Drew Hannush: The Lost History of Tennessee Whiskey

On episode #230 of The Author Factor Podcast I am having a conversation with nonfiction book author, Drew Hannush. Drew is a whiskey historian, whiskey podcast host, and an Amazon bestselling author of three engaging books on whiskey. With a background in web design, Drew transitioned into whiskey writing and podcasting, turning his passion for travel and spirits into a successful new career.

Drew Hannush and Mike Capuzzi

Drew's latest book, The Lost History of Tennessee Whiskey, is a compelling dive into a lesser-known chapter of American whiskey lore. Listeners will find this book especially interesting for its rich storytelling and the way it weaves in historical facts with engaging narratives, offering a unique perspective on Tennessee's distilling heritage.

Drew Hannush shares his Author Factor

Unlocking the Author Factor: This Episode's Big Takeaway

The key author factor from this episode is Drew Hannush's journey of transforming his passion for whiskey into a successful career. From being a web designer, he ventured into travel and whiskey journalism, eventually becoming a whiskey historian, podcaster, and bestselling author. His story demonstrates the power of combining passion with dedication to create impactful work, whether through writing books, podcasting, or educational travel guides. Drew's experience also underscores the significance of continually learning and evolving within one's interests to build expertise and credibility.

Learn more about Drew Hannush by visiting:



Mike Capuzzi: Welcome back to another insightful episode of the author Factor podcast. My guest today is Drew Hanish, a whiskey historian, whiskey podcast host, and Amazon bestselling author. Drew has published three books, including Whiskey Lord's Travel Guide to experiencing Irish whiskey, experiencing Kentucky Bourbon, and his latest, the lost history of Tennessee whiskey. His books not only educate, but also take whiskey enthusiasts on a journey through the heart of their favorite spirit. Drew, welcome to the show.


Drew Hannush: Thank you, Mike. I'm glad to be here.


Mike Capuzzi: Yeah. You and I just recently met. I feel like I have a lifelong friend here. There is a common theme here, I'm thinking, and, you know, as you and I have been talking, I have a passion for handcraft that you small batch adult beverages. I don't try to overindulge, but I'm just, I'm so intrigued by the stories, the history, the taste, the creation that goes into making these things. And so I'm really looking forward to speaking with you, Drew. And, you know, I look at you and all that you've done and what you've done really, in a short amount of time, which is very cool, really becoming a noted expert. I don't want to jump the gun here and share too much, but before we talk about your whiskey lore in the books, tell us a little bit more, Drew, because you have kind of an interesting background that has nothing to do with whiskey, right?


Drew Hannush: Yeah. No, I started out, actually, I did a variety of jobs when I was younger, but then I became a web designer in the early 2000’s, and that has carried me for 20 years. But then I got to a point where I was like, you know what? I want to do something that I really want to do with my life. Web design kind of passed me by, and so I started looking for other opportunities, which got me into travel first, which was actually an original passion for me. I wanted to be a travel writer years and years back and didn't know how to do it. And then, lo and behold, the Internet, Instagram, everything else pops up, and it's like, okay, I can travel. And that is what got me into traveling to distilleries, because I had done a James Bond tour across Europe and posted about it, got back to the United States, and was like, well, that was fun. What else could I do a theme podcast or blog on? And I decided to go to Kentucky and learn about bourbon.


Drew Hannush: So that's how all of this started.


Mike Capuzzi: So this was only, what, five years ago? Correct.


Drew Hannush: I started doing the travel around 2018, and by 2019, I knew what I wanted to focus on. So, yeah, since then, I was not a whiskey drinker at the time. And it was that Kentucky trip of going to all those different distilleries and hearing the stories and hearing contradictions between each of the distilleries. And it just created an interest for me that I wanted to know, was all this really true, or was it not true? And I was loving the experience of going around and tasting whiskey because I grew up in a family where we ate Pennsylvania Dutch cooking and not a lot of spices, and you didn't pay much attention to what you were eating. You just ate. And so I never paid attention to flavors or smells. And whiskey was my walk into a whole new sensory world that I had no idea I was missing.


