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A visit to the Jack Daniel's distillery: Lynchburg, Tennessee

Lynchburg -- Jack Daniel's Distillery


One of the favorite travel destinations in south-central Tennessee is the Jack Daniel’s distillery situated in the small town of Lynchburg.  It’s about an hour and a half drive south of Nashville and an excellent day-trip destination while staying in Music City.  The journey to Lynchburg is pleasant, through the rolling wooded hills of Tennessee which seem not to have changed much since Davy Crockett was hunting and exploring in them.


Lynchburg -- Jack Daniel's Distillery entrance


We had no preconceived expectations and it turned out we were most pleasantly surprised by what an interesting visit this was.  The distillery is a charming complex in a lovely wooded setting beside a small creek.  It has an attractive modern Visitor Center where you can browse displays about the history of the Jack Daniel’s and some basic steps in the making of whiskey.  Free tours run frequently and are well worthwhile.  You’ll be shown an introductory film, then taken on a tour of the widespread physical plant and shown all the steps in the making of Jack Daniel's No. 7 (presumably Mr. Daniel’s 7th recipe).


Lynchburg -- Jack Daniel's DistilleryLynchburg -- Jack Daniel's Distillery


This tour of the Jack Daniel's distillery includes the following stops:


Lynchburg -- Jack Daniel's Distillery Rickyard

Lynchburg -- Jack Daniel's Distillery Rickyard

Lynchburg -- Jack Daniel's Fire Brigade


1) Rickery: Maple wood is received in organized palates and is burned in a controlled fire to produce the charcoal which is subsequently used to filter the whiskey.  Several antique fire engines sit nearby, including an original REO Speed Wagon, ready to spring into action!


Lynchburg -- Jack Daniel's statue

Lynchburg -- Jack Daniel's Distillery spring


2) There is a large creek flowing from a cave in the limestone hills of the distillery’s property.  The water in this creek is iron free, an important feature in making whiskey and a keystone as to why the distillery remains at this site.


Lynchburg -- Jack Daniel's Old Office

Lynchburg -- Jack Daniel's Office

Lynchburg -- Jack Daniel's Motto

3) Old company headquarters including Mr. Daniels original office and the safe he kicked, injuring his toe; this is said to have lead to gangrene, the amputation of his foot and his death (killed by kicking a safe)!  You'll also see this slogan, "Every day we make it, we'll make it the best we can" -- something I think everyone should apply to their careers.


4) Milling plant, where three grains (corn, barley, rye) are combined in a ratio Mr. Daniel’s developed.  Twenty semi-tractor loads are processed daily.  The grain is ground, mixed with water from the nearby creek, and some previous fermented stillage is added to begin the fermentation process anew (much like sourdough bread in San Francisco uses pre-existing dough for its fermentative germ).  This mixture is known as “mash” or "sour mash" and it is subsequently cooked.


Lynchburg -- Jack Daniel's Distillery


5) The cooked mash is cooled and moved to a fermentation tank.  Here yeast is added and after six days wherein the grain’s natural sugars are converted by the yeast into ethanol (and CO2), the liquid in the tank is extracted and pumped into a still which is heated.  As you’ll remember from organic chemistry, alcohol boils before water allowing its concentration to produce 140 proof ‘moonshine’.  (The remnant grain mash is sold to livestock farmers for feed, producing some of the happiest cows in the South!)


Lynchburg -- Jack Daniel's Distillery Museum


6) Clear alcohol is allowed to filter through the maple charcoal (see step 1), a process known as “mellowing” that lasts 10 days or so and which definitely imparts a pleasant lightly smoky odor and taste to the whiskey, though it still stays optically clear after this process.  The 140 proof whiskey is subsequently cut with more spring water to produce the desired alcohol concentration.


Lynchburg -- Jack Daniel's Distillery Cooperage

Lynchburg -- Jack Daniel's Distillery exhibit


7) The distillery has its own cooperage which makes the famous oak barrels, which are then lightly charred inside.  Within these barrels the whiskey is allowed to mature for at least four years “until it’s ready” by taste.  The period of maturity varies depending on where the barrel is located in the large storage facility (those closer to the ceiling tend to be ready more quickly than those near the floor).  The oak barrels impart most of the flavor and all of the color to the whiskey.  Barrels are not reused by Jack Daniel’s, though many are sold to distilleries in Scotland or Ireland (or as they like to say here, “there’s a little Jack Daniel’s in most Scotch whisky"), as decorative items, or cut and used as planters by home gardeners.


