Charlie Nelson is "The Storyteller"

business grief identity loss philosophy purpose Feb 10, 2022
Charlie Nelson is The Storyteller

February 15th, 2022
Episode 09: Charlie Nelson, The Storyteller

There’s nothing normal about Charlie Nelson’s story of finding purpose. He was 21 years old when  he and his brother discovered a roadside historical marker 25 miles north of where they were raised. The historical marker had his name on it. It was the first time he’d ever heard that his triple-great grandfather was a whiskey mogul in the late 1800s and ran one of the largest whiskey producers in the country. All the history was lost in prohibition. So, Charlie spent his entire 20s and 30s rebuilding that family legacy.

This episode is for you if: 
-You're a sucker for wild stories
-You're a big fan of Belle Meade Bourbon (NGB's best-selling spirit)
-You resonate with the winding path Charlie Nelson took before finding purpose
-You love a good "lightning strike" moment of clarity

What's in this episode?
Charlie talks at length about some pretty wild stories, like how he got a bartending job in Paris without really speaking French and backpacking in Southeast Asia near the Mekong.

He also details the moment he realized his purpose in life: to resurrect a rich family history in distilled spirits that lie dormant for nearly 100 years.

Between his family stories and his personal journey, he'll have you hanging on every word.

📝 Show Notes & Mentions 📝

Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield

Dave Pickerell, a former Master Distiller at Maker’s Mark  

Constellation Brands, the company that now owns majority stake in NGB

Holeman and Finch, the Atlanta bar where they saw Owen Wilson  

Connect with Charlie Nelson

Nelson's Green Brier Distillery
 Connect on Instagram 

0:00 - Intro

1:19 - A little whiskey talk
2:27 - Broke, bartending in France
7:15 - So, what happened in 1858?
10:22 - Absolute turning point for Charlie
12:08 - The lightning bolt moment

14:40 - Realization on the Mekong
17:57 - Everything made sense
21:08 - Creating a distillery
25:51 - Thoughts on the Whiskey business
27:30 - Lessons from Charlie’s late father

32:53 - The best time in Charlie’s life
35:24 - The worst time in Charlie’s life
38:29 - The turning point
39:45 - The greatest moment of clarity
44:22 - “Make it do what it do”
47:33 - Charlie’s purpose (to ground people and help them find purpose)
53:40 - Louisa Nelson’s legacy 

[Episode transcript]

- Charlie Nelson has a mind blowing story. There is nothing normal about it. He spent time in college bartending in Europe, and backpacking in Southeast Asia. And then at 21, he and his brother discovered a roadside historical marker, 25 miles north of where they were raised. That discovery was like a lightning bolt. The historical marker had his name on it. It was the first time he'd ever heard that his triple great grandfather was a whiskey mogul in the late 1800s, but all that history was lost in prohibition. So Charlie and his brother spent their entire twenties and thirties, rebuilding that family legacy, even finding and recreating old recipes that are now winning awards. After 13 years of this, Nelson's Green Brier Distillery was acquired by one of the biggest international spirits brands in the whole world. And while Charlie talks a lot about the brand story, he never tells his own. So this is Charlie Nelson, "The Storyteller." I was at your distillery when you guys still had this in the barrel, before you had even tapped it. Before you had started selling it.

- That's right.

- And I remember, I mean, that was 2019, and I remember you guys being so excited, and I was so happy when I was able to start buying it, 'cause it really is good.

- Thank you.

- And that's not just me blowing smoke. I love it. And I appreciate, I appreciate that you don't serve it with ice.

- Well, you know, I think it's good for everybody to try it out just neat first, and--

- Yeah.

- then go from there. It's a little strong for some people, so you gotta take it down--

- Show me those people. I'll teach them. I'll teach them how to drink this. So I love your story. I love everything about your story. I think it's incredible. And I think there many people that can learn from what you've been through because it's full of hustle. It's full of determination. It's full of destiny, I think. When I hear everything that you guys, you and your brother, everything that you've been through, is just really incredible. But I want you to start me off bartending, backpacking, start me there in your journey.

- Yeah. So gosh, where do I begin?

- Way back. Go way back.

- Well, so okay. When I was growing up, my dad told a lot of stories, and I was always inspired by stories that he told. I didn't always know if they were true or not, but I heard stories about him studying abroad in France. And you know, he would always try and speak French, and that sort of thing. And I took French in middle school, and then in high school, and then in college. So I was getting okay. And I decided that I wanted to study abroad in France as well. So I did. I stayed abroad in Paris, and while I was there, I actually, it was kind of crazy, had a couple weeks in the south of France, gearing up to go into Paris, and to start school and everything. Anyway, actually, while I was in the south of France, unfortunately had a bad accident on a scooter. Unfortunately. Yeah. So I--

- You could be in Nashville.

- Yeah.

- 2022, it could be the same thing.

- Yeah, no kidding. So I still have, I don't know if you can see, a little bit of gravel in my nose and my hand, from some French, I still have a piece of France in me.

- Oh my God, that's a war wound.

