Thursday, January 12, 2017

Jack Daniel's Distillary

It's been awhile, but I've finally done a little adventuring worthy of a blog post!

Last Sunday was Carl's birthday, and since his parents were in town, we decided to do something fun. We drove up the back roads from northern AL through southern Tennessee to Lynchberg, TN, home of the infamous Jack Daniel's Distillery.

We did the Flight of Jack Daniel's Tour which entailed an hour and a half long guided tour of the facilities and a sampling at the end.

Our tour began on a shuttle bus, as it was "so cold" outside (and by so cold, I mean between 20 and 30 degrees).  The shuttle took us to the top of one of the hills and our guide showed us where they store the American White Oak wood used to make the barrels for aging the whiskey.  The JD Distillery is one of the only distilleries in the world that makes their own barrels. Quite a feat considering each barrel is only used once! They let the wood season outside for some time before making barrels with it.  The same area is used to handcraft the barrels and then char the insides.  They don't burn the barrels on Sundays however, so we didn't get to see that process. Fun fact: the wooden staves that the barrels are made of are not nailed together, they stay together simply by the pressure of the arrangement.  

Then we shuttled back down the hill where we were shown the cavern that extends throughout the property.  The water from the cave is iron free and is so clear and pure! They use the water for a lot of the distilling processes.  Near the opening of the cave was the little white office building where Jack once worked.  Inside that building was where he committed an act that would end up being fatal to him- he kicked a safe. (Okay, so that was a little dramatic).  When he had kicked the safe, he injured his foot. Unfortunately, he didn't get it examined until almost a year later, but by then it was too late.  He had an infection that had traveled into his blood steam and ending up killing him at the ripe old age of 60-something (I can't remember exactly!)  

The mouth of the cave with a statue of Jack in front of it. This statue is actually 7 inches taller than Jack's actual height of 5' 2".

Some more fun facts about Jack's life- the distillery was actually sold to him for like 20 bucks I believe from his pastor (minister?).  The pastor had been the one who taught Jack to make whiskey at the age of 7 or so, but when his parishioners found out about his secret hobby, they made him choose between the whiskey and the church.  He chose the church, and thus his sale to Jack.

Anyway, we then finally got to go into the distilling building where they presented to us the giant vats that held the mash. The mash is created by using a mix of grains combined with water from the cave.  From there it is fermented for about a week, and then distilled in a copper still where it becomes clear bourbon.

From there we went to the building where they do the charcoal mellowing.  The clear, 140-proof bourbon is dripped into the top of one of the 14-foot tall vats full of charcoal.  By the time it drips to the bottom of the charcoal pebbles, approximately 10 days later, the clear bourbon has become a whiskey.

The (almost) last stop of the tour was a barrel house.  Whiskey at the top of the storage area ages the best because of the temperature changes, and because heat rises.  Thus why good whiskey, especially single barrel whiskey, is called "top shelf." The JD process does not determine maturity based on age, but rather on professional tasters.  People taste the whiskey in order to determine if it is done, and if one barrel of a batch is determined "unready," the whole batch stays in the barrel house until it has matured. (I'm still trying to figure out how to become a qualified taster).

The actual last stop of our tour was the tasting!  We got to try five different Jack Daniel's products.  The first one we tasted was the Gentlemen Jack.  A fun fact about this whiskey is that it goes through the mellowing process TWICE.  Our second sample was the Jack Daniel's Old Number 7.  I've never had JD straight before and while it wasn't my favorite whiskey, it was better than I expected it to be.  The third sample was a single barrel whiskey, which again, was good, but not my favorite.  Fourth, we sampled the Jack Daniel's Honey Whiskey- now THAT was a JD whiskey I could get on board with! It’s technically more of a liquor, but regardless- delicious!  Lastly, we sampled the Jack Daniel's Fire, which was similar to Fireball, but better.

Our samplings

Now I've only toured 4 or 5 distilleries, but the JD tour was by far the best one I have been on.  (And the only one I could tell you the process of still 4 days later!) I'm still not a whiskey connoisseur but I like to think I'm on my way there!

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