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Jack Daniel Distillery

Lynchburg, Moore Co., Tennessee (April 2010)

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Jack Daniel Distillery

Lynchburg, Tennessee

The Jack Daniel Distillery offers one of the best tours of any production facility I've ever had an opportunity to visit. It's comprehensive, informative and efficient. They obviously get a lot of visitors and the know how to put on an entertaining session. A visit to the distillery -- the only place on the planet where they make Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey -- is highly recommended when traveling within the area of Lynchburg, Tennessee.

Statue of Jack Daniel

Jack Daniel at the Visitors Center

The tour starts at the modern visitors center where one has an opportunity to check out memorabilia and view the exhibits that provide an overview of the Jack Daniel's story. Jack Daniel himself, in marble form, greets visitors as they walk through the door. This is also where visitors check-in for a tour, taking a number and waiting for their turn. We arrived on a very busy Friday afternoon of a holiday weekend and our wait was still less than half an hour.

Jack Daniel's Water Source

The Spring that Feeds the Distillery

It all starts with the water, and here it gushes out the side of the hillside and into the hollow. Jack Daniel very deliberately chose this spot for his distillery. The water is remarkably clear, fresh and free of impurities that could taint the taste. It's perfect for distilling. It springs from the earth at a subterranean temperature that chills the air around the mouth of the cave. From there the water flows directly into the production buildings, exposed to the outside world for mere moments. The tour guide explained that the spring has never run dry. The worst recorded drought occurred a few years ago and even in that once a century event the water still flowed freely.

Jack Daniel's in Production

The Distillery

It's amazing to watch the stills in progress, capturing a constant stream of clear alcohol from the fermented sour mash that will someday become whiskey. It's alcohol production on an epic scale. It will take a slow drip through charcoal produced on-site and then undergo several years of aging in oak barrels made by the company itself and used only once. Every step of the process is completely controlled by the company to assure quality and consistency.

Whiskey Being Made

More of the Production Facility

Notice how the trees have a blackish hue as does some of the flat surfaces of the factory. That's a harmless natural mold that is a hallmark of distilleries. Apparently it thrives on the low-level alcohol vapors that are a byproduct of the distillation process. The tour guide explained this was one method that government revenuers used to locate illegal moonshiners. Jack Daniel's, of course, is perfectly legal, in fact the oldest registered distillery in the United States (1866). Ironically the place where it's produced, Moore County, Tennessee is dry. You cannot buy Jack Daniel's whiskey in Moore County except in special commemorative bottles at the distillery gift shop at the end of the tour. Even this small concession required a special act of the Tennessee legislature.

Storing the Whiskey

One of Many Barrel Houses

The Jack Daniel Distillery fills five thousand barrels a week and they all have to be stored somewhere. That's where the massive barrel houses serve their purpose. These structures dot the hills and hollows all over Lynchburg, Tennessee. The buildings don't have floors at each story, rather, they are large open structures with racks-upon-racks of barrels extending all the way up to the ceiling. The structures interact with the elements, chilling in the winter and baking in the summer, allowing the aging process to take place as nature intended.

After sufficient time it's off to the bottling plant, the only part of the process not on the grounds of the distillery (located several miles away instead). They do still fill specialty bottles here though.