Mike Capuzzi: Wow. So in five years, you have published three really interesting books, not only on the topic, but the format. I want to jump into that because I do want to talk about your travel guides, too, but also a podcast, I think a couple podcasts. I mean, you've done a lot in five years, so congratulations with that.


Drew Hannush: Well, thank you. Yeah, the books came along after the podcast. The podcast was actually a reaction to all those stories that I was hearing when I was going on the tours. And I was like, I want to research this stuff, but if I'm going to research it, I feel like I should be telling somebody about it, especially since I was already doing a travel podcast. So I jumped in and started researching the stories and took my Ken Burns, my love for Ken Burns storytelling, and created podcast episodes where I crafted stories and made them much more interesting than just me saying, oh, I discovered this, and I discovered that and that they're wrong here, or they're right on this.


Mike Capuzzi: So before we talk about the lost history of Tennessee whiskey, which is, correct me if I'm wrong, I haven't gotten my copies yet, but I'm going to be getting all three of them to add to my aficionado library. The first two were travel guides. The third, this newest book, is knock. Is that correct?


Drew Hannush: That's correct. Yes.


Mike Capuzzi: Okay. And when we say travel guides, Drew, because you showed me, you were flipping through it when we took the screen grab of it, these are literally like, you know, photographic heavy, you know, detail heavy about the different distilleries that you've, you highlight in the books. Is that correct?


Drew Hannush: Well, the idea of these books was that when I first went to Kentucky, I did a video blog on my trip, and I showed from the beginning of my video blog to the last distillery I went to, and I went to 19 different distilleries on that one trip, how I grew my knowledge from the first all the way to the end. And then I was actually at a podcast convention, and I was talking with a guy who said, if you've got something you could teach somebody, you should put it into a book. And I said, oh, well, that makes sense. And then I already had all the information I just needed to collate it and put it into a book. So I decided, why don't I first teach people the history of whatever spirit? So if it's Kentucky Bourbon, I'm teaching the history of where bourbon came from and its evolution. And then I teach people the process of making whiskey just enough so that when they go on distillery tours, they're prepared and they don't get all bogged down and glassy eyed because they're like so much information, technical information. So you get that kind of out of the way in the book, and then how do you plan out a trip? And so I had a lot of logistics I had to dig through. I didn't want other people to have to deal with that same thing.


Drew Hannush: So I teach you about, you know, how much they serve you at each of these distilleries. Should you get a hotel nearby or not, whether some other activities that you can do, that sort of thing. And then I have a tasting section where I teach people how to experience and taste the whiskey. You're going to be in a fast setting. They're going to put those samples down quickly. How do you maximize that opportunity? And then at the end of the book are 32 profiles that are all set up exactly the same way so that you can have a side-by-side comparison of what each distillery focuses on. And that way, if you're a history buff, you can figure out which distilleries have a history theme. If you're a fan of the process, you can go to the distilleries that do that.


Drew Hannush: And I really wanted people because I know not everybody can go to 19 distilleries on one trip to help people be able to pick out the ones that are right for them. So it's not saying this distillery is better than another distillery. It's basically saying, here's what this distillery is, the impression I got from that distillery of what they're passionate about, so that you can figure out if that's a distillery that you want to visit or not visit. So, and I did that with the Irish book as well. I was actually the first person to go around Ireland. I went to 50 distilleries in 24 days, and I was the first person to do that. So because the Irish whiskey industry is so new that nobody had really taken the time yet to catalog all of these distilleries. So that was an experience, too.


Mike Capuzzi: Wow, 50 in 24 days.


Drew Hannush: Yes. Now you know how I got to 250.


Mike Capuzzi: That's. It's. Yeah. I mean, it's astonishing, the, you know, just the wealth of information in such a short amount of time. The thought with these guides, I mean, obviously, you could, if you were so desired, update them every year, couldn't you? I mean, is that, are they going to be a living, breathing guide or sort of one and done?


