Nashville Whiskey Tasting and Great Dining Weekend

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I’ve found myself so free since mentally breaking up with American Airlines. I still fly them enough to earn top tier Executive Platinum status but not by much, and I’m not flying them more than half the time anymore. No more connecting flights through Dallas when a non-stop is available for less.

That’s opened up the space for me to feel free to move about the country and the largest carrier in my home market is Southwest. So where are all the places Southwest can take me non-stop?

Somehow – outside of the airport – I’ve never been to Nashville. That seemed like a great place to explore over a weekend, and in my ways it’s similar to my home town of Austin and only about 750 miles away. It was a chance to try out the Westin Nashville, taste whiskey, and eat some great and innovative food, which is really about all I could ask for in a weekend.

Downtown is only about a 10 minute drive from the airport without traffic, although coming in late afternoon on Friday the drive was 20 minutes. I rented a car from National on a ‘last minute deal’ while applying a $15 off coupon, $48 all-in with airport taxes for a two day rental and Executive status from the Platinum Card by American Express yielded a new Volvo S60 with about 5000 miles on the odometer.

The rental car center is only a short walk from the terminal, even though it was around freezing temperatures I’ll take that over a bus any day. I was super impressed by the Parking Spot off-airport shuttle I saw along the way…

Westin Nashville

With the Westin asking over $350 a night I spent 12,000 Starwood points and $110 per night on a cash and points redemption. The hotel is gorgeous for a Westin, not at all cookie cutter.

I received an upgrade to an Executive Suite, and the hotel has a club lounge on the top floor.

There was a half bath in the entryway and a huge bathroom with separate shower, toilet room, and tub off the bedroom.

Notably there were ear plugs beside the bed. The hotel is downtown by the convention center. There’s a JW Marriott being built directly next door. I’ve heard reports that it gets quite loud and the ear plugs are necessary but I never heard much noise.

The club lounge was in a gorgeous space with top notch views. It wasn’t super well-provisioned however, cheeses and other cold items plus one hot item in the evening (meatballs) and fruit and pastries in the morning plus a single hot item (grits) while I was there.

There are bottles of water that you can take to go, but they’re mini-bottles, they wouldn’t want you to overquench your thirst.

Since the lounge is beside a top floor lounge (and pool) there are plenty of people going in and out of the lounge who don’t belong. There were staff members by the entrance in the morning at breakfast but not in the evening, and folks coming out of the space next door would pop in just because another guest was entering or they’d stand at the door and wait for a guest already inside to open up for them.

Catbird Seat Restaurant

I didn’t make much use of the lounge, and we headed out for a fantastic though pricey late dinner after arriving — an 8:45 pm seating at Catbird Seat, which ran $115 per person but was absolutely well worth the expense.

You enter from street level, then once inside are met by a staff member who takes you up an elevator into the restaurant.

The place has an open kitchen and you sit horseshoe style around the action.

First course was squash and oscietra caviar.

Then the most perfectly cooked piece of king crab covered by an aerated potato with chocolate sprinkles and yuzu zest. And it was amazing.

Next up was risotto made from sunflower seeds instead of rice and covered with shaved black truffles. The combination of the two was outstanding.

That’s when our meals diverged, we were each given a different pasta dish to try.

We had done the beverage pairing, bubbles followed by a white wine, a beer, a sake, a red and then a dessert wine. The grilled cauliflower was marinated in sake, and served with a local sake. I applaud the effort but if given the choice don’t ever order a Nashville sake. It tasted like you’d expect a distillery in Nashville to make it, either like what they know or what they local consumers know (and that ain’t sake). The cauliflower however was amazing.

They served another pasta dish that they were ‘experimenting with’ and described as a bonus course, it was covered in shaved white truffles. It was good on its own but I’d have served it earlier in the meal and certainly before the black truffle dish because it wasn’t the best truffle dish of the night.

The final course before dessert was beef crusted with 17 spices and topped with mushrooms, accompanied by a tofu puree.

As a palate cleanser, earl grey panacotta with dippin’ dots ice cream.

We each were given different desserts which we shared, both good though I’m not sure up to the level of the rest of the meal (which isn’t a criticism).

Finally two cookies each served in a head.

Here’s the menu:

Whiskey Tasting at an Old School Distillery

Saturday morning we got on our way for the 40 minute drive out to Leiper’s Fork for a 10 a.m. distillery tour. We reserved online ahead of time, but as cold as it was during our visit people just weren’t headed out early and it wasn’t necessary to have done so. Still I’d probably reserve ahead of time in the future anyway. Their tours begin at 10 and go off on the hour.

Our tour guide Pops was awesome. He explained the pre-prohibition style of whiskey distillation. And he explained the history of the cabin where the distillery was based. It dates to a land grant after the revolutionary war, a family that became related ta President. He made jokes about his irreverant style, an older man he was given towards flattering women and worried about “being Lauer’ed” in the current climate.

We were encouraged climbing up to stick our fingers in and taste the sweetness. I didn’t, but I did enjoy just watching it bubble.

The best part of the tour was the tasting. Pops explained how to ‘chew’ whiskey.

