A Tour of Jack Daniel's Distillery
March 24, 2013
Last month we took a group down to Lynchburg to visit the Jack Daniel's Distillery. Our purpose was to taste and purchase our next barrel of Jack Daniel's Single Barrel for the store, but the experience was much more than that. Join us for a series of several articles that outline our adventure.
Most of our group had never visited the Old #7 Distillery before, and in all honesty, you just can't appreciate the whiskey until you know how it is made. You have to understand the Tennessee whiskey process and appreciate the city of Lynchburg. Whiskey making is serious business here. It is a craft.
Let's start with the city where Jack is made. Lynchburg is in Moore County, Tenn., which is a dry county. This means that you won't find bars here, and no restaurants serve alcohol. A fact that is quite ironic since millions of bottles of whiskey a year are made here. Don't worry about the employees though; Jack Daniel's gives them a free pint on the first Friday of every month. According to our tour guide, Ron, this is "Good Friday."
The tour of the distillery will give you a proper respect for Tennessee Whiskey. We'll attempt to walk you through the experience, but we really recommend visiting yourself.
The first stop is the rickyard, which is where Jack Daniel's makes the charcoal used in its famous charcoal filtering process. Seasoned, stacked maple ricks are ignited with 140-proof whiskey, and burn for 2-3 hours to create charcoal.
Limestone Spring Cave
This is the cave that caused Jack Daniel to set up shop in Lynchburg. It is the source for pure, iron-free spring water that goes into every bottle. Amazingly, the cave is 56 degrees year round. You'll also get a shot of Jack on the Rocks here. That is a photograph of a Jack Daniel standing on a rock. Remember, it is a dry county.
Jack's office is the only original buildings still standing. There are several interesting things in the building including samples of the grains used to make the whiskey, Jack's desk, and the cause of his death. If you don't know that story, stay tuned for the next article. A sign of Jack's motto, "Every day we make it, we'll make it the best we can" is also displayed here.
This is where corn, rye and barley come together and create the sour mash as mentioned on the bottle. Those three grains are mixed with the spring water and yeast and then left along to age for several days, creating a smell you will never forget. The appearance of the mash is nothing appetizing and reminds you of a bubbling pot of witches brew. The result is 140 proof alcohol, some might know of this as "moonshine."
The bottle says, "Mellowed for smoothness drop by drop through sugar maple charcoal." Mellowing is the process that defines Tennessee Whiskey. Drops of whiskey are filtered through 10 feet of charcoal, taking another several days in the process that makes you wonder how Jack Daniel's gets through even making one bottle of whiskey. When you enter the mellowing room, you can smell the whiskey, but when your tour guide lifts the top up and down, you appreciate their steps even more. You can taste the whiskey and believe in the process all in one deep breath. After filtering, the whiskey is ready for bottling.
As noted on a bottle of Jack, "Matured for character in our own handcrafted barrels." That's right, Jack Daniel's makes their own charcoal and their own barrels. The filled white oak barrels sit in one of the 80 barrel houses across Lynchburg. Each barrel house holds about one million gallons of whiskey. The houses are not temperature controls, so the wood expands and contacts based on the temperature. With each expansion, the whiskey interacts and soaks into the wood, adding flavor and changing the color of the whiskey from clear to caramel. Each barrel is judged by taste and not time.
Jack Daniel's standards of making whiskey has not changed from its founder until now. It takes a long time, but the end result makes it different. Different enough that it has its own spirit qualification - Tennessee Whiskey.
Lynchburg is about an hour and half drive from Hendersonville, and the experience is worth every second of the travel. Several tour times are offered daily from 9 am to 4:30 pm, it is family friendly and free. Given the fact it is a dry county, whiskey tastings are not available, but don't miss the lemonade at the end of your tour.
Visit our Facebook page for a photo tour of the Distillery.