Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A Visit With Gentleman Jack

After leaving Nashville we headed for an adventure that I have been eagerly awaiting for many years: a tour of the Jack Daniel's Distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee.  Having gone to college at Emory (Atlanta, GA) and made the trek there and back many times; then the many trips to Alabama to visit Sj's side of the family--I had always been intrigued by the signs for the distillery.  While only recently being trained in the tasting of distilled spirits, I have always been interested in the history and process of making them.  This time we set aside plenty of time on our trip for a tour.

Taking rural "scenic route" highways and roads to get to the small town that Jack built, we passed decaying and decrepit farms, rolling farmland just hitting the fall harvest, old oak forests, and plenty of other classic and timeless heartland scenes.  The distillery itself sprawls over a large parcel of land in a valley (or holler if you are from the South) with a humid mist clinging to everything--giving it a land-that-time-forgot feel.  We arrived around 20 minutes before the next free tour, but the new pay tasting tour was sold out and we would have to wait another hour to get into the next one.  With the tour taking over an hour, this would have slowed us down too much to make it into Huntsville before dark.  With bowed head and a tear in my eye, I acquiesced to take the regular free tour.

A water tower for dousing the burning coals

After waiting a while in the well decorated and wood floored visitor center, our tour guide arrived waving a JD fan with our tour number on it and we followed him into a small theater to watch a short promotional movie.  After that we headed out of the building and onto an old wooden porch at the back of the building to get our picture taken, then onto a bus and a short ride across the property.  Our first stop was up a hill to the Rickyard where they make the charcoal to filter the the whiskey--a key step in differentiating Tennessee whiskey from bourbon.    The immense hoods used for this process were an impressive sight and I would have loved to see the fires going for this process.

We finished the rest of the tour on foot from here.  We next traveled to visit the two old fire trucks (including an REO Speedwagon) that were in charge of firefighting on the grounds and the city before being retired for parade use only.  These were pretty cool and apparently do still run.

The Fire Brigade
Time for me to fly...

Our next stop was the spring from which JD gets its water.  The stream exits from a deep cave in the limestone rock with a sheltered overhang above, making this an ideal place for Jack Daniel to start his initially small scale distilling.  A slightly larger than life sized bronze statue of him (he was apparently about 5'2" tall) stands in front of the spring.

Where all the JD in the world begins

A trip to the old office building and then we were off to visit the distillery and the aging tanks.  The size of this operation is massive and much of the equipment including the boil kettle is very old.  We could not take pictures or use electronics in most of the buildings due to risk of igniting the vaporized spirits in the air, so I have only outside pics for this part of the post!  Walking into the barrel aging building and seeing the stories of stacked and aging oak barrels was something that can only be experienced first hand.  At one point the aroma of whiskey in the air was so powerful that you could actually taste it!  We were offered the chance to come to the distillery and choose your own single barrel to be bottled up for you--only 8-9 grand!  Though it is tempting....

This was a spectacular tour taking over an hour, and our drawling tour-guide really loved his job!  I would recommend it highly for anyone interested in the process of distilling as well as the history of the place.  After the tour you are directed into a tavern that serves free lemonade but no booze, and has access to the bottle shop.  Since Jack Daniel's is located in a county that went dry before prohibition, and still boasts of that dubious honor, you are not technically able to buy liquor there.  I guess there is a technicality that allows them to sell you a highly priced commemorative bottle while the resulting liquor inside is a gift from the distillery!  I bought a bottle of the Single Barrel, going on faith that it would be good.

By the time we were finished with our noon tour, we headed into the small town of Lynchburg (walkable from the distillery) for a quick look.  The central square is dominated by the painted red brick City Hall, surrounded by several small curio shops.  The largest of these is Lynchburg Hardware & General Store--a multi-level place that sells every possible JD branded item you could think of.  I finally picked up a cocktail shaker for my bar and replaced my decrepit Guinness wallet with a fresh Jack Daniel's one.  They even throw in a free shot-glass for purchases more than $10 if you went on the tour.  I am a sucker for merchandising!

Despite my lack of tasting at the tour, I eventually had a chance to sit down and taste some Jack Daniel's.  The first I tried was the Old No. 7 (the quintessential Jack Daniel's Tennessee Sipping Whiskey) in the form of an airplane bottle given away at my cousin Susan's wonderful wedding in Nashville.  This was actually the first time I've ever tried this American classic, unless maybe I've had it in a mixed drink somewhere along the way.  I found it a bit hot and harsh compared to some of the nicer bourbons I've tried recently, but not terrible.  I think I'd leave this for mixed drinks in the future, since it didn't have quite the barrel complexity I like in whiskey.  I might soak some oak cubes in the rest and use it for a JD aged Imperial stout or barleywine.  Next I tried the Single Barrel that I received at the bottle shop.  The color was several shades darker than the Old No. 7 and the aroma much more complex.  The flavors were mellow and included plenty of vanilla and Rainier cherry.  I'm pretty pleased with my purchase on this one!  I could buy a whole barrel of this?  Go to the distillery; sample and pick between three different barrels; get all my bottles and also the sanded down and branded barrel to take home?  My 40th birthday is coming up my friends!  I'll share!

1 comment:

Brady said...

Ironically, you can buy the barrel of JD whiskey from Sam's club, tough not sure its cheaper.


They really take this buying in bulk thing serious. :)