Drew Hannush: This is the difficulty I've had is figuring out, because I've been all over Scotland, I've been to at least 70 distilleries in Scotland, but I've not yet written a book on Scotland, because writing a book does take time. And, yes, the experience in Kentucky Bourbon book is four years old, so it really does need to have a bit of an update. But that's where I'm really investigating this idea of converting my interviews podcast into a podcast where I talk to distilleries, and we keep these things updated but do them through a podcast as well as through my website.


Mike Capuzzi: Very interesting. And last question on the guides. So the photography that's in there, is that from your video?


Drew Hannush: That was me. Every distillery I went to, I was taking pictures for Instagram. So it ended afterwards. When I got the book idea, I already had a lot of the photos ready to go. So that's how that worked out.


Mike Capuzzi: I mean, this is really amazing, Drew. The amount of just. It's a lot of work. One of those guides is a lot of work, and everything that you've done in such a short amount of time it's very impressive.


Drew Hannush: Thank you. Thank you.


Mike Capuzzi: So let's talk about the lost history of Tennessee whiskey. What prompted that? It's a different type of book. It's definitely more of a historical book. Tell me what prompted that. Was it just the passion of the story, you know, of wanting to tell that story?


Drew Hannush: Well, I went, when I went to Kentucky and when I went to Scotland, and even when I went to Ireland, there was a sense of the history of those areas. So when you went on tours, people imparted some of that history to you. When I would go across Tennessee, everybody would tell the Jack Daniels story, and I thought, this is weird. Why am I going to all these different distilleries? They tell me about bourbons history and they would tell me about Jack Daniels, and I'm like, does Tennessee not have a history that's worth telling. And so I stopped off at one distillery called lost state distillery. And I actually grew up on the other side of the mountains in western North Carolina from east Tennessee. So when I went to my first distillery in East Tennessee and didn't hear much history, the second one I went to was called lost state distillery. And I knew what lost state meant because I lived on the other side of the.


Drew Hannush: Of the mountains. There was a state of Franklin that existed when the federal government, when North Carolina had given up what is now Tennessee. But the federal government wasn't doing anything with it, so these guys wanted to protect themselves, and so they set up their own state of Franklin, which Congress never approved. And then it got into a whole battle, and there was all sorts of crazy stuff that went on with that. So fun stories like that that I had heard from the other side of the mountain. And here's a distillery that recognized that history and also had a bottle called a whiskey they called Shelby's reserve. And when I asked about that name, they said, oh, well, Evan Shelby was Tennessee's first distiller, and he was in the 17 hundreds. And I was like, wait a second, Kentucky's first.


Drew Hannush: They talk about distillers in 1780, 917, 90, maybe a couple of them around. But you're telling me that Tennessee was established in the 1770s. That's pretty amazing. Why isn't anybody telling that story? And so this just continued all the way through the state. I'm like, there are great stories here. I don't think a lot of people know that. Davy Crockett was a distiller. He had a distillery at one time.


Drew Hannush: Andrew Jackson was a distiller. He had a distillery at one time. And then they went into prohibition much earlier than a lot of other states. And it was a gunfight in the streets of Nashville that caused it. So you have all of these really fascinating stories. And so my original intention on this was that I was going to create a travel guide, and I just wanted to learn enough history about Tennessee to be able to be competent and not tell the story of bourbon like a lot of Tennessee books do. And in this particular case, it just. The volume kept growing and growing.


Drew Hannush: It's like I'm finding so many great stories, and I really felt like I was telling not only the story of Tennessee whiskey, but the people of Tennessee as well. Where they came from, how they developed as a society, some of the issues that they ran into great stories, like women's suffrage, basically, it was Tennessee's last vote that allowed for women's suffrage. And so I cover that story in the book because the temperance movement and women's suffrage are tied together. And so it's hard to tell one story without telling the other. And so, for me, it was an opportunity to share my love for history, as well as sharing the history of Tennessee whiskey. So I think a lot of people might be surprised when they start reading the book, that it starts out a little history heavy, but that is so that you understand who the people are and why things happen the way they happened. And then it's written in story style, so it's not necessarily a factor book. It has facts in it, but the facts are weaved into stories.