- Yeah. Yeah. But so, you know, had some medical bills, and I was just a broke college student while I was there. And I had some friends in town who were in Paris, who were studying abroad in Italy, or somewhere, and we're walking down the street, it starts raining. And we duck into the nearest bar just to get out of the rain. And you know, I was in debt, had no money, and we're talking to the bartender, and her name was Abby. She was half French, half Australian. And she said that she was getting married and moving back to Australia. I said, well, who's gonna take your place? And she said, well, do you speak French? I said, a little bit. And she said, well, have you ever bar tended before? I was like, well, no, but I'm a fast learner. She's like, hold on just a second. Let me go talk to my boss, the owner. She comes back five minutes later, she's like, how's Monday, six o'clock?

- Oh, wow.

- I was like, all right, I'll be there. So every day was kind of a different, crazy story. And I think the last time we talked, you had some, I think you were talking about some of the other folks that you were gonna be talking to, and it was like the start of a joke. And it reminded me of my first day bartending at this bar, the Steeple Bar in Paris, because there was a Welshman, an Irishman with a golf club, and then a Mexican guy from Tijuana who--

- Wait, is this for real? Or is this a joke?

- It's not a joke at all. And it ended up--

- All in the bar, right? All in the bar at the same time.

- Yeah. It ended with a big political argument that turned into a fight. And then it was a mess.

- Did you have to, you know, do a little fisty cuffs, throw some bows? How'd that go?

- I didn't. Abby, she, my boss, she actually reached over the bar, and got the Irishman in a headlock. And as this was happening, the guy from Tijuana was walking down the stairs from the bathroom, and fell down the stairs. And Abby's fiance, Marco, who was ex French foreign legionnaire happened to get off work a little bit early, comes in, has his motorcycle helmet, slams it down on the bar, and just regulates on everybody.

- And that's when you knew that alcohol is gonna be in your future.

- Exactly.

- That's how you knew.

- Yeah.

- Oh my gosh. What a great story.

- Yeah, that was my first shift bartending.

- Wow. How long did you bartend?

- At that location, about, I don't know, four, six months. So not terribly long, but I had to come back to the US.

- Back to life and back to reality. Right? At some point.

- Yeah.

- So you're a Nashville guy, born and raised, family's here. And you've got roots here for several generations in Tennessee and in middle Tennessee, specifically. 1850, is my history correct?

- Yeah. Yeah. So my great, great, great, grandfather, Charles Nelson, who I'm named after, he came to Nashville about 1858. It's kind of a crazy story. I'll just--

- I love it. We have so much time. Tell me.

- Cool. So he was Charles, triple great grandfather, born on the 4th of July, which, you know.

- Like the song.

- Yeah, exactly. So in 1835 in Germany, and his father owned a soap and candle factory, which he sold, had the proceeds in gold, sewn into his clothing, gathers a family, wife and six kids, board a ship named the Helena Sloman, set sail for New York. And while they're at sea, ship damaged, and going down for a couple of days, and my family's on a little safety boat, being ferried to a nearby ship named the Devonshire, the safety boat cap sizes, and the father with all the gold on his person goes to the bottom of the Atlanta.

- Because he's wearing gold.

- Yeah.

- Probably part of the problem.

- Exactly. So the family fortunately makes it to aboard the Devonshire to New York, then they moved to Cincinnati, then they came to Nashville in 1858. And that's when Charles started a wholesale grocery business and was one of the first to bottle and sell whiskey rather than selling it by the barrel or the jug.

- And his was good, right? People kept coming for his.

- Exactly. Some of the most popular in the country.

- And then what happened?

- Prohibition. Statewide prohibition in Tennessee shut us down. And yeah. And that's when we were done.

- Yeah. So that's 1909. And making or selling alcohol at that point in this country was, I mean, that was taboo. Right. So as soon as it was, as soon as prohibition happened, I mean, that's something that you didn't, that family didn't wanna claim. Right?

- Right. Yeah. It was exactly. So it was looked at as an immoral business, and an increasingly illegal business. So yeah, it's like, I mean, I think about it a little bit, I didn't know about the business growing up. Which is kind of crazy. And part of the reason why I think that I didn't know about it is because, you know, trying to compare like if your cousin or a family member is one of the largest drug dealers in the area, you're probably not gonna wanna brag to all your family and friends, and everybody about it, you know, it's.

- He was making and selling contraband, basically. And it was not anything your family was gonna claim. So that just got lost, right? No one ever knew about it. And here you are, a child of the '80s, growing up in Nashville, having no idea that some of your dad's crazy stories that had maybe half truths in them, you probably thought there was nothing true in those far fetched stories.

- Right. And yeah. And then it all kind of changed in 2006. So this was, I had, you know, prior to 2006, I was in France in like, '04, '05. And I had fallen in love with traveling. And after I made some money bartending, I traveled around some of Europe and Southeast Asia for a few months. And I just fell in love with, you know, learning about different cultures, and languages, and just meeting all kinds of characters along the way, and trying all kinds of different foods, and beverages, and music, and stories. So when I got back to the US, which my dad pretty much made me come, like I told him, I wasn't gonna finish school. I was out, you know, all I needed was real life experience. I didn't need this theoretical knowledge that we pay for.

