The Jack Daniel Distillery, located in Lynchburg, Tennessee, only 46 miles (74 km) from Huntsville, Alabama and 74 miles (119 km) from Nashville, is the oldest registered distillery in the United States. On its hilly tree-covered grounds—in a dry county, no less, which prohibits most sales of alcohol—you’ll find an informative museum where you can sign up for tours that take you through the entire Tennessee whiskey making process, ending with an opportunity to sample variations of the smooth whiskey itself.
As maker of the top-selling whiskey in the world—Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 Black Label Tennessee Whiskey—the distillery uses special processes such as charcoal mellowing to give its whiskey a distinctive flavor. But, as I learned firsthand on a recent tour led by Assistant Master Distiller Chris Fletcher, there are some things the Jack Daniel Distillery just doesn’t do. These “don’ts” are arguably what makes Jack’s Tennessee Whiskey unique in a world inundated with bourbon and whiskey choices.
1. Jack doesn’t import its water. All of the water used in making the millions of gallons of whiskey annually come from the Cave Spring located on the property. This source of spring water is the reason Jack Daniel located his distillery at this spot over 150 years ago, as it produces limestone-filtered, iron-free water flowing at 56 degrees F year-round.
2. Jack doesn’t use less than number 1 grade yellow corn. Not all whiskey makers use the highest grade corn, but Jack does. Jack’s whiskey mash recipe consists of 80% corn, or about 100,000 bushels of corn each week which are delivered by grain trucks and held in underground storage tanks. The remaining ingredients in the mash recipe are 12% malted barley and 8% rye.
3. Jack doesn’t buy its barrels. It’s the only distillery that makes its own barrels to age the whiskey. The barrels are crafted by coopers in Kentucky from locally sourced American white oak. No metal is used in the barrels’ construction, and they are “toasted and charred” before approximately 53 gallons of mellowed whiskey is poured inside each barrel.
4. Jack doesn’t reuse any barrels. Once used to age whiskey, the charred barrels no longer imbue the contents with that warm amber color and unique taste (up to 50% of Jack’s special taste can be traced to the approximately 53 month barrel-aging process). So Jack sells its used barrels to other companies, including Scotch whiskey makers who add caramel coloring to their liquor to produce the color Jack’s whiskeys obtain naturally.
5. Jack doesn’t outsource any of the whiskey-making process. All of the cooking, fermenting, distilling, and charcoal mellowing (through sugar maple charcoal produced on-site), takes place in the distillery while the aging in the charred oak barrels occurs on-site and in over 80 barrelhouses scattered throughout the area, each holding roughly 20,000 barrels or one million gallons of whiskey. (Note: Jack does its part in paying taxes, a whopping $13.50 of federal tax for each bottle, amounting to over $10 million each month!)
Even the tasters are in-house: about 100 employees are trained as tasters and take turns tasting the distilled whiskey.
6. Jack doesn’t pay for celebrity endorsements. While celebrities have recommended or been photographed drinking Jack’s whiskey, beginning with Frank Sinatra, the company doesn’t solicit or pay for endorsements. In 2013 the distillery released Sinatra Select, a super premium whiskey, to commemorate its special relationship with ol’ “Blue Eyes.”
7. Jack doesn’t rest on its laurels. The company continues to experiment and develop new varieties to appeal to different discriminating palates. Some special flavors include: Gentleman Jack Double Mellowed Tennessee Whiskey, Single Barrel, Single Barrel Rye, Tennessee Honey, and Tennessee Fire.
I tasted all of these varieties at the end of my tour (except for Sinatra Select and Single Barrel Rye), and really enjoyed the unique Tennessee Honey variety, which would be super delicious as an after-dinner drink or even spooned over ice cream.
One last thing the Jack Daniel Distillery doesn’t do—fail to impress its visitors with the integrity of its process and the friendliness of its staff!
P.S. If you’re hungry after your visit, head to Mrs. Mary Bobo’s Boarding House & Restaurant, which has been in operation over 100 years. The restaurant was closed on the day I visited, but my group was treated to a catered meal from Mrs. Bobo’s which included fried chicken and fixings and wonderful peach cobbler a la mode.
Oh, and if you’re wondering about the connection between music and the Jack Daniel Distillery, well, let’s just say that a little Jack can enhance any musical experience! Also, back in 1892, during the era of small town bands, Jack Daniel himself funded the Lynchburg Silver Cornet Band which was reborn in 1978 and continues to perform today as Mr. Jack Daniel’s Original Silver Cornet Band.
Thanks to the Huntsville/Madison County Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Jack Daniel’s public relations staff, especially Ashley Schaffner Fletcher, for arranging the tour and lunch for attendees of the Travel Bloggers and Writers Expo (TBEX), held recently in Huntsville, Alabama. This was Southern hospitality at its finest!
If you go: The distillery is located at 133 Lynchburg Highway, Lynchburg, Tennessee. Tours are available daily except holidays from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Central Standard Time. Miss Mary Bobo’s Boarding House & Restaurant is located at 295 Main Street in Lynchburg and reservations are required (closed Sundays). Visit the Jack Daniel website for complete details visit https://www.jackdaniels.com/en-us/visit-us