Just 90 minutes out of Nashville in Lynchburg, TN [population 361] is the home of the oldest (1866) registered distillery in the U.S. – Jack Daniels or “Jack” as this smooth sipping whisky is so often referred to. We planned our route to Cummings, GA. (Atlanta) to include a stop and distillery tour. On Wednesday, December 2nd the parking lot wasn’t full and there was plenty of space for us to pull in, park the coach and leave the truck hooked up. The pets kept watch as we toured the facility and sipped some Jack.
Two tours are offered – 1 free and the other $12/person for the sampling tour. Yup, the sampling tour for us! The Visitor’s Centre is full of displays, information and Jack memorabilia to keep you occupied while waiting for the tour(s) to begin.
First up was a short bus trip to one of the barrel houses. There are 78 barrel houses scattered throughout the area, sitting high on the hills. They house anywhere from 6,000 to 20,000 barrels of whiskey for 4 – 6 years. We couldn’t go inside but we did get a peak inside the door and took a whiff. Now that’s whisky breath!
The “not so secret” secret is the whiskey is mellowed (filtered) through 10 feet of sugar maple charcoal making this a Tennessee whiskey and not a bourbon. Stacks of sugar maple are burned right here on the property in these giant open furnaces to make their own charcoal.
This 1700 acre operation has approx 500 employees and ships over 115 million bottles a year. The product starts with a sour mash of mostly corn, a little bit of rye, some barley malt, some yeast and a whole lot of pure, iron-free, cave, spring water from this natural limestone Hollow. The limestone rock removes iron from the water which can give the whiskey an undesirable taste and colour. This natural water source is why the distillery was put here to begin with – in 1866.
The odd thing about the area is the black crust on trees and streaking on the buildings. It’s actually black mould that occurs near distilleries called Baudoinia compniacensis, better known as “whisky fungus”. During the whisky maturation process at least 2% of whisky escapes from the barrels as ethanol vapour. The distilleries refer to this vapour as “The Angel’s Share” – perfect for this fungus to thrive. Apparently it’s been tested, its not toxic and it doesn’t smell, but you can’t help but feel there’s been a fire recently and we’re looking at some of the charred and smokey residue.
You can actually buy your own barrel of whiskey! At a cost of $10,000 – $12,000 you get the original barrel, 240 bottles of single barrel whiskey and your name on a bronze plaque. Each additional barrel you purchase adds a button to your plaque. It just so happens that the US military is the largest buyer of Jack Daniels Single Barrel whiskey. They may be the largest, but they certainly were not alone -there were thousands of bronze plaques on display in this barrel room.
We got to sample 5 whiskey’s –
- Gentleman Jack – the only whiskey in the world twice charcoal – mellowed
- Single Barrel – each bottle, hand labeled with its barrel number, is hand-crafted from a single barrel individually selected by a panel headed by the Master Distiller
- Tennessee Fire – a little bit of cinnamon spice and a whole lot of Jack
- Tennessee Honey – a whole lot of Jack and a little bit of honey
- Old No. 7 Tennessee Whiskey (black label) – world’s best selling whiskey – and not pictured below…
…and the trick to drinking whiskey – take small sips and let it rest on the tip of the tongue. You can actually taste some unique flavours without having it burn all the way down to your belly. Shooting back a shot of whiskey is only meant for the movies – OR – a bar room wager challenging your manhood!
My personal favourite – Tennessee Honey – followed by Tennessee Fire. What’s your favourite? Jack & Coke? Jack & Ginger? How about something simple like Jack on the Rocks?
This 5’2″, always impeccably dressed, little bit of a man would be proud of his legacy and definitely earned the name “Gentleman Jack”.
Ironically, this county is dry and you can’t get a lick of liquor anywhere – other than the tasting room, the gift shop or as an employee. One perk of the job – a bottle of Jack each and every month. TGIF they exclaimed!