- Weren't you a philosophy major?

- Yes.

- Which I love, by the way, 'cause it does sort of go along with drinking whiskey and telling stories, but please.

- Yeah. So exactly. I studied humanities, philosophy and French. But yeah, so my dad finally convinced me to finish my degree, which I did. And at the summer before my last summer, by the summer before my last semester of college, I was in Nashville trying to make a little money. That's when my dad, he went in with three of his buddies to buy a cow worth of meat from a butcher. And he invited my brother and I to go with him to pick up our quarter of a cow worth of meat. And so we're on our way to this butcher, we're running low on fuel, and we stopped to fill up. And at the gas station, there's this historical marker that says Nelson's Green Brier Distillery, one mile east on Long Branch Road, Charles Nelson opened the Green Brier Distillery. I was like.

- You're like, that's my name?

- Yeah. What is this? And at first, it didn't click, 'cause I was like, Charles Nelson's kind of a common name. I wonder if we're even related. And we go on to the butcher, we asked if he knew anything about the old distillery. He happened to live a mile east. And he has, you know, he shows us across the street, old barrel warehouse still standing, original spring still running, drank from the spring. And then he sent us to a nearby historical society where there were two original bottles of our Greenbrier Tennessee Whiskey.

- Which cheers, by the way.

- Cheers.

- The original.

- Exactly. And the bottles have my name on 'em. And literally every hair on my body stood up.

- Okay. Lightning struck.

- Yes.

- This is the moment. You're 21 years old. And you know. What is that knowing? What is that?

- It was crazy. It was one of the only moments of clarity in my life. And I was transported to another time and place. It was like my life kind of flashed before my eyes. And it was weird. Like I saw myself in a bar in Japan. I've never even been to, I still haven't been to Japan.

- This is the part of the story I've never heard. I wanna know about this. This moment.

- So like, you know, everything started to just make sense, and the click, and you know, I had been traveling around with no, just wandering, you know, sort of a wander lust, or vacilando, or whatever you wanna call it, and no real purpose. And as soon as I saw that bottle, and I loved doing it, but again, without any real purpose or direction, just kind of going whichever way the wind blew. And when I saw those bottles, beautiful bottles with my name on, immediately it was, okay, this is what I'm here to do. And I can now travel with a purpose. And you know, I can travel, build relationships, share stories, and build bridges, really. And there were two things that really stand out from my travels in Southeast Asia, specifically. Number one, I put number two, but number one was, I was on a three day boat ride from, going from Thailand into Laos. And stopping on, we were, I think going on the Mekong, and stopping at a little, I guess you could call it a port to get lunch and everything. There are these little--

- They're like floating, right? Like floating, they're not flotillas. I don't know what to call them.

- I don't either, but yeah, so we're stopping to get lunch, and there are these kids, like 10 year old kids with their baby brothers, or sisters on their backs, and they're trying to sell drugs to the tourists.

- Oh wow.

- And it just hit me. It's like man, these are human beings just trying to survive. And they're, you know, it kind of made me realize that we may seem very different, but we're all the, I'm the same as, you know, those kids that are just trying to survive all the way across the world from me. They may not have the same sort of material things that we have, but all they want is love, and shelter, and nourishment. That kind of just like something in my mind clicked, it was just like, we're all human beings, and we're all the same at, you know, or like 99.999% the same in my opinion, at least. And then also someone gave me a book while I was traveling, which is a pretty easy read, but it was called "The Celestine Prophecy." I don't know if you've ever heard of it. But it was all about reading signs, and energy, and stuff like that. And so while I was traveling, I was always trying to read, you know, like if I was hiking, like trying to decide which path to take.

- That's loaded right there.

- Right.

- Okay. Let's keep going.

- But the ironic thing is that I was looking for these sort of not actual signs, but signs of--

- Well, it's interesting though, because I'm thinking like of you being in another country, I'm thinking of you being in another country, on a path you don't know, reading signs in a language you don't understand. And how much like life is that, anyway, right? How much of our own journeys, our own paths we don't know, reading signs we can't read, trying to figure out which way is up. And I think in those moments the only thing you can do is feel the energy of that, right? What feels right when I go this way, does it feel right if I go that way? So I mean, I don't think what you're talking about is too far off. I think it's so much about what life is. Feeling your way through everything that you go through.

- Yeah. And sometimes fumbling through it a little bit.

- Or drinking, opening a bottle too. But so that moment though, that you saw your name on those bottles, you realized those things.

- Yeah. And everything just kind of made sense. And I thought I am here to actually, for a purpose. And that I can share my story with other people. And my hope is that it inspires others to share their story. And we realize, and maybe it's over a glass of whiskey.

- Absolutely.

- Yeah, and.

- Yeah, cheers.

- Yeah, hey.

- It's always better that way.

- Exactly. So my hope is that, you know, we start to build bridges, and realize how much we have in common as opposed to how different we are. And because I think that there's just so much that we have in common, whether it's, you know, folks like you and I, or someone like me and even a 10 year old kid from Laos, who's selling drugs on a river bank, which may sound crazy.