Drew Hannush: Writers like James Michener, who's probably more historical fiction, but David McCullough, I love their writing styles, and so I really work my writing in that direction.


Mike Capuzzi: I've gathered, and I've seen your website, read the reviews on Amazon. You take that very seriously, that craft, and it comes through. So nice job there.


Drew Hannush: Thank you.


Mike Capuzzi: So, Drew, as you kind of look forward, I mean, again, three books, a couple podcasts in five years. Where do you see this kind of, you know, growing and becoming? Are you still doing web design?


Drew Hannush: I still do web design, but it's something that's slowly starting to fade away. I mean, the idea here is you're kind of taking one career and sunsetting it while you're building up another career at the same time. So that's. That's really been my strategy. How do I take care of my clients? Some have been with me for 20 years, so it's important for me to make that transition the best way that I possibly can. But it's been great for me from a standpoint that it's provided me income to be able to do the trips that I've been doing. And now I'm in that monetizing, uh, spot where, you know, I get a little bit of income off of the books, and then I'm also then building in other ways to create income along the way, as well as well as writing other books, because once I got done with the lost history of Tennessee whiskey, I thought, I still feel like I have a blind spot for the true history of Kentucky Bourbon, because most of the stuff that's been written on Kentucky Bourbon has just been repeating the same lore over and over and over again. And when I was researching the Tennessee book, I realized that I was bumping into things that were already disproving a lot of the things that I had heard about Kentucky Bourbon.


Drew Hannush: So that's my next book, is to work on that. But I think I do want to keep the history and the travel together, and I want to feed both of them. So I will continue to also work on finding ways to get more of these reviews done of distillery. So, people, because you can read the Kentucky book and you can read the Irish book, and you'll have a good sense of how to travel overseas and how to travel in the states. And so I don't necessarily need to keep rewriting the learn and tasting, and that it's really after this foundation that you should be able to then just use the profiles that I create or that if I talk with distilleries and I get them on the podcast, then you'll be able to get the information through them as well.


Mike Capuzzi: I think what's also unique with what you've done, Drew, is you've niched to whiskey, right? And there's a lot of smart reasons why that can be so powerful. Do you see yourself ever expanding beyond whiskey, as you know? Obviously, you've got whiskey lore in that brand. Do you ever see yourself going out to tequilas or whatever, clear liquors, anything like that?


Drew Hannush: I think if I did it, I would do it as kind of a side project, but not really as any kind of main focus. Probably the one spirit that I am most interested in after this, because it's truly an American historical spirit, would be brandy. Because what I found with all of these distilleries, or with all of this research into history in Tennessee and Kentucky, they had many more brandy distilleries than they had whiskey distilleries. The problem with brandy distilleries is that it's very seasonal, so they could only run for or three months as a distillery, whereas whiskey usually ran about six or seven months during the year. And so. But you had a lot more. And the rules were a little laxer on making brandy because they didn't really distill as much. But, um, there's a rich history of brandy, and to me, it's an age spirit, and it kind of goes in that same, same realm.


Drew Hannush: And I think it would probably be a nice complimentary piece to it, and it would feed my American whiskey history love as well.


Mike Capuzzi: So what about in Asia Pacific, right? I mean, isn't Japan one of the.


Drew Hannush: Absolutely. Well, 2020, April 2020. I had plans to go to Japan. I had gotten a crazy fare out of, I'm in South Carolina, so I got a crazy fare out of Raleigh, North Carolina, for $219 to fly to Tokyo. And I was like, okay, I'm taking that and I'm going to go. But it ended up, the flight was in April of 2020, so I have not seen that quite good deal.


Mike Capuzzi: That's long gone.


Drew Hannush: Yeah, that's long gone. Unfortunately, the airline was like, we'll give you a credit. And I'm like, man, no, I'd rather have the flight, actually. So. But, yeah, I want to get over there because this is one of the things that I try to instill in people is that you need to keep stretching yourself that whiskey. If you're a bourbon lover, well, that's great, but you really don't understand your bourbon until you start tasting other whiskeys and kind of getting a sense of what makes them different. And so I really make a conscious effort through Instagram or through where I travel through things that I taste the guests I have on my podcast to try to look at Australian whiskey. France has a large industry now in whiskey.


