Location: Lynchburg, Tennessee
Webpage: Company Tour
General Description: The exact date that Jasper Newton “Jack” Daniels established his small whiskey distillery in Moore County, Tennessee is not known, but when he purchased the hollow and land in 1884 is in the public record. At the time his distillery was one of 15 distilleries operating in Moore County and by the mid-1800s was already the second largest. Even the origin of the “Old Number 7” brand name is debated with likely stories being the original registration number from the federal government or the number assigned to barrels that were lost only to be found years later holding some of the best whiskey due to the extended aging process. In any case, Jack Daniels is today the top selling American whiskey in the world, even though it is produced in a dry county. It is one of the few brands that were able to revive following Prohibition which began with a state prohibition in 1910 followed by the Eighteenth Amendment in 1920. Even with the repeal of Prohibition in 1933 by the Twenty-First Amendment, the state law remained in effect until 1938. By this time, Jack Daniel’s nephew Lem Motlow was running the business since Jack’s death in 1911 and it was through maintaining the original production process that he was able to revive the company. While technically a straight bourbon, the company asserts it is simply the best Tennessee whiskey produced today. There are a number of unique aspects to the production of Jack Daniels that have a lot to do with its quality and distinctive nature. First, after the mash made of rye, corn, and barley is distilled in copper stills, it is filtered through sugar maple charcoal one drop at a time. This raw whiskey is then put into hand crafted white oak barrels for aging over the next 4 to 6 years. Only then is the whiskey ready to be bottled and sold.
1) Tours of the distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee have become a major tourist attraction over the years and even the Visitor Center is on the National Registry of Historic Places and is an impressive structure. We visited the distillery during the week in late March and even then the parking lot was packed and every tour would be full throughout the day.
2) Our first impression of the distillery came during our drive north into Lynchburg where we passed a number of gray three story structures that looked like abandoned military buildings since there were no cars in the parking lots. These turned out to be just a few of the hundreds of ageing facilities where barrels are stacked 70 feet high for 4-6 years scattered all over the 2000 acres of the facility. They are kept far enough apart that should one catch fire, it could not threaten any of the others.
3) Regular tours are free and take about 1.5 hours to walk about 0.5 miles through the facilities. We choose to add the “sampling” part of the tour which comes at a modest fee and includes a taste of 5 of their whiskeys at the end of the tour. It is interesting to note that this required a special allowance by the county since Moore County is dry and has been available for only a couple of years. I cannot imagine touring a distillery, winery, or brewery where you could not get at least a taste of the product.
4) While waiting for the tour you are free to visit the museum about the making of whiskey and the history of Jack Daniel’s. You can also visit the gift shop where they do sell commemorative bottles of their product. Once again, since this is a dry county, the sales can only be for “collectibles” so you could not buy any of the common “Old Number 7”, only the more expensive upper end or specialty products.
5) Our tour guide was very friendly and full of stories about the company and Gentleman Jack Daniels, who never married and was reported to be quite the ladies man. The tour begins with a bus ride to the area where they make their own sugar maple charcoal. In fact, it was interesting that except for the growing of the grain and making of the bottles, this company is fully vertical. They make their own charcoal and barrels. Every product is also recycled from the mash by-products, charcoal, and wooden barrels. For example, the raw top and bottom of each run of the stills are not thrown out, rather they are used as the accelerent for the charcoal production, the used charcoal and barrels sold to other companies for a variety of uses.
6) Following the charcoal area you proceed to the original offices used by Jack Daniels just outside the cave system and fresh water spring that was the original reason for locating the distillery here. They have put up a bronze statue of Jack Daniel in front of the cave where you can get a picture at the only free “Jacks on the Rocks”.
7) The tour includes some of the vats used to cook the mash, the huge copper stills, the charcoal filtering vats, and a small part of the bottling area. I was disappointed that the tour did not include the barrel making facility which not conveniently located to be a part of the tour.
8) At the end of the tour we all filled into a tasting room where we sampled five different whiskeys they make. The top of the line is Gentleman Jack which is ABSOLUTELY the smoothest whiskey I have ever tasted. They put the whiskey through an additional charcoal filtering that completely removes the “finish” from the whiskey without removing any of the flavor. We also sampled one of the Single Barrel whiskies. I state it is “one” of them because everyone is different. These are the topmost barrels in the ageing warehouses which experience the most severe changes in temperatures over the 6 year ageing process. Each barrel comes out slightly different in flavors and are thus labeled with the barrel number so you can attempt to buy multiple bottles from the same one. You can even buy an entire barrel, which they will package for you and deliver the entire barrel along with the barrel itself. You even get your name put on a plaque to be displayed for future tours to look at. Finally, we sampled their “Old Number 7” for comparison along with their Tennessee Honey and Tennessee Fire. The Tennessee Honey has honey added to it, which made it much too sweet for me and the Tennessee Fire has cinnamon added to give it quite a long lasting burn in your mouth long after sipping it. If you like whiskey at all, I would strongly recommend including the taste testing to the tour as you get a chance to directly compare the different brands they produce.