- No, but you're right though. We do have, all of us have the same needs. We really do, when it comes down to it. I completely agree with you. And you know, I think that's where, something I like to talk about a lot is purpose, right? So like, that's where I think purpose comes in. Is like, can you, at what point do you find purpose? Plenty of people would argue you don't find purpose, purpose finds you. What's your viewpoint on it?

- Yeah. I mean, I think that it's, maybe, I think that it was kind of a little bit of both for me. I think that I stumbled across it, but it's hard to say which is which, I guess.

- I feel like there was an intersection for you. Because just because you found those bottles of gosh, almost a hundred years after that whole distillery went dark, you still had to make choices about what you were gonna do next. You could have said, oh, this was a cool story. But instead you and your older brother said, this is what we need to do with our lives. We've gotta resurrect this, and we've gotta bring this to the people. This is our life now.

- Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. And that set us on a path that, but you're right. We could have chosen to go different directions. And I'm very happy at the direction that we chose. And yeah. It just, at that moment, everything seemed to click and make sense, everything leading up to that moment then made sense when before it seemed like it was just a bunch of random events.

- Yeah. But now I think it's interesting because I would imagine that you get to take this all over the world now. So that same wandering you did so many years ago, it has a different, it does have a different purpose now, because it's driven by something that's both past, and present, and future. I mean, it's just beautiful.

- For sure.

- So once you discovered that bottle, 2006, you and your brother, like, ah, lightning strikes. There it is. What kind of work did you have to do? I mean, 'cause there was so much before you actually got to sell beautiful stuff like this out of a bottle.

- Yeah. So it certainly was not easy. And like you said, I was 21, 22 at the time, and fresh outta college, barely of drinking age, and with no business experience. So tried raising money for a couple of years, and you know, I would put on a suit and slick back my hair, and go and pitch some of the wealthiest people in town on why they should believe in us. And they'd ask, well, you know, have you ever started a business before? No. Have you ever made whiskey before? Well, no, not legally at least.

- Just in the bathtub. That count.

- Exactly. Have you ever sold whiskey? No. So what makes you think that you can actually start and run a successful business, and make a good product and then sell it? And I said, well just trust me.

- And did they?

- No, not at all. So after banging my head against the wall for a couple of years, and you know, doing a lot of research, and spending a lot of time in Tennessee state archives and county archives, moving in with my parents, and pretty much living off of peanut butter and jelly, and ramen noodles, that sort of thing. Finally, we discovered that there was a brand that we produced prior to prohibition called Belle Meade Bourbon that was originally just aged and bottled by my triple great grandfather. So in order to get started, my family and I put up literally everything that we owned, mostly my parents' house, that was a lot more valuable than my dog, to the bank at least. And to personally guarantee a loan to get started working with a contract distillery. And then we were able to sell our first bottle six years later in 2012.

- How did you go about constituting what was in that bottle? Because weren't you able to come across, maybe not exact recipes on some of the things, but close.

- Yeah. So we found like the original recipe for our Green Brier Tennessee Whiskey. And found that actually in an old newspaper article that went through the whole process step by step, which was very interesting. And you know, it was another sort of aha moment. And Belle Meade was kind of like a bridge to build a proof of concept, start generating revenue, attract investors, so that we could then build out our own distillery, and start laying down barrels of Green Brier from the original recipe. And we actually just started selling this a couple years ago. So it only took us about 13 years to get to the starting line.

- That's what I love about it though, is when you guys started putting out Belle Meade Bourbon, it wasn't just like some mom and pop operation that you're like, look, ma, I've got some bourbon, you guys won awards as soon as you put it out. I mean, it's really incredible.

- Yeah. Thank you. Yeah. And so, oh, you asked about how we sort of figured out how to put something in the bottle, or what to put in the bottle. And it was crazy, because this doesn't happen anymore. We had a guy that would come to my parent's house, like with a briefcase full of barrel samples from a bunch of different distilleries, different mash bills and yeast strains, different recipes. And we spent about a year and a half kind of tinkering around, and trying to find the right blend. And we had a panel that was my dad, my brother, my grandmother, a guy, Dave Pecrol, who is former master distiller at Maker's Mark, and one of my best friends who's blind, and has a heightened sense of taste and smell.

- I love that panel.

- Yeah.

- You put a lot of trust in the panel. It was the brain trust, wasn't it?

- Exactly.

- Or the bourbon trust.

- So yeah, there you go. I like that.

- Wow. What a great, I love that that's how far you were able to get just on your own. So then you produce this beautiful thing, you win awards, and then you're able to say, okay, we're actually creating something.

- Yeah. Yeah. So we opened up our own distillery in 2014. And then shortly thereafter, we started attracting the attention of some of the bigger companies. And they started knocking on the doors, and the whiskey business is a very, you know, the two things that I was told from all the experts at the very beginning, were you have to have a lot of patience, and a lot of capital. And I said, well, I've got one of those things. And I think you could probably guess which one. And so you know, we realized though, if we wanted to grow and realize the vision that we set out to create, we'd have to probably partner with a strategic company. And so we had folks knocking on the door, starting in 2014, 2015. And we ended up taking on a strategic partner in 2016.

