Spring is the season for rebirth, and in Nashville that means shedding – or at least expanding upon – its age-old image as home of all things “country.”
If you’re looking for the true Nashville experience and you’ve left the kids at home, go beyond Broadway and do as the locals do: hit up a tasting event where you can sample everything from local whisky to the best caramels you’ll find in the South.
Frontstretch Fest, Nashville’s first and biggest Kentucky Derby viewing party, is a prime example of Nashville’s growing love of these tasting events. These exclusive gatherings allow you to mix, mingle, and make friends with local breweries, wineries, and distilleries all while enjoying great food and a phenomenal atmosphere.
I visited Frontstretch Fest on a sunny Saturday afternoon, which was held outdoors in the spacious Nashville Farmers Market near Germantown, ready to be swept up in the races. Guests in colorful dresses, bold hats, and seersucker suits wandered from station to station, sampling some of the region’s finest bourbons, beers, and treats while a live band played swing music – accompanied by professional dancers – by the giant Derby-viewing screen.
Cornhole games, picnic tables, and a cordoned-off “cigar lounge” added character to Frontstretch Fest making it unmistakably unique compared to other tastings in town. This wasn’t just a tasting – it was mixed with almost enough nostalgia to make it worth the ticket price for those who are passing on the alcohol. Don’t forget to dress the part, or you’ll certainly feel out of place amongst all of the unique hats.
Although Frontstretch Fest was not my favorite tasting event in Nashville, it definitely had potential. With the event only in its first year, the huge turnout demonstrated that this event will only get better with experience.
My first vendor stop was Eli Mason, Nashville’s expert on cocktail mixers. Whether you’re looking to mix the perfect Old Fashioned or complete your cocktail set, Eli Mason cocktail mixers can help. Although they lack a traditional brick-and-mortar retail location, Eli Mason mixers can be found in stores throughout Tennessee, as well as in various states in the midwest and southern states. You can also shop their website and discover both alcoholic and non-alcoholic recipes for their delectable mixers. Eli Mason simply makes cocktails, and the pomegranate limeade I sipped for the next half hour served as proof.
Next at Frontstretch Fest was Walker Creek Toffee, where two kind gentlemen urged me to try some of their hand-stirred, preservative and additive-free, toffee and caramels. It was so good, in fact, that I nearly forgot to try the other tables. After sampling several toffees, I moved on to their small batch caramels, buttery and smooth, in flavors like espresso, bourbon, sea salt, honey orange, and mint julep. Upon the staff recommendation, I combined espresso and bourbon caramels into one perfect bite. Not only can you buy these candies online, their retail store in Watertown, TN – less than an hour east of downtown Nashville – offers tours for those who call ahead.
My favorite stop at Frontstretch Fest was Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery. Even some Nashville residents haven’t discovered this hidden gem, but not for lack of quality. I had the pleasure of sampling some of their Belle Meade Bourbon whilst chatting with proprietor Charlie Nelson (he revived the distillery with his brother, Andy, nine years ago). Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery was the highlight of Frontstretch Fest and instantly the top of my “to-visit” list.
Previously one of the largest distilleries in Tennessee in the 1880s (Nelson’s sold nearly 380,000 gallons in 1885 compared to Jack Daniel’s 23,000 gallons), Prohibition forced the doors to close on this powerhouse distillery. The story of how brothers Andy and Charlie happened upon the history of their family’s distillery – including two original bottles of Nelson’s Green Brier Tennessee Whiskey is worth enjoying over a taste of their Belle Meade Bourbon, which was easily one of the most unique bourbons I’ve ever had the pleasure of sampling. Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery is open for tours and tastings, just west of downtown Nashville.
If you can’t make it to next year’s Frontstretch Fest, which I fully expect to have improved by leaps and bounds, be sure to stop by some of the popular vendors sprinkled throughout Nashville like Edley’s Bar-B-Que, Olive & Sinclair Chocolate Co., and The Southern Steak & Oyster. For beer drinkers, Blackstone Brewing Company and Little Harpeth Brewing are both local favorites that can be found at many restaurants and bars, as well as at The Filling Station, where you can top off a bottle or growler – and grab one of Eli Mason’s cocktail mixers – as your Nashville souvenir.
By Jandra Sutton