Uncut with Jay Cutler: Leiper’s Fork Distillery Owner Lee Kennedy Shares His Fascination with Whiskey Production and Breaks Down How to Properly Drink the Spirit

by Chris Haney

In the newest episode of Uncut with Jay Cutler, we’re hitting the road to film on location at Leiper’s Fork Distillery just southwest of Nashville. Jay is catching up with Leiper’s Fork Distillery owner Lee Kennedy who chats about the history of whiskey production in Tennessee, shares how the distillery came about, gave the crew a full tour of the establishment, and breaks down how to drink whiskey.

Kennedy’s family on his mom’s side has roots in Leiper’s Fork and Williamson County dating back more than 200 years. That side of his family settled down in the area just 45 minutes southwest of Music City in 1805. Through his craft distillery, which is housed in an old 1820s log cabin, Kennedy is keeping tradition in the region alive since opening in 2016.

The distiller shares how he got his start in the whiskey business. Kennedy opens up about the humble beginnings of how he and his wife began Leiper’s Fork Distillery. He explains the challenges of rebuilding an 1820s log cabin and eventually turning a profit with his distillery. Kennedy also tells us what to look for in a great whiskey and everything that goes into the distilling process.

Host Jay Cutler and the rest of the podcast crew had a great time at Leiper’s Fork Distillery. They learned about the distillery, got to know more about Tennessee whiskey and its history in the region, and of course got to try out some of the distillery’s spirits. Owner Lee Kennedy shares that and so much more with us this week on Uncut with Jay Cutler.

Lee Kennedy Talks Having an Early Fascination with Whiskey Production on ‘Uncut with Jay Cutler’

Originally, Lee Kennedy worked in financial services after graduating college. He was a suit as he said, but years later he took a leap of faith and followed his passion for spirits. Yet he’s been fascinated by distilleries and the process of making whiskey since he was a teenager.

Kennedy’s family is Scots-Irish and he’s always been a history buff. Dating back to his high school days, the distiller loved to read books on the history of whiskey. However, there was very little literature on the distilling process itself when it came to whiskey production.

“So, initially, just the fact that those guys over in Scotland and Ireland figured this out 500 years ago and brought it to the new world eventually. That kinda captivated my imagination [at a young age],” Kennedy explained.

In any form or fashion, making whiskey at home is illegal, and it’s still against the law to this day. Yet Kennedy’s uncle ran a small still in the area when Lee was growing up. His uncle would draw on a napkin how to make a still out of a five-gallon pressure cooker and a copper line from Home Depot. Needless to say, the fascination with distilling spirits ran in the family. Amusingly, Kennedy shares he learned just enough as a teenager to be dangerous.

“I didn’t kill anybody and I didn’t blow anything up,” Lee Kennedy joked on Uncut with Jay Cutler.

“So you’ve been dabbling in [whiskey production] for a while,” Cutler said.

“Literally anything I could digest on the subject I would just consume,” Kennedy shared. “I was really crazy passionate about it. At that point, initially that cultural heritage draw to it turned into what I call hillbilly chemistry.”

Kennedy’s passion for spirits grew even more in college when he moved to Middle Tennessee. While there, he found more literature on the subject and the early days of the internet helped connect him to even more resources. The distiller became obsessed with the science behind creating spirits. It still fascinates Kennedy that you can turn grains, yeast, and water into what he calls a flammable consumable.

“Back in the Middle Ages when this was coming about, it was in the realm of wizardry. There’s always been that mystique and that bit of magic revolving around distilled spirits and how you take those from grains to the flammable consumable. And then whiskey is just a whole other thing for me,” the distiller added.

Lee Kennedy Breaks Down How to Properly Drink Whiskey

One might think there’s no wrong way to drink a good whiskey. You’d be somewhat right, but Lee Kennedy is here to tell us how to maximize your experience drinking your favorite whiskey. He and the others working at Leiper’s Fork Distillery also offer the same advice to patrons when they visit their tasting room.

“You can John Wayne it back and slam it, but we tell folks that whiskey is an assault on the senses. Being that flammable consumable, it really is,” Kennedy said before explaining his whiskey-drinking process.

“First thing you’re going to do is look at the color,” he said as the distiller and Jay test out Leiper’s Fork Tennessee Whiskey. “It has a good rich amber color, some red notes in there. All that’s coming from the barrel. Really nice color on that.”

“Second thing we’re going to do is nose,” Kennedy continued as he smelled the whiskey. “So I get things on this Tennessee Whiskey like dried fruit. For some reason I kinda get dried raisins, a little bit of cherry.”

“He’s a bourbon whiskey sommelier,” Jay said of Lee as they shared a laugh.

“No, I’m definitely not at all, trust me,” Lee Kennedy responded. “And then we tell people on their first sip, really small. And as they’re drinking that whiskey, to exhale after each sip. It makes that a less intense experience.”

“I’ve never heard the exhale thing, but it worked,” Jay said after trying it out.

“Oh, it works,” Lee agreed. “That’s the main thing we tell people at the tasting room. If you just kinda dramatically exhale, it dissipates those vapors and just makes it less intense.”

Lee Kennedy talks to host Jay Cutler about that and much more in this week’s new episode. Make sure to check out their full conversation in the video above, or tune in and listen to Uncut with Jay Cutler on Spotify, Apple, or wherever else you listen to your favorite podcasts.