- Was that Constellation?

- Yes. Constellation Brands. And then we sort of furthered our relationship two years ago, as they took on a bigger stake.

- Yeah. Do they own majority now?

- They do, not 100%, but.

- Because it's your name, right? I mean, this is you guys, this is your name, this is your legacy. I understand why you would wanna retain as much control as you could possibly do, because I mean, that's your family. That's your family name, that's your legacy.

- Exactly. And that's something that we, it was kind of a non-starter for us, was selling 100%. We were not willing to sell 100%. And it's not just a business for me, like you're saying, it's a way of life, and it's always going to be a part of me, and you know, you can't really separate the two of us.

- I think it's interesting, because I think about so many parts, so many points in our lives, and you're on the back half of the thirties, similar to I am at this point. Have you reached the point where you've been able to look back on your life and go, oh my gosh. I went through this, I did this, I was so into this, all of that, the sum total of those parts, are where I'm at right now. Have you had one of those reflective moments?

- Yeah. You know, a little bit. And I really, over the last 15 years, I didn't really have time to reflect. And it wasn't really until actually a couple months ago, my dad passed, and yeah.

- I'm so sorry. I had no idea.

- Thank you. So after that, the flood gates opened. And I was finally able to take a step back, and kind of reflect on what's happened over the last 15 years, and sort of start to put things into perspective a little bit. And also, you know, to kind of just in my mind, celebrate some of the things that we've accomplished, and some of the wins, and also understand better. I'm not a parent yet, at least, I hope to be someday, I've got a dog, but to sort of understand from his perspective, and both of my parents' perspective, some of the things that they did or said as I was growing up. And realize that they were just trying to prepare me for my life, and it was all out of love. And so, but yeah, it's like being able to reflect is very important. And I wish that I had spent more time over the last 15 years reflecting.

- You've got a lot of life left. You can still continue to do it. What are the things that your dad stood for as it dealt with what you guys were doing? I mean, when you and Andy were like, we're gonna do this, tell me about your dad in that process.

- Yeah. So at the very beginning, I mean, we had opportunities to take investments from people that, he never made any decision for us. He always just tried to lay out facts, and help lead us to make the best decisions for ourselves. And at the end of the day, if we made a decision that he didn't agree with, he accepted it, because he wanted it to, you know, for us to be able to take responsibility for our own decisions, and our own actions, and everything. And that was something that was important, was actually taking responsibility for your own decisions and actions. And ultimately, we were very close at one point to accepting an investment from a group that didn't have the same vision as us, which was very tempting, to take a $3 million investment, when you have nothing. Ultimately we said no, and I'm very thankful that we did, because that entity ended up doing something on their own and going bankrupt within a year.

- Oh wow.

- There were just a number of things that like, he didn't really care what other people thought of him. If he believed in something, then he was going to do whatever it took to make that a reality. And something that he taught me, one of the first things that came to my mind when he passed, was I remember distinctly a moment when I was kind of frustrated, I think maybe in high school or something, and at the dinner table, he said, Charlie, look, you can do whatever you want. As long as you believe you can, you can do whatever you want. If you wanna be president of the United States, you can be it as long as you believe it. And I kind of laughed about it, but then it really stuck with me. And you know, that sort of was what I heard in the back of my mind when I was in France and I was like, well, I can get a job bartending. Why not? I can make it through Southeast Asia on my own without knowing the language. Why not? I can start this business. Why not? It might take a while, but I think that the biggest thing was that he just, he taught me to believe in myself. And I think that that's a powerful thing for anybody. Is just having the belief in yourself, and the confidence to move forward.

- I wanna play a little story with you, are you ready?

- Okay.

- It's a series of questions. You can be as brief, or as long-winded as you want. It's your episode. You can do whatever you want.

- Yeah. Just keep in mind I don't have very many short stories, or short answer.

- That's great. I mean--

- I'll try, though.

- We got nothing but time. Truly. All right. When was the best time in your life?

- Oh my gosh. Well, other than my wedding.

- Like, you're supposed to say that. Keep going, keep going.

- I would say that the one of the best times in my life was when I was traveling in France, and in Southeast Asia. And I felt like I was the most alive, and learning the most about not only the world and humanity, but myself as well, and testing my limits. And there was one particular story, could go on for about an hour, at least, but where I was trying to find a water, I love jumping off of a waterfall. It's been too long since I have jumped off a waterfall, but there's nothing like it. And I was again in Laos, outside of Longxiao. And I was trying to find a waterfall, ended up following along a water buffalo path that I didn't realize was a water buffalo path. Ended up thinking I hear gunshots, turns out it was a fire. And like, there were, it was cracking, just trees were cracking so loud that they sounded like gunshots. And then I ended up, you know, going down a different path, getting stuck in a pit of buffalo dung, and then finding myself across in this village where these people, I was like head and shoulders taller than anybody else. They showed me to the river to like clean myself off, and then was barely rescued by these folks that were floating by in a little canoe made out of US bombshells.

- Your stories are so unexpected. Oh, they're so great.

- That was a crazy experience. But I mean, it was--

- Best time in your life.

