A visit to the Jack Daniels Distillery in Lynchburg Tennessee
12 Nov 2013
We woke up early in Monteagle, Tennessee. There was a brisk breeze. It was only 1 celsius, or 33.8 fahrenheit. We were used to this weather in the winter at home… just not after being in 30 celsius weather the day before. The hotel we were in had a restaurant attached. The sign read “Jim Oliver’s Smoke House Restaurant and Old General Store“. Well… when in the south…
It was like stepping into an early to mid 20th century saloon, minus the swinging door. There was vintage memorabilia from the late 1800s to the 1970s everywhere we looked! We all walked around the store looking at all the cool things. Wendy and I stopped at the music display.
There were classic guitars and banjos signed by country and blue grass artists, records, 8 track tapes, autographed pictures, and old piano, and lots of BBQ sauces and preserves.
The restaurant was welcoming, with a huge fireplace in the far end. Everything was wood. Each table had different styles of wooden chairs.
Our waitress came out, and I could tell right away that we would be receiving the same southern hospitality we received in South Carolina. She was amazing, and catered to our every need. Rachel ordered chocolate milk, and Lauren ordered hot chocolate. They didn’t have hot chocolate, so the waitress said “hang on a minute, i’ll see what I can whip up.” She came back with chocolate milk for Rachel, and hot chocolate for Lauren. She warmed up a glass of freshly made chocolate milk. Lauren beamed with delight!
We started off with freshly made (and still warm) biscuits and preserves. Our waitress suggested we try the apple butter, so we did. We all loved it!
It was only 8am, but I am a big BBQ fan, and had to try the brisket. The Smoke House normally does;r serve brisket that early, but as we were so far from home, and really wanted to experience Tennessee brisket… well, she made that happen too. Eggs and brisket for breakfast.
We had a great breakfast. Again, food quality and service was second to none. Another highly recommended stop if you are ever in town.
Before leaving, we took a stroll through the shop, and picked up some BBQ sauces, various rubs, and some of that amazing apple butter.
The view was spectacular driving through the mountains!
We arrived in Lynchburg shortly after 10am. After taking a few pictures at the welcome sign, we mad sour way to the distillery.
As stated on Jack Daniels website, “The town of Lynchburg is the seat of Moore County, the smallest county in Tennessee. Even though it’s home to the Distillery, it’s a dry county and has been ever since Prohibition.”
We were finally here. The Jack Daniels Distillery. We registered for our tour and received our tickets. We had about 30 minutes to learn all about the brewing process before our tour started.
This is a place I have wanted to visit since I was old enough to legally consume alcohol. My consumption of Jack has changed very much since then. Like the fine whiskey, I have matured over the years, and prefer to sit and relax with a glass, and enjoy it’s warm taste, straight.
Having read “Blood & Whiskey: The Life and Times of Jack Daniel” by Peter Krass, I was well versed in all things Jack Daniels… but I was here to see it in person.
Like all the other guests that visit the Jack Daniel’s distillery, I signed the guest register, and got on their mailing list.
There was lots of merchandise and artifacts displayed throughout the visitor centre, like this apparel display, and this beautiful Indian Motorcycle.
One of the exhibits allowed you to smell the mash before the distilling process, and after it was dripped through the charcoal. The before whiskey has a yeast or bread aroma, with a strong grain character. Because it is high in corn, it has a bit of a corn grain element. The taste clings to your tongue, is oily and heavy, and stays at the back of your throat. A rinse with water is necessary after trying this!
The second… well that was the smooth smell of fine Tennessee whiskey. Old #7 is mellowed drop by drop through 10 feet of charcoal. After the mellowing process, the grainy taste gets stripped away. This is what makes Jack’s whiskey, Tennessee whiskey. The charcoal process is how Jack differs from a bourbon.
The after whiskey matures in barrels, and then gets bottled. The barrels used at the distillery are made in Louisville, Kentucky. Jack Daniels makes their own barrels. It’s all part of the process.
To produce Gentleman Jack, the whiskey gets distilled a second time through charcoal. It is a very smooth whiskey. In tasting this whiskey, there is an absence of oak. This is due to the second mellowing. It has a very warm finish.
Our tour guide, John Smith, Southern drawl and all, came to get us. We watched a short 5 minute video introducing us to the Jack Daniels distillery tour. He then took us out to our first stop, the charcoal process. Here, select sugar maple wood is burned through a slow process, is cooled with water, which makes it into charcoal. This is the charcoal used to distill the whiskey.
We came across this statue of Jack himself. He told us a story of how Jack was only 5’2″ tall, with size 5 mens shoes. The statue was much taller than he actually was, and the shoes were almost a size 12. When asked about why he are the statue taller, the sculptor said “well, to me, Jack is larger than life. And if I made the shoes the actual size… well, Jack wouldn’t be standing right now.” Can’t argue with that!
The water used in Jack Daniels comes from the natural spring right on the distillery property. When purchasing the land, Jack made sure he not only purchased the spring, but the entire hillside the spring was part of. He didn’t want anyone to lay claim to the source.
The next stop on our tour was Jack and Lem Motlow’s original office.
