They certainly aren’t the first group of golf buddies to daydream about starting a whiskey brand. But when a couple of your scorecards have the names Peyton Manning and Andy Roddick scribbled on them, fantasy can become reality between fairway and green. Hence, the release next week of Sweetens Cove Tennessee Bourbon Whiskey, which might become the next cult bourbon to cause conniptions among connoisseur-collector types.
This origin story indeed starts on the links, specifically on an oddball nine-hole course, also dubbed Sweetens Cove, situated twenty-five rural miles west of Chattanooga. Known for its lack of pretense (the “clubhouse” is a shed) and eccentric design of uneven greens and hazards aplenty, the course has a rabid following, built primarily through word of mouth.
Avid golfer Manning, the beloved former quarterback for the University of Tennessee (he played a little pro ball, too) visited just once in 2019 before diving into an ownership group that includes friend and retired tennis pro Roddick. During that fateful round, Manning also was exposed to one of the course’s nascent traditions—before taking a shot off the first tee, players down a shot of bourbon. “It’s even a custom to pay it forward by leaving a bottle for the next group,” he tells G&G. “To me, that’s part of the place’s authentic Southern charm.”
Soon enough, such charm sparked the idea of extending the Sweetens Cove ethos to a Tennessee-centric bourbon. And while Manning and Roddick have prodigious skills, crafting fine whiskey isn’t among them. So they turned to Marianne Eaves, the celebrated first female bourbon master distiller in Kentucky since Prohibition. “Marianne is the quarterback of this bourbon team,” says Manning. “She calls the shots and we line up.”
“Frankly, I’d been approached by famous people before, but that was more about leveraging fame to sell bourbon,” says Eaves. “I could tell these guys wanted to do something special, and high quality is what I’m about.”
They fortuitously discovered one hundred barrels of Tennessee-made whiskey that had been aging in a Kentucky rickhouse for thirteen years. Once this precious amber stash was returned to its “rightful homeland,” Eaves discerned pleasant differences between barrels, leading her to hand-blend five distinct batches, all bottled at cask strength. While overall notes share references to caramel and warm oak, each batch earned its own unique descriptor, ranging from citrus to burnt marshmallow to white pepper. How do imbibers identify a batch? The only label clue is variations in proof, so mainly they’ll have to employ their own noses and taste buds.
The Sweetens Cove gang hopes this treasure-hunt vibe will intrigue the bourbon community, an aura enhanced by a hyper-limited run of 14,000 bottles and a price of $200. (Online sales begin May 26, to Tennessee residents only. Online and retail sales will expand to Georgia shortly after, followed by additional states.)
And if Sweetens Cove does foster the next Pappy’s-like bourbon craze, is Manning prepared for far-flung friends and family hitting him up for a bottle? “I got used to that kind of pressure when everybody wanted NFL tickets,” he says. “I’ve been in the demand business for a while.”