- I mean, it was like the most, you know, I thought that I might die there. But then making it through, was like, I could do anything.

- I love this. Every story, every story that you tell is so great and so unexpected, it really is. Like, let me just sit at the fireplace and hear grandpa Charlie tell me more stories, I'm in for it. When was, we talked about the best time in your life, when was the worst time in your life?

- Oh, gosh. I mean, over the course of the last couple of years was probably as bad as it's gotten. My dad had a pretty bad bout with dementia, and it's brutal. I mean, just seeing someone that you love and respect more than anything in the world, just kind of deteriorate in front of your eyes is nothing that I wish anybody had to go through. And then when he did pass, it was kind of a sense of relief and getting to hear from all of his friends and family members, and hear these stories that I had never heard before made it a little bit easier and more bearable, but.

- It's hard, the timing, I just didn't realize any of that because I'm thinking, outside looking in, 2019, you have this incredible year professionally. Because when Constellation takes controlling interest in Nelson's Green Brier, and then here you are on a personal level, dealing with the person who probably believed in you guys most, and you're watching that deterioration. I'm so sorry. Because isn't that like life though? That you have something incredible, and you're in the same parallel paths, incredible and excruciating both at the same time.

- Yeah. And it was just, it was really lonely, because we didn't really know who we could talk to about. I mean, it's just, it was just, it was a really tough time. But now I feel his spirit with me, and it guides me in some ways at times, when a tough decision has to be made. And I know it's only been a couple few months, but there have been some tough decisions that previous to him passing, I may have gone a different direction. But feeling, being able to reflect and think about who he was and what he stood for, and what he truly wanted has really helped, helped guide me and my brother.

- When was your greatest, oh, no, excuse me. I missed one. When was a turning point in your life that you look back on and you say everything changed from this moment?

- Gosh, there is, there is a few, I guess traveling was one. Once I just got to France and sort of realized that I could sort of make it on my own, somewhat. Gosh, there's.

- So many, right? Finding the label, I'm sure. Seeing that historical marker, like that's a lightning bolt.

- Yes. That's maybe definitely the biggest, was yeah. Going to visit that butcher, and then find.

- Finding the historical marker with your name on it.

- Yeah. That's number one.

- That's crazy.

- Yeah. I should have said that one first.

- Doesn't matter. This is you. This is your life. This is you telling me about you.

- And yeah. And then I, you know, most recently, going back to just my dad, things have kind of changed and opened my eyes, and put things into perspective a little bit.

- And I'm sure it'll continue to happen, right? Things will continue to happen that you, that change your perspective, decisions maybe that you didn't expect will come up that change your trajectory, right? Forks in the road.

- Absolutely.

- When was the greatest moment of clarity for you? You talked about it earlier, and I was like, he doesn't know it, but it's the question that's coming up.

- 100%. I mean, that was, yeah. That was the moment seeing those bottles with my name on.

- I still don't understand why you saw them in Japan. Do you know why you saw those bottles in your mind?

- Why I was transported to?

- Why were you transported to Japan?

- I don't know. So my great uncle, his name was Ed Nelson. He's got a crazy story, as do a number of other folks in my family, but--

- I love your life. I just love, I love your way. I love it.

- After World War II, he was a spy stationed in Japan, posing as a pearl buyer. And so I just had heard stories about his time in Japan, and he was fluent in Japanese. Maybe that had something to do with it, or, I don't know. Maybe just the fact that like the Japanese love American whiskey.

- That's what I was gonna say. Isn't there a huge market for bourbon in Japan?

- Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. And we've had some bottles somehow, like make it over to Japan that I don't know how they made it. Some folks just that came over, and brought it back with them, so.

- Oh, I love that. Tell me something about your nature that you've had to work on, or that you've had to overcome.

- Yeah. So growing up, I've never been much of a fast talker. And my parents would tell stories also about how like playing sports, I was always a little bit bigger than others. And like, I would try not to hurt other people while playing sports. I might be able to just like--

- 'Cause you're just larger, right?

- Yeah.

- Cause you're size. Okay.

- And so I didn't have that like killer instinct just to crush everybody, and score, and dominate. I wanted to bring people together, and involve others. And so at times, that was not great, 'cause like in basketball in middle school, which I loved playing basket ball, but I wanted to involve other people. But at that age, it's like, you kind of need to take over. And if you wanna like, be the star of the show, you gotta kind of be selfish.

- Charlie, I think you're an old soul. Everything about the stories you tell, they just feel like you were born, maybe you were born 50 years old on the inside, and now this iteration of you at 37, am I right? 37.

- Yeah. Yeah.

- This iteration of you in your late thirties is like so far past a 37 year old.

- It's funny. And when I was in high school, my basketball coach said you're like a 55 year old in a high school kid's body. But yeah, I mean, it was, and then like just speaking slowly, people would think that I was dumb, you know? And my dad had the same thing, and he was in the movie business for a while in California, and he used that to his advantage. He would let people underestimate him, and think that because he was a slow talking Southern guy, that he would catch 'em off guard, and take advantage of that, so.

