecticut wrapper that has roasted almond, dried orange and floral notes and Imaiya, a robusto with a Habano wrapper that has oak, sweet anise and toast flavors.  

Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller