When planning this road trip to Tennessee, I soon came to the conclusion that a stop at a historic whisky distillery would have to be on the itinerary. It turns out that one could plan an entire vacation around top-of-the-line bourbon and Tennessee Whiskey. I’m partial to bourbon, but Jack Daniels is…well…Jack. The trip wound up including two separate visits – one to Jack Daniels in Lynchburg TN and the other to Buffalo Trace in Frankfort KY. Both were excellent, though different. And I’m looking forward to that whisk(e)y-centric tour someday!
The Jack Daniels distillery is located in historic Lynchburg, TN, at the south-eastern end of the farm country that extends between Nashville and the Cumberland Plateau. It is in Moore County, which was originally part of Lincoln County. All of this geography matters more than you might think. I won’t give everything away, just put it in context. The fine whiskey produced by “Mr. Jack” was a result of having an excellent source of water from the limestone spring coming out of the hills, a ready source of grain nearby, white oak and sugar maple trees for the barrels and charcoal-filtering, and temperature fluctuations to mature (or “season!”) the spirits. Of course, there were plenty of stills, legal and otherwise, in these hills, and they all used the “Lincoln County Process” of filtering the raw whisky through charcoal before barreling. What really made JD into the brand it is today was the pride of its founder and subsequent owners and master distillers. It all started in 1866 when Jack Daniels became the first man to register a distillery in the United States.
I had originally planned to visit Jack Daniels on a Sunday, but plans changed and I wound up arriving there late Saturday morning. On a typical October weekend, this might not have been a problem, but this particular day was the annual meeting of the World Barbeque Invitational. Everything took a little (or a lot) longer than would be typical. Word to the wise: check the events calendar before you go! I got registered for a “sampling” tour, then walked around the historic town square, fighting my way through crowds in the gift shops, for a while. Moore County is a dry county. According to the story we were told, the population of the county was too low to achieve the minimum number of votes needed to vote themselves “wet” after Prohibition ended. When, a few years back, the law was changed to allow a percentage vote, residents decided to maintain the status quo, in order to keep Lynchburg and its surroundings a family-friendly environment (aka tourist trap). Nonetheless, a small amount of whiskey may be consumed during the sampling tour, in the interest of educating visitors about the aging process. Other stops included the fermenting vats (wow, that mash smells strong!), seeing the original stills, witnessing the filtration process, and a small barrel warehouse. Most of these are also included on the standard tour, which probably would have been sufficiently informative. In either case, it is definitely worth the trip.