  • First take a whiff of it, he recommended using just one nostril unlike tasting wine where you get your nose completely down in the glass. He didn’t want your olfactory nerve overwhelmed by the smell, just get a sense for the nose of the whiskey.

  • Then take a sip, and blow out three or four times to clear out the alcohol.

  • Then chew and taste the flavor in your mouth.

Don’t like the flavor the first time? Add a few drops of water. He suggests always ordering your whiskey neat, you’ll get a full pour and the bartender won’t try to give you something cheaper than what you’re ordering. You can always add ice or water to it after you have the glass.

He described the complexity of the heavier concentration of rye versus corn, and the effect of barrel aging on the complex flavors and colors. And I came away with a better appreciation for whiskey.

I thought it was fascinating just to listen Pops and his little asides, he missed Ronald Reagan and I can understand why. He relayed that up until the Reagan administration a government agent was assigned to live on property at a distillery. There were specifications for what to be provided. They’d lock up the whiskey. It wasn’t yours until you’d paid tax on it.

Sometimes just getting outside your comfort zone and listening to people can really help you understand where those you have political disagreements are coming from, and they aren’t all evil or stupid. Andrew Sullivan, a real pioneer in the fight for marriage equality, made the point last week that maybe it’s time to leave wedding cake bakers alone, the argument for same sex marriage was ‘live and let live’, their fear was having other ideas forced on them and those fears were dismissed as silly. They lost the culture war, why rub their noses in it? That’s when we get the sort of backlash that led to nearly half of Alabama voters supporting Roy Moore.

During the Presidential election I didn’t quite understand how evangelicals could support Donald Trump, especially after the Billy Bush tape was released. But I heard it explained that they weren’t electing a pastor-in-chief but many saw themselves electing a protector-in-chief.

In whiskey I had found tolerance because of how gosh darned genuine and likable Pops was. He said he wouldn’t wish everyone a happy holidays because we all knew it was “really about baby Jesus.” And the urban Jew in me didn’t mind one bit.

Thai Food… in Nashville?

We drove back towards town with an intention to try some hot chicken but the lines were long where we had wanted to go, so we made a detour for some thai food — just enough time to grab lunch before our next in-town whiskey tour.

Thai food in Nashville, you ask? Thai Esane is legit. It’s nothing close to Elephant Jumps in Northern Virginia, but I’d take it over anything we have in downtown Austin and if I lived here I’d probably be a semi-regular. Plenty of real spice, and northern-style sausage.

Hipster Whiskey

There’s no old man in overalls giving a tour of whiskey making here at Corsair distillery, this is all about a younger take and a willingness to experiment and do things a new way. They combine all sorts of grains to make whiskey. They do different flavors. And they have irreverent names for their blends.

We got the tour and learned they don’t really age their whiskies much at all, some get time but most are in small barrels and aged quickly less than a year (“time is money” and “we’re not Jack Daniels”).

I liked the southern hipster vibe from much of downtown, in some ways an improvement over the wannabe Brooklyn hipsters of Austin. I loved the creativity of hipster whiskey. But in my non-expert opinion I don’t think whiskey aged less than a year can match the complexity of more traditional single barrel whiskey aged 10-12 years.

There were some great whiskies for making craft cocktails out of, but I didn’t much like them just for drinking on their own.

I did find the first good use anyone has ever found for quinoa though.

And for those times that a Starbucks just won’t cut it, there’s always pumpkin spice moonshine.

City House Restaurant

For dinner we hit City House restaurant, which has great cocktails and surprisingly good pizza and other dishes.

They don’t have a large menu, but it’s a fun atmosphere, really friendly people, and good food. Here’s the choices:

We shared a corn cake, a pizza, and a sausage.

Ready to Come Back to Nashville

In 40 hours I enjoyed tasting whiskey and eating some great food. I didn’t try any hot chicken, didn’t check out any of the music scene, but that’s alright I’ve definitely decided Nashville is worth returning to.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I’m a frequent reader of the blog and actually live here in Nashville. I can also attest to the awesome food and drink scene here…in some ways superior to bigger places like Chicago (which by no means is a food scene to turn your nose up at!).

    Feel free to reach out the next time you’re in town as I’d be glad to offer suggestions on my favorite places to go, or potentially even meet up so that I can say I had a drink with someone famous. 😉


  2. Love visiting Nashville both for work and pleasure. I regularly make the trek down to Lynchburg to pop into the distillery and see what’s new. Jack Daniel’s is a great stop this time of year with the Christmas barrel tree out front.

  3. Love this post! Full of great recommendations. I made an Avios redemption to BNA in September and very excited to try some of these places!

  4. Triple-smoked whiskey from Corsair is my favorite whiskey. Best enjoyed neat or with a few drops of water. The Quinoa is very smooth, and their Ryemaggedon is dangerously smooth for a rye. Very tasty…

  5. Well, Trevor…..Nashville has some great restaurants, but it’s not close to the offerings of Chicago. Not even close.

  6. I just bought tofu in the recent past and look forward to crafting more whole food meals as a means of losing weight and getting healthy again. 🙂

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