Lem Motlow was Jack’s favourite nephew. They shared this office. John told us a story of how one day, Jack came in to work early, before Lem arrived. He had just returned from a trip to New York to the them about his fine Tennessee whiskey. He needed to get int he safe, but couldn’t remember the combination. So he started kicking the safe. He hurt himself pretty bad, and limped out of the office. You can still see the kick marks on the safe. Later, he went to the doctor to get it checked out. He had broken his toe, but because he didm;t get it looked at earlier, gangrene had set in, and he had to have his toe amputated. The gangrene spread to his leg, and he eventually had the entire leg amputated. He never got married, and therefore had no children. He had taken Lem under his wing. Lem handled all of the distillery’s financials. In 1907, Jack gave the distillery to Lem due to his failing health. Jack died in 1911 from blood poisoning caused by this infection.
John said, “The moral of the story… never come in to work early.” We all laughed at that one!
This is the part of the tour that we had to put our cameras away due to privacy concerns. It was the production area, and the employees were hard at work.
We toured through control room, where one guy watches on several screens all the temperatures and stats of all the vats.
Our next stop took us to the fermenting room. This room had a strong aroma of yeast. We looked inside one of the vats and saw a thick yellowish mash. This was the process before the yeast is filtered out.
Next, John showed us the charcoal mellowing room, where the whiskey gets filtered through the charcoal. He asked if we wanted to experience what it is like to work at Jack Daniels. We all said “um, ya!”. He proceeded to lift up the dover (which was locked), and shake it up and down, We all walked by and smelled the whiskey being filtered. The smell was so strong, it went right to the back of your throat. You could taste the whiskey! Of course, Rachel and Lauren walked by this part with their hands over their noses.
Before leaving the plant, we took a walk through the barrel storage area. There was a rich aroma of Jack Daniels maturing in the thousands of barrels on the racks.
After the tour, we all sat and enjoyed some freshly squeezed lemonade.
This next part is interesting. Jack Daniels Distillery is situated in Lynchburg, which is in Moore County. It’s a dry county. Meaning, no alcohol can be sold. They do sell bottles in the White Rabbit Saloon, in the visitor centre. How they work around the “dry county” law is that they only sell collector bottles. Bottles. The stuff inside is given to you for free. Them boys at Jack are brilliant! They just want everyone to enjoy the world’s best selling whiskey.
One of the benefits of buying from the White Rabbit saloon is they are all collectible bottles, only available at the White Rabbit Saloon, and select parts of Tennessee. Also, you can have select bottles engraved. I couldn’t pass up on that, so I got one of them engraved.
Yup… Christmas came early!
This was a place I have always wanted to visit, and was thrilled we were able to work it into our itinerary.
The girls were feeling hungry, so we decided to grab a bite in town before we hit the road towards home. We grabbed a few items from the Lynchburg Hardware & General Store (the official Jack Daniels souvenir shop), and headed back to the truck.
Then a bearded guy in a horse-drawn buggy pulled up and started chatting with us. He asked if we were leaving. I said “ya, we have a long way to go. We’re driving back to Canada.” His response was golden. “You can’t head home without taking your girls on the best tour of this here small town we are so proud of. My name’s Woody, and I’d love to show you Jack’s home town.” Sold.
I tossed our souvenirs in the truck, and we all got on board the buggy. Woody got out of the wagon, and said the girls could sit up front with him, so they could help him drive. He helped them up into the front seat while Wendy and I climbed in the back. Rachel and Lauren were thrilled!
Woody took us on a relaxing ride around Lynchburg, and gave us a history of the town. He mentioned the town’s population of 361 hasn’t really gone up or down much. As some people grow up and move on, or pass away, more are born into families. The residents of Lynchburg are quite friendly. Several stopped when they saw us come by and said hello, and quickly chatted with us. Woody told us so many stories about the buildings, and repairs done to the town over the years. He even let the girls take the reigns and steer Honey for a good part of the journey. He made the trip so memorable for all of us, and customized parts just for Rachel and Lauren. Like any parent would be, Wendy and I were both impressed by this.
The end of our Lynchburg tour had come. Woody gave us some good tips on shop stops to go to. “Tell them Woody sent ya, and they’ll knock off 10% at the register.” He also asked if we were going to stay for lunch. He gave us a run down of the eateries in town. One caught our ear… a BBQ restaurant that had been featured on the TV show BBQ Pitmasters.
We took Woody’s suggestion and grabbed lunch at Barrel House BBQ. The food was great! Rachel noticed that there were a bunch of drawings and signatures on the roof. Lauren said “can we sign too?” So I asked our waitress, and she said “absolutely! I’ll get you a step ladder.” So up i went, and drew a Canadian flag, and wrote our names. It’s tough to do when you are looking straight up and drawing on a textured ceiling tile! But, we left our mark, and the girls were happy.
it was truly a great experience visiting Lynchburg. I would love to return again, and spend more time walking through the town and visiting all the shops.
But alas, we were on a bit of a tight schedule, so we had to head home.
Hope you enjoyed reading about our adventure. It was a great trip… one that produced a lot of great memories. Places, that we know we will definitely return to.