The Potent Pride of Lynchburg
TBEX (Travel Bloggers Expo) conferences have become an important part of my blogging efforts. The sessions offer practical solutions to blogging issues. The connections Simon, Otto and I have made have brought us new friends and valuable resources. And then there are the FAM (familiarization) trips such as our visit to learn about Tennessee Whiskey at the Jack Daniel’s Distillery in Lynchburg Tennessee following the TBEX conference in Huntsville, Alabama.
Our group of approximately 30 boarded the bus on a warm, sunny Sunday morning, and were deposited an hour later at the Jack Daniel’s Distillery visitors center. We received a comprehensive, informative and thoroughly enjoyable tour conducted by Assistant Master Distiller, Chris Fletcher. Because our tour was identical to every Jack Daniel’s tour offered to the public,, I’ll give you a brief rundown of what we saw and learned without giving the whole tour away.
After our group exited one bus, we piled on to another for the short ride up to the top of the hill where our tour began. At the rick yard, Chris explained the process called charcoal mellowing. It involves pouring distilled alcohol over 10 feet deep bed of charcoal that filters out imperfections and smooths out the flavors to transform bourbon into the Tennessee Whiskey we know and love.
At the rick yard, wooden planks from sugar maple trees, are drenched with whiskey. The boozed up boards then undergo a controlled burn until there is nothing left but tasteless, odorless charcoal. The process is carefully carried out by trained fire fighters.
Every element of the Tennessee Whiskey making process that affects flavor is controlled by the distillery. Jack Daniel’s grows its own trees, produces and chars all its barrels, and cultivates its own yeast. This level of control also enables the distillery to achieve an impressive figure of less than one per cent waste.
Jack Daniel’s sells its barrels, which can only be used once, to distilleries in Ireland and Scotland. What’s left of the mash used to start the Tennessee Whiskey making cycle, is sold to farmers for cattle feed. Those must be some deliriously happy cows.
Chris showed us the spring from which the vast amount of water needed to make Tennessee Whisky is drawn. It runs 2 miles deep into a limestone cave. The limestone strips the calcium from the water. This makes for perfect Tennessee Whiskey.
As we walked through the facility, Chris explained the process used to make the mash, how it is boiled, fermented and sent through the 6 giant solid copper stills.
He also shared the recipe for the mash: 80 per cent corn, 12 per cent barley malt and 8 per cent rye. He introduced us to the oak barrels in which Tennessee Whiskey ages, smooths out, becomes more rich in flavor and acquires its amber color. And , finally, explained the bottling and labeling process.
Since Moore County is dry, the only place you can purchase Tennessee Whiskey without leaving the county is at the distillery. You can also buy a single barrel, identical to the one purchased by Kevin Spacey for his 50th birthday. You choose the whiskey you like, and the distillery will bottle it for you
You’ll end up with 250 bottles. Since the government won’t allow the distillery to sell it to you in its own barrel. But you can still be the proud owner of the empty barrel in which your Tennessee Whiskey was aged. Your name will then join that of Kevin Spacey and many other single barrel owners on a wall of fame.
Most food and drink tours we’ve taken have been followed by a tasting. Jack Daniel’s Distillery was no exception. We visited the tasting room usually used for this purpose, but our TBEX group’s tasting took place at the visitors center.
Each place at the table had a flight of seven small covered glasses, and a square water glass for palate cleansing off to the right. Five of the seven glasses held a sample of a Jack Daniel’s product. The two glasses at the front of the flight contained before and after samples of distilled bourbon intended to demonstrate the effect of the charcoal mellowing process that transformed the bourbon into Tennessee Whiskey.
The before sample smelled grassy and oily with a hint of sweetness. The taste was cornier than most of my jokes, and had an oily texture. The after sample had a stronger fruitiness to it, and the oily smell was gone. It tasted clean, and the fruity notes were dominant.
The first sample of the remaining five was Gentleman Jack. This whiskey came from the center of the barrel house, where the temperature is cooler. It had been treated to another three feet of charcoal mellowing, making it lighter in color and flavor. The nose was strong on vanilla with a hint of citrus. The flavor had the sweetness of vanilla with a soft finish.
The Single Barrel Whiskey had a burnt orange color from its position at the very top level of the barrel house. There, temperatures can reach 110 degrees, causing 30 to 40 per cent evaporation. This positioning concentrates the whiskey. The nose offered up aromas of butterscotch, caramel and vanilla. The taste was warm and almost chewy with its rich flavor.
Old #7 presented the nose and taste buds with a whiskey that was perfectly balance. Fruit dominated the nose, while sweetness transitioned to an oaky, slightly spicy finish.
The last two were flavored whiskeys: Tennessee Honey and Tennessee Fire. The former had a rich fragrance, and the flavor was sweet and smooth. Ingredients, besides honey and whiskey, included molasses and chestnut extract. The Cinnamon Fire is best served chilled. The aroma reminded me of the Atomic Fireballs I used to keep on my desk at work, which lived up to their name. The taste, however, didn’t have nearly the same amount of heat. It had a bit of a cinnamon bite minus the fiery jolt. The whiskey element made its presence known at the back end.
Jack Daniel may have stood only 5 feet 2 inches tall with size 4 feet, but the distillery he established in Lynchburg, Tennessee stands tall among its peers.
With both parents deceased by the time Jack was seven, he ran away from the step-mother he despised, and was taken in by a preacher who had a whiskey-making business going on the side. The story goes that Jack learned how to make whiskey from a slave who was reputed to have made the best whiskey in the area, and began to work with him following the American Civil War.
The preacher, bowing to public pressure, sold his operation to Jack for $25, and Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey was born.
The whiskey entrepreneur had a reputation as a music lover, avid traveler, party animal and lady’s man. Although Jack never married, his gravesite sported two wrought iron chairs so the lady friends he left behind could have a specially designated spot where they could mourn in a modicum of comfort.
Jack’s carefree life came to an end one morning when, in frustration, he kicked the safe he was unable to open. Although he had broken his big toe, Jack refused medical treatment, and wound up having the toe, and later his entire leg, amputated.
Jack Daniel died in 1911 at the age of 61 from blood poisoning, but his legacy lived on. Although the distillery remained in the family for several decades, it is now owned by the Brown family. Fortunately, Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey appears to be in good hands.
Our tour, tasting and Chris’s stories came to an end all too soon, but the experience was one we won’t soon forget. If you’re thinking about a trip to Nashville, Lynchburg and Jack Daniel’s Distillery are in the neighborhood. Just come on in. The whiskey’s fine.
If You Go
Both adults and children are welcome to tour the Jack Daniel’s distillery, but you must be at least 21 years old in order to participate in the tasting.
Tours involve a moderate amount of walking and going up and down stairs. An alternate distillery tour is available for individuals in wheelchairs, or who have limited mobility.
When you visit the Jack Daniel’s Distillery, don’t pass up the opportunity to explore Lynchburg. The charming square offers the ideal opportunity to do some shopping at the Lynchburg Hardware & General Store.
This historic building is now the official home for the Jack Daniel’s Distillery gift shop. Then enjoy a stick-to-the-ribs meal at the century-old Miss Mary Bobo’s Boarding House & Restaurant. Southern standards such as fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, pinto beans, corn muffins and peach cobbler are served family style. Reservations are required, and can be made by calling (931) 759-7394.
Jack Daniel’s Visitors Center
133 Lynchburg Highway
Lynchburg, TN 37352
For tour options, times and prices, visit the Jack Daniel’s Distillery website.