Jack Daniel Distillery

When I hit my favorite liquor store in Nashville (they have a surprising number of vodka and rums in plastic bottles, a necessity since nothing glass is allowed in the campgrounds, and yes, cars are searched), the one next to the Costco off the interstate, so I could stock up on supplies before going to Bonnaroo, I got into a conversation with the liquor store clerk, and he told me something I just didn’t know. That the only thing that makes alcohol colored, such as rum, is the wooden barrels they are stored in. Nothing more. The alcohol takes on the color of the wood it is spending time with. So some rum is dark amber, some is clear. No artificial dyes required.

This was brought home as a truth when the day after Bonnaroo was done, I visited the Jack Daniel Distillery, a mere 25 mile trip from Manchester, in nearby Lynchburg, Tennessee. I had been trying to visit this distillery for the three years I have been attending Bonnaroo. The first year was just poor planning, the second year had to do with the exit I wanted was blocked off because of Bonnaroo traffic leaving, and this year, I was just damn determined to make it there, and it all worked out.

Unfortunately, no photography is allowed in the actual distillery, just the grounds. So if you want to know what it looks like, you’ll just have to go visit yourself. It is a very informative tour. And free. I ran out of memory on my camera’s card during the tour, so it’s just as well no pics were allowed inside, as I would have been kicking myself for the photos I couldn’t take.

It is still the original distillery, as Jack Daniel himself picked the cave fed springs that are still used, that makes his recipe perfect.

The Cave from Whence the Springs Spring

The Cave from Whence the Springs Spring

Yes, there really was a Jack Daniel. He was a short man (not that unusual for the 1800s) with a temper, and a conviction that things should be done his way. His way worked. He was the boss, after all. But it was his temper that killed him. He got into an argument with his safe, kicked it, and a few years later, died of the infection that resulted. Let that be a lesson to us all. Do not kick inanimate objects. They may well get their revenge in the end.


The Real Jack Daniel

The Real Jack Daniel

The most amazing part of the tour was the whiskey barrel storage. Many stories high, it holds the whiskey in the handmade barrels (assembled on premises) and lets them age. The alcohol is absorbed into the wood of the barrels, and then released back out, as the wood expands and contracts with the weather. Since it was summer-ish, many of the barrels were leaking. The air reeked of whiskey. I could barely breathe, and could not wait to get out, even breathing through my shirt to prevent myself from coughing from the fumes.

Whiskey Barrels (Thanks Wikipedia!)

Interestingly enough, the county that Lynchburg calls home is a dry county, meaning no alcohol is sold there. The county went dry even before prohibition, and never chose to become wet again, even when the rest of the country did. Many counties in Tennessee and Kentucky are dry. Recently, a small variance was granted by the state legislature, allowing gift bottles to be sold in the former saloon on premises of the distillery, but it still can’t be consumed there. At the end of the tour, a hostess offers ice cold lemonade to any who want it.

At the beginning of the tour, the bus driver takes a photo of the entire group, including our tour guide. All the tour guides had thick accents, I’m sure to add to the authenticity of the tour. Of course, ours played the part even more so, wearing overalls and straw hat, in case we were not convinced of being in the South.

Distillery Tour, June 15, 2009

The guy in the front row wearing a dark blue T-shirt to my left was there with his buddy, and given he had a 2009 Bonnaroo shirt on, I’m guessing they were also coming from there, like myself.

I love factory tours, I always learn something about things I didn’t know before. And it turns out there is an entire American Whiskey Trail. Perhaps I should try and follow that, after I finally do the Mother Road drive, (as well as one can these days, what with pesky Interstates co-opting large portions of Route 66), hike the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, follow the Trail of Tears after reading up on Native American history and all the other things I would love to do to get to better know this huge and diverse country of ours!

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One Response to “Jack Daniel Distillery”

  1. connieemeraldeyes Says:

    I enjoyed my tour of the place. I even bought a nice bottle of Jack Daniels. Never opened it though. I might even go back this summer to get another bottle.

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