May 18, 2017
by Emily West
Thompson’s Station’s Heath Clark knew he wanted tourists in Williamson County to see it the way he does.
The twists and turns of Carters Creek Pike, the back roads that lead out to Bethesda up into College Grove — those windy ways to drive east in the county.
In his mind, tourists should catch a glimpse of the southern beltway between Leiper’s Fork, Arrington, Franklin and Nolensville, not just by using the main highways or the interstate. And with the newest county-wide tourism push, his idea should be able to accomplish just that.
Launching today is Masters and Makers, a five-stop route showcasing hyperlocal craft wine, beer and spirits. It will include H. Clark Distillery, Arrington Vineyards, Mill Creek Brewing, Mantra Artisan Ales and Leiper’s Fork Distillery.
“It’s turned into a real driving tour of the southern backroad of the county that’s just as pretty as anywhere else in Williamson,” he said, sitting on the stool in his distillery’s tasting room.
“With the success of Main Street in Franklin, people had a hook. But how do we keep them here longer was the question. So, we wanted to think through how to create another offering and sort of a trail.”
Now all connected, those interested in can watch firsthand how Williamson County concocts its alcohol trade.
Walking through the door of his distillery, a heat wave meets Clark’s face. The copper-color still has neared 80 degrees, producing clear liquor into a blue container before it heads to a barrel for aging. Everything is done on site from making the yellow grain mash to placing the sticker on the bottle.
“Let’s show it off a little bit,” Clark said. “We are a place that creates. Having that on display is going to be a lot of fun.”
Keeping them in the county
As part of its annual goals, the Williamson County Convention and Visitors Bureau had one main focus – make tourists stay another half day.
Last year, the bureau say a record breaking number of 1.3 million people visited.
“We wanted to know how we could make them stay here over night,” Visit Franklin marketing coordinator Matt Maxey said. “We also wanted to do something that could connect pieces of the county together, but this is the first time we’ve done anything like this.”
Leiper’s Fork and Nolensville will bookend the tour with three stops in between.
Sitting just 100 feet beside its namesake body of water, Mill Creek Brewing is looking forward to showing off its Nolensville location. Already having full support of the local community, brewery operators believe its location has a lot to offer between creating everything on site with a food truck inside.
“We are the biggest brewery in Williamson County,” Mill Creek’s marketing manager Camille Tambunting said, sitting on the bench of picnic table. Shrink wrapped cans stood ceiling high behind her.
Down Highway 41A over to Patterson Road, visitors can find the most established stop on the tour. On a Thursday morning, Wine master Chase Vienneau stood in the production room placing bottles of Kinzley Reserve Sauvignon Blanc into a box.
“You can get a good concept of what we do from the fields to the barrel house to our crush pad,” he said. “It’s impossible to show you everything in a couple of hours, but you can watch the product from start to finish.”
Promoting new business, new ideas
It’s been nearly one year since Lee Kennedy opened the doors to the first distillery in Leiper’s Fork since the prohibition era.
On a Tuesday morning, Kennedy watches as one of his guides leads around a small gaggle of tourists, curious as to how he makes his whiskey. More than 200 barrels sit along the wall. Kennedy has to wait five years for aging before he will ever taste a sip of his bourbon.
Since October, nearly 5,000 have traversed through his distillery. They’ve come from all 50 states and more than 30 countries.
“Tennessee and Williamson County have a long history of distilling going back to 1790s,” Kennedy said. “We are seeing a renaissance of people wanting to consume locally and that ties in directly to what we are trying to do.”
Headed southeast in Franklin, Mantra Artisan Ales hopes for the same as the stop’s newest brewery to the scene. Focusing more on small batches and unique flavors, Mantra has myriad of brews available on tap in addition to what it bottles for distribution.
Taproom manager Jules Godfrey sees the new tour as a new opportunity to tell their story and give beer drinkers new flavor they hadn’t tried before.
“Our brewers aren’t afraid to be bold,” she said. “We aren’t afraid to try something new, and if doesn’t work, that’s OK. But if it does, it could be something like you’ve never tasted before.”
About each spot on the tour
Arrington Vineyards opened its doors in 2007, and is owned by country music star Kix Brooks. The vineyard offers dozens of different wines, picnic areas and event space.
H. Clark Distillery became the first place in Williamson County in the last 100 years to start making whiskey after the state finally lifted the last of its prohibition era laws in 2009. H. Clark makes bourbon, gin and Tennessee black and tan.
Leiper’s Fork Distillery opened its doors in summer 2016. On site it includes the distillery in addition to 200-year-old cabin that serves as its retail location. While barreling and aging bourbon, the distillery also offers clear whiskey to try.
Mantra Artisan Ales arrived on scene in Williamson County in early 2015 and took over the former facility of Turtle Anarchy. Mantra offers a variety of flavors in its taproom along with bottling and creating everything on site for production and distribution.
Mill Creek Brewing has been in its warehouse space a year after starting out of a garage in 2013. Mill Creek offers a handful of flavors all canned in its Nolensville location. It also features a taproom, event space and an indoor food truck.