One of the most well known items to come from Tennessee is whiskey. There are a lot of whiskey companies that are here in Tennessee. But the one that really staked the claim on whiskey is none other than the world famous Jack Daniels. And whether you partake or not of this drink, visiting the Jack Daniels Distillery is a must when in Tennessee.
Jasper ‘Jack’ Daniels left home when he was only about 7 or 8 and found work on farm where the owner of the farm taught him how to make whiskey. Everyone at this time was making whiskey on the side- even the farm owner that took in young Jack was a minister who was making whiskey on the side. Later on this farmer would sell his farm to Jack and he would take the whiskey making to a new level. When prohibition came all those making whiskey had to either stop or take it undercover. Most kept on making whiskey but they had to do by the light of the moon so not to get caught, which is why is called ‘Moonshine’. Tennessee would be under prohibition for 5 years longer than other states. To this day, the county that the distillery is in remains a dry county because they have not had enough people living in the county to vote otherwise since prohibition. The distillery tour was only able to start offering tastings and sales of whiskey when they applied to the state agricultural department.
There are 3 different tours offered throughout the day. The Dry County tour offers a tour of the distillery without tasting the whiskey while the Angel’s Share tour does offer a sampling. The last includes the tour, the tasting, and lunch at a local restaurant. We arrived and purchased our tickets for the Dry County tour and while we waited we wandered through looking at the memorabilia of Mr. Jack and his famous whiskey. The tour starts with a short bus ride up the hill to the Rickyard. Sugar maple beams are assembled into crisscrossed patterned planks and then burned down to make charcoal. The whiskey will drip down through the charcoal which not only cleans impurities away but also adds the caramelized sugar flavor to the whiskey. We saw the mountain stream that all the water used in the whiskey comes from and is one of the key factors in Tennessee being such a whiskey place. The original office of Jack Daniels still sits on the property. One morning Mr. Jack was trying to get into the safe but couldn’t remember the combination. In a fit of fury he kicked the safe resulting in a broken toe. He put off going to see the doctor about it and when he finally went in gangrene had spread from his toe all the way up his leg and would be the tragic end of him. We got to walk through the grain mill and see the whiskey making its slow drip through the charcoal and the tour guide gave a great whiff of it as we walked by. After the whiskey goes through the charcoal it goes into hand raised barrels to mature over the next four months. The barrel houses are not climate controlled because with the change in weather the whiskey moves soaks in and out of the barrel wood which adds to the flavor of the whiskey. So those barrels that sit in the top most part of the barrel house get the most benefit from that process and makes the taste all the better which is why the best whiskey is known as ‘top shelf’ whiskey. The barrels only get used the one time so after they have helped mature the whiskey they get sent all over the world to mature other spirits and ales.
The Jack Daniels Distillery tour is a fascinating look at whiskey and how it’s made but also a part of Tennessee history and culture. That this whiskey not only survived prohibition but flourished within it and then went on to be known world wide is incredible. Whether you drink or abstain, everyone knows the name of Jack Daniels and his legendary whiskey. And this tour is a great tribute to that legacy.
For more on the Jack Daniels Distillery, go to :: staging.jackdaniels.com/en-us/visit-distillery