American Update #5 – Jack Daniel’s Distillery – Lynchburg, Tennessee

The time has finally come…

but first… Dan (my couchsurfing host for the few days I’m Nashville) and I had breakfast. Apparently you can’t go to the South without having at least one meal at Waffle House.

It’s funny how things work out.

Ever since I started drinking Jack Daniel’s, the mentions on the website and mailouts of visiting the distillery in Lynchburg seemed like one of these interesting, but completely impossible ideas. Despite being in America, the town isn’t even really near somewhere that I would ever have thought of choosing to go out and visit. It’s a tiny place with a population of about 361 (apparently), which is an hour and a half drive outside of Nashville… the busses don’t even run anymore, so unless you can drive, you’re stuffed.

When I discovered that Caroline lived a distance that wasn’t too ridiculous, it seemed almost too good to be true. Finally, I might actually be able to make the long and sacred pilgrimage to the Mecca of Jack Daniel’s.

This is Bettie, who was our charming Southern tour guide. Photos weren’t allowed on the inside of the actual production buildings, which is a shame, but she told us all sorts of interesting things that made up for it.

For example, the biggest export market for Jack Daniel’s in the world is… the U.K. Pretty impressive stuff really. When she found out I was from Scotland she also told me that a lot of the barrels that are used in the making of the Tennessee whiskey are sent to whisky makers back home to be used in the production of our own malts. They only use the barrels once, and I’d always wondered whether or not the Scots would end up with them.

The barrels here aren’t tracked by age, and instead they are checked by specially designated ‘tasters’ who determine when the spirit has reached the optimum maturity. This must let them get through a heck of a lot more volume than if they were forced to wait a designated time, which partly explains why such a relatively small distillery can produce enough spirit to supply the entire world’s craving for Jack Daniel’s.

The bottles below are samples of the spirit from different levels of the 7 storey warehouse that the barrels are held in. The colour of the spirit comes from the wood itself, which also helps add flavour.

This is me doing some weird awkward arm lean on my old pal Jack himself. It almost looks like I’m doing some sort of jig.

Apparently coming in early to work one morning, Jack Daniel’s kicked the door of a safe in his office when he couldn’t get it open. He broke his toe, which eventually led to an infection which eventually led to his death. The motto? Apparently you shouldn’t go into work early.

I always felt like somewhat of a fraud since I don’t ever drink Jack Daniel’s straight (unless it’s the honey one). If I’m going to have straight whisky then it has to be just that… Scottish single malt. However, any other time it will be Jack and coke, or Jack and ginger beer. I’ve had bottles of single barrel in the past, and whilst it tasted good, it probably wasn’t worth the extra expenditure of cash to defile it with a mixer.

Saying that though, I overheard a whole number of people today who counted themselves as connoisseurs of Jack Daniel’s who all said they never drank it straight… including a number of the staff. I feel completely vindicated as a result, even though it wouldn’t matter anyway… me and Jack have been through too much.

The County in which the distillery is located is completely dry, as in no alcohol may be sold or produced there. When this was brought in, the facility had to close down, and the proprietor attempted to start up operations in different cities, but the production quality was reportedly never as good as it should have been, and so this never bore fruit. One of the key ingredients is apparently the spring which is on the site in Lynchburg which has naturally filtered, iron-free water, and so the owner got elected to the County board and an exception was granted for both the production and the sale of ‘souvenier’ bottles’ at the distillery.

Crafty.

Now if only I had more room in my suitcase…

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