- Yeah. I love that. I love that, because it takes chess like precision, and some real powerful thought processing to be able to kind of like game out that process. To allow people to underestimate you based on the pace of your speech, that does take a just like thinking, really. I mean, you really have to, you really have to be thinking so many steps ahead, because your dad knew, and probably you know too, by this point, after all these years, that when someone underestimates you, you can only outperform their expectation.

- Absolutely. I think he called it playing possum.

- Which is very Southern. It's very Southern to say that.

- Yeah.

- What do you find yourself saying a lot lately? So anything--

- Make it do what it do.

- Oh, tell me more, tell me more.

- It's just something that I say I. I'm not 100% sure where it came from, I think that it came from the movie "Ray." But I've kind of just always had like, since I was in middle school, and it seems like every year there would be something that I would I just remembered a silly one that I said in middle school. But like.

- I'm amazed that you can remember back that far.

- Yeah.

- I remember my screen name from eighth grade. That's like a buzz. I was Chickidy 226. Who were you?

- I was Chuckles 500.

- Chuckles.

- Yeah. 'Cause I--

- I'm sorry.

- The only time I got grounded, my parents were out of town, and my dad had bought this old Impala for like a hundred bucks or something. I was like 14 at the time. I took my brother's friend for a spin around the neighborhood, and we were just being crazy. And he was like, it's the Chuckles 500. And so.

- okay. So make it do what it do.

- Make it do what it do.

- And what else?

- So gosh, I mean, I also like white ice, that's kind of like, everybody knows that I say so.

- That's you? If those words were written, they say, oh, it's Charlie.

- Yeah. Like I'll even, if I'm signing a bottle or something, I might write that on the bottle, because it's just like, you know, it's kind of a silly thing.

- Is it like in boom, Bob's your uncle. Or like.

- I do have an uncle Bob, but so it's just like, it's like, just make it do what to do, baby. You know? Like you just do what you're supposed to do, make, you know? I don't know, just make it happen.

- Maybe it's a situational thing. Maybe give me another, give me another situation where you use it. Use it in context.

- Gosh, it can be used in so many situations, but someone is like, you know.

- Let me help with this one.

- Oh, okay.

- Charlie says make it do what it do, because he realizes that taking life too seriously doesn't get you anywhere. Make it do what it do, like keep doing what you're doing. I trust you--

- Be true.

- to do what you wanna do in your life. Am I right?

- Yeah.

- Okay. For that, in my family, we say, keep on living.

- Yeah.

- Just keep on living. All right, thank you. Michelle Palmer, producer for AMPstigator, everyone. Very, very well known to Charlie too. Okay. What's your purpose right now? Take a slow sip, think about it. No rush. What's your purpose right now?

- I think, and I hope to ground people sometimes, and help them find their purpose, or help put them on the path to finding their purpose. And to hopefully just slow down, and enjoy life, and what's happening, and just kinda like get outta your own head a little bit. Another story.

- I love it. I love that you're a storyteller. Do you realize this about yourself? Like you are next level storyteller. Has anyone ever told you that?

- I mean, nobody's ever said the next level, but--

- Yeah, you are next level storyteller. There's a story for everything, and I love it.

- Yeah, it kind of gets me in trouble, but. So when we were first launching our whiskey in Georgia, I'm in a bar, actually, there's another story even before that, it's a bar called Holeman and Finch, and they had this window, where they would display the bottles, the brands that they have in cocktails. And there was like a line of bottles of Belle Meade Bourbon, 'cause they had it in a cocktail. And my brother and I are there, we didn't know that that was there. And I see from across the street, I could recognize our bottle, and I go, Andy, Andy, look, look at there's some bottles right there in the window. And he's like, what? And I was pointing, and there's a guy sitting on the bench there talking on the phone, and I'm pointing like right at his face, 'cause the bottles are right above his head. And so I'm like running towards him saying, look, look, look. And the guy looks up on the phone and he's like, oh God, no. It was Owen Wilson. And I was like, oh my God, I'm not pointing at you. It's our whiskey inside. And he's just like, oh, get outta here, man. And then we go in, and it's like, oh, shit. You know?

- Your stories are amazing. Okay. Keep going, keep going.

- So we go in and having a drink, and telling the bartender, the story behind the company and everything. There's a guy sitting next to us. And at the end of the story, he says, I'm sorry, I have to say something. We're like, yeah.

- He's been eaves dropping the whole time, right? Okay.

- He's like, I've been working this shit job for the last five years, and I've got this passion project that I've wanted to pursue. And you know, I just heard your story, and I think I'm gonna do it. I can't take this job anymore. I think I'm gonna do it. Thank you. We're like, all right.

- There, it is.

- Go for it.

