One day back in 1866, a boy of only 16 years rode down from Lynchburg, TN,, and got himself registered as a distiller of Tennessee whisky, at a time when even established distillers hadn’t bothered with official documents. Young Jasper (or Jack, as he preferred to be called) Daniel had bought his business from his mentor and was determined to make it a success. Almost 150 years later, people like us are still trampling down his driveway to be let into his chamber of secrets.
The Jack Daniel’s Distillery in Tennessee is the place Jack chose to establish his growing business, and is still the only distillery to churn out those iconic squat, black labelled bottles to the rest of the world.
Jack chose the land in Lynchburg because of a beautiful spring that originated in a cave, running cool and iron-free. It would make all the difference to his products during his lifetime, and in the decades to come.
At a time when other producers were passing their whisky through any ole kinda wood, Jack insisted on his whisky being passed through ten feet of charcoal made from sugar maple wood, which gives it its distinctive taste. The wood is measured and burned at the distillery itself, allowing experts to measure when the wood is appropriately charred.
We weren’t allowed to use cameras and electronics inside the distillery itself because of the alcohol fumes, so unfortunately couldn’t take pictures of the distilling process. But we did get a walk through the huge barrel storehouses and it was incredibly informative. Did you know, for instance, that the barrels are not placed in a weather-proof room? The barrels are placed in rooms with windows to let in the seasonal cold and heat, because Jack believed it was this that added character to Tennessee whisky. The barrels are made by hand, and expand in the heat, sucking whisky in to absorb all that mellow wood flavour. When they contract, the flavoured whisky mixes back in, and gives it that signature taste.
The whisky is also not matured by time and date. Tasters periodically check the whisky to judge if it has mellowed correctly and then decide if it is ready to be bottled and sent out into the world. Many of Jack’s ideas were revolutionary for their time and are still followed today, but one stands out:
Jack died of blood poisoning in 1911, the result of kicking an iron safe in a fit of rage during a bit of a hangover! But his legacy lives on: a smooth-sippin’ golden beverage that is part of pop culture and is also America’s highest selling whisky.
The distillery is about 70 miles from Nashville, and is worth a visit even for travellers like us who are not fans of whisky.
Most of the buildings, trees and vehicles in the area are covered in a black fungus called Baudoinia. It breeds on ethanol, a clear alcohol that evaporates during fermentation. The guide/company call the evaporated hooch “angel’s share”.
Some more pictures from the tour: