On our last day in the South we took a drive to Lynchburg, Tennessee…home of the Jack Daniel’s Distillery. It was a scenic drive out and I imagined that the tour would be neat but could not have prepared myself for how engaging and interesting it really was.
The distillery still makes every drop of Jack Daniel’s that is sold all over the world. They have 80 barrel houses scattered through the Tennessee hills to avoid a catastrophe. (Their words…not mine) Those houses are highly flammable with the 20,000 barrels in each. Wouldn’t want to put all their barrels in one basket…get what I did there?
The reason the distillery was started out in Lynchburg is because of the natural stream that runs right through the area. It has a limestone bed which filters out all the iron. This is key to whiskey making. If you have iron in the water, your whiskey comes out a black color…not the beautiful amber color you see. You can walk right up to the stream and see it and they still use the water from that stream today to make J.D.
The tour started at the rick yard. This is where they burn all their own sugar maple to make the charcoal they run their whiskey through (this, we learned, is the difference between a whiskey and a bourbon). They hose it down with their product, light it up, let it burn and then slowly cool it down over 2 hours till they get the charcoal they need.
We made our way past the limestone-bed stream and into Jack’s original offices.
Next we moved into the mash house. At this point you can’t take any more pictures. With all the alcohol in the air (they are dealing with 140 proof) they are nervous of anything that could spark or remotely cause a spark…fair enough I guess.
We got to smell the mash (gross…) and see the fermenting process in action.
Then we got to see the charcoal distilling process. As the whiskey drips into the charcoal vats it moves through 10 feet of charcoal over 6 days. This helps remove any impurities or byproducts that are left behind after the mash fermenting.
Finally the whiskey is placed in barrels. But not just any barrels… white oak barrels that are hand made for the distillery and each barrel is only used once. The barrels are then placed in the barrel houses. (distributing them evenly so they have some of each batch in each house avoiding catastrophe again if anything were to happen). The barrels stay there for 4-6 years and are removed when they “taste right”
From there the barrels are emptied, bottled and shipped.
What I find most interesting about this whole thing is that Lynchburg is in Moore County and Moore County is dry.
What does that mean you may ask?
Well there are no bars, liquor stores, taverns or pubs in Moore County. The town square where you can buy Jack Daniels ANYTHING has decorative bottles filled with tea. And if you are so inclined to buy a bottle of Jack while you are at the distillery or in the gift store down the road, they are charging you for the bottle and they throw the whiskey in for free (wink, wink, nudge, nudge). They can’t sell you the alcohol, but they can sell you the bottle and GIVE you the alcohol for free. Funny right?
Our tour guide, Jason, was a fantastic story teller. His mix of Southern drawl, stories and jokes made for an enjoyable and informative hour long tour.
I can’t believe that I learned as much as I did on that tour (a free tour I might add…) and it didn’t hurt that the countryside around the distillery was absolutely beautiful. What fun!