- Well, okay. So that right there, is why I wanted you to be a part of this. Because there are in my mind, two very specific types of people when it deals with purpose. You've got people who I consider experts, right? The teachers, the coaches, the authors, the mentors, the people who say, hey, my purpose is to help people find purpose. And so there's those people that really focus on that, that help, you know, encourage others. But then there's the other type of person with purpose, which is in my mind, the prototype. The prototype is singular. It's one person, one story, one experience. It's their experience of finding what it is that they're supposed to do in this life. So you, my friend, are a prototype. And everything about your story is a prototypical story. None of what you've been through could have happened to anyone else. And when you put all of it together, I mean, I look, I have the benefit of being objective. I'm not in your life or in your family. I can look from this outside viewpoint and say, wow. You were in France, bartending, you were backpacking the Southeast of Asia. You were doing this wander lust life, already roaming, searching for what it was that you needed. You were already tuned in. To me, you were already tuned in. You were already looking for what that was gonna be. And then when it hit you, bolt of lightning, from a historical marker, to me, that's everything. And then people would like to say, hey, your success, you know, great job, you did it. And they wanna claim you, right? Because we're here in Nashville, and they wanna claim part of your success. But that success was from 2006 to 2019, when you guys sold controlling interest to Constellation Brands, an international company. I mean that trajectory, that was overnight success, 13 years in the making. You know, and that's incredible. It's just incredible. And it was because you guys knew in that moment, you knew that that was gonna be your life. And when it's purpose, it never is, it's never done in one year. It's never over and out. It's always a multifaceted, multiyear event.

- Yeah.

- Don't you think?

- Yeah. And it's so funny that you say the overnight success, 13 years in the making, because there have been so many people that have said, oh gosh, you guys are just this great overnight success. I'm like, do you have any idea? Or there's also a lot of people that have, that has been frustrating. People are like, oh gosh, that's so great, that you just inherited this great family business. I'm like--

- No.

- I did not.

- It was dead for almost 100 years. It was from your gumption, and your agency, that you brought it back. You reached into something that you were, you know, that was in your DNA. I mean, there's a lot of people who will say, hey, let's reach back through our ancestors. Let's reach back through the stories and the family line, and figure out what was there for better or for worse. And you found that, and you did all the research to uncover. I mean like the fact that--

- I'm still learning more.

- Well, tell me what you're still learning.

- Well, I mean, you know, still finding like old bottles, and advertisements, and, you know.

- And Louisa, I mean, I think about Louisa, tell us about Louisa.

- Yeah. So Louisa's a huge character in our story, and a huge inspiration for me and my brother. She was my great, great, great grandmother who, when Charles, her husband, passed away in 1891, she took over, and ran the distillery from 1891 to 1909. And that's remarkable for a number of reasons. I mean, being a woman in the south prior to 1900, running a business--

- For almost 20 years.

- not just any, yeah. And you know, whiskey business, a male dominated industry, and she didn't even have the right to vote. And you know, she was just a remarkable character. I mean, like most families, or most businesses, like their son, their oldest son was Harvard educated, you know, able bodied, like prior to 1900, it would've been just standard--

- Yeah. It goes--

- protocol to go to the--

- it goes to him.

- Yeah.

- Right.

- Yeah. And so she was a woman of remarkable character, and she--

- Piss and vinegar, probably. I mean, like you have to be in that industry, I would think.

- And I couldn't imagine the position that she must have been in where, you know, sort of the women's suffrage movement went kind of hand in hand with the temperance movement. So she must have been between a rock and a hard place, because here she is, a woman running one of the largest whiskey companies in the country, and presumably pro women's suffrage. But that movement was kind of anti her business. And so I think that that probably must have been really tough for her, but we've tried to honor her in a number of ways. We named our still after her, we have a mural of her painted in our production area. And we created the Luisa Nelson Awards where we, throughout the year, take nominations for women in the middle Tennessee area that are making a difference in their, in the community, and then donate money to charities of their choosing in their name. So we try and honor her. And one other thing that, you know, we found her obituary, and it was interesting because we have Charles' obituary and Louisa's obituary. And Charles' is like very long, and thorough and talks about his accomplishments and everything. Louisa's talk also about Charles' accomplishments. It's like this woman did amazing things, so we wanna like rewrite her obituary and talk more about what she accomplished rather than her husband.

- You strike me as someone who loves history.

- Yeah.

- Do you love history? Just--

- Absolutely.

- aside from your family, just someone who appreciates the past.

- Yeah, absolutely. And I mean, I think that discovering my family's history and everything, before that, I didn't know how much I appreciated it. But yeah, I love it. And you know, whether it's movies or books, or just other people's stories, whatever.

- Do you, you mentioned that in big decisions, you feel your dad, you feel your dad's spirit with you to help, you know, just guide you through that, which I imagine is so powerful. In this process since 2006, have there been points where you have felt like Charles Nelson, or Louisa Nelson is with you?

- Yeah, yeah. A little bit. And we try and every year, you know, Charles is born on the 4th of July, and so every year we try and go to his graves site and do a little cheers, and pour some whiskey out for him. So that he'll continue providing good.

- Pour one out for your homies.

- Yeah, exactly. But yeah, I mean, I'm inspired by his obituary, and Louisa's to an extent though, I think it should have been a lot more robust.

- Yeah. You're rewriting that.

- Yeah. And so, yeah, I think that they're with me, and I just, I try and think about the way that they lived, and try and make them proud. Because they had such an impact on their community. And I hope that we're doing just a very small fraction of what they did.

- Oh, I think you are. Thanks for being here, Charlie.

- Yeah, absolutely. Thanks for having me.

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