Drew Hannush: Germany makes rye whiskeys, and so that's another reason to really not look at other spirits, because there's still so much in the world of whiskey that I haven't even gotten close to yet.


Mike Capuzzi: There's really no need to go out. Like you said, there's plenty to keep Drew Hanish focused for a little while at least. I'm going to put you on the spot for a second. We're going to come away from the books for a second. I think you'll be all right here, and if not, we'll figure it out. I'm a bourbon aficionado. I single malt whiskeys. I just.


Mike Capuzzi: I love to try stuff. I always like to find something new I've never tried before and just try it. So I'm a geek in that respect. If someone's listening, whether you're speaking to me directly or just someone listening right now, Drew, what's a bourbon that you would recommend? Something that's a little different than the ones that you see advertised or, you know, everyone probably knows about? Is there a particular bourbon you'd want to give a shout out to?


Drew Hannush: I'm a big fan of old Forester. I think old Forester makes some really nice whiskeys that don't have to break the bank. I would encourage people to try their signature 100, and I would also encourage them to try their rye whiskey because their rye whiskey is really, really good. And if somebody's a bourbon fan, I would say, easy. Next step for something to try is rye whiskey. And don't be intimidated by it when you try it. Or if the first one you have doesn't quite hit you, right. Keep trying because they're going to be.


Drew Hannush: Rye is very diverse, but for the bourbon fan, I would say start with a Rittenhouse, because Rittenhouse is very bourbon esque, but still, they call it a barely rye because it's got so much corn in it that it's just about a bourbon. But that's a good kind of step over to see. But after a while, you start to learn that you like rye whiskeys without corn in it because they don't burn as much and they're not as spicy as the ones that have corn in them.


Mike Capuzzi: Yeah, well, thank you. I jotted a couple down there. So I'd love to hear, from your experience, what it has meant to drew Hanish to be a published book author.


Drew Hannush: Well, I can tell you that for a while, I was a podcaster, and when you would go to shake hands with people and you told them I'm a podcaster, you know, they'd look at you like you were Joe Schmo. But once you say, well, I'm a bestselling author, all of a sudden they're like, oh, okay, well, that's interesting. And then all of a sudden, their attention draws in a little bit more, and then they're asking you for an autograph, which is something I never thought I would do. So that's it is. It's a different feeling. There's a lot of power in being an author and putting the work in, and I think it goes back to effort, because I think people respect the effort that you have to put in to do that. I am a letter writer. If I need to get something done, I write a letter and I mail it in the post, and nobody does that anymore.


Drew Hannush: So it's amazing how much stuff you can actually get done if you take the time to put it down and not just stick it in an email, but actually take the time to put a stamp on it and mail it out. And so I think a book is exactly the same way. There's a level of respect that you will get, mostly because writing a book, to most people, is a mystery, and they will say, oh, yeah, I'd love to write the great American novel. But it's always a pipe dream. It's not something that they're really seriously considering doing. So when they meet somebody who's actually done it, it adds a lot of credibility, I think, to who you are and what you are all about.


Mike Capuzzi: And hearing you say that there's a lot of similarities between distillers right? They take their craft so seriously. You know, the bourbon distillers, the whiskey distillers and these, you know, the same thing you're doing with your books. You know, you can sense that passion. And they're really just a dedication to creating something special. So I appreciate that very much. Drew, how can our listeners learn more about you? Where's the best place to get your books and where can they listen to your podcast?


Drew Hannush: So everything can be found at whiskey dash lore.com. I’ve got links to the podcasts there. There are two different ones, the interviews, and the stories podcast. And then if they want to get the books, there's whiskey dash lore.com shop. Or you can find them through Amazon or your online booksellers. They all should have copies of them as well.


Mike Capuzzi: Very good. Well, Drew, thank you very much. I appreciate your time today.


Drew Hannush: Thank you so much.