Lynchburg -- Jack Daniel's Distillery

Lynchburg -- Jack Daniel's Distillery  

8) Whiskey is subsequently bottled, labeled, packed and shipped.


Lynchburg -- Jack Daniel's Distillery


The entire process is impressive and of highest craftsman quality.  It was fascinating to see the intricate steps in the making of old No.7.  I don’t drink much and have never had an interest in hard liquor, but I definitely wanted to try a sip of Jack Daniels No. 7 after this tour (though none is available as the County is "dry").  There are other types of whiskey also made here, a variation of the theme.  Some is “single barrel”.  Another type is filtered through the charcoal twice and another is sweetened with honey.


Lynchburg -- Old courthouse

Lynchburg -- shops

Lynchburg -- shops


For all practical purposes, Jack Daniel’s = Lynchburg.  The distillery is a large complex and adjoins a quaint tourist town with old buildings and shops providing traveler amenities.  Most visitors are very surprised to learn that Lynchburg is a dry town (no alcohol sold here) and that the entire county is a dry county, a paradox considering the amount of whiskey it produces for consumption around the globe.  The town is only a five minute walk from the distillery and worth strolling through.  There’s interesting small stores and several fine restaurants.


Stones River Battlefield -- National Cemetery

Stones River National Cemetery

Stones River National Cemetery


Another popular destination that it’s easy to combine with a visit to Lynchburg is a stop at the Stones River National Battlefield.  This battle marked an important turning point in the Civil War.  While the Confederate troops initially inflicted heavy damage, the Union forces rallied for an important victory. The battle is also important because of it’s high fatality rate (the highest of any Civil War battle) and that it had the most casualties of any battle west of the Appalachians. If you would like more details on the maneuvers and strategies of this battle, please go to this link.


Stones River National Battlefield -- Thompson Lane

Stones River National Battlefield -- Slaughter Pen

Stones River National Battlefield -- cannons



Images (29)
  • Lynchburg -- Jack Daniel's Distillery
  • Lynchburg -- Jack Daniel's Distillery entrance: This is the main entrance to the visitor's center, from which you are taken on a free tour of the property.
  • Lynchburg -- Jack Daniel's Distillery: Some old memorabilia from the visitor center's collection.
  • Lynchburg -- Jack Daniel's Distillery: Where the tour begins
  • Lynchburg -- Jack Daniel's Distillery Rickyard: 2 x 2 inch strips of locally grown sugar maple are stacked and waiting to be prepared for their role in making Jack Daniel's whiskey.
  • Lynchburg -- Jack Daniel's Distillery Rickyard: Stacks of sugar maple are burned to produce charcoal. Filtering the whiskey through this charcoal imparts flavor.
  • Lynchburg -- Jack Daniel's Fire Brigade: A closer view of these great old fire engines. Notice the one on the left is an REO Speed Wagon
  • Lynchburg -- Jack Daniel's statue: A statue of Mr Daniels outside the cave from which originates the spring water used to make Jack Daniel's whiskey. This water is iron-free, important in the making of whiskey.
  • Lynchburg -- Jack Daniel's Distillery spring: The cave walls are limestone. This cave apparently extends back at least a mile.
  • Lynchburg -- Jack Daniel's Old Office: The office Mr. Daniel's himself used
  • Lynchburg -- Jack Daniel's Office: It was on the safe to the left that Mr. Daniel's is said to have killed himself. He kicked it in a fit of rage. A broken toe ensued, which never healed. It subsequently became gangrenous and resulted in his death.
  • Lynchburg -- Jack Daniel's Motto
  • Lynchburg -- Jack Daniel's Distillery: Where grains (corn, barley, rye) are received and milled
  • Lynchburg -- Jack Daniel's Distillery Museum: This exhibit explains the process of mellowing the whiskey. The charcoal, derived from sugar maple, is a key component in the developing the whiskey's taste.
  • Lynchburg -- Jack Daniel's Distillery Cooperage: This exhibit highlights the importance of the custom oak barrels, the interior of which is charred. The flavor of the whiskey is greatly enhanced by oak barrel in which it ages for a minimum of 4 years.
  • Lynchburg -- Jack Daniel's Distillery exhibit: Depending on where the barrels of whiskey are stored, the color and flavor can greatly vary.
  • Lynchburg -- Jack Daniel's Distillery
  • Lynchburg -- Jack Daniel's Distillery
  • Lynchburg -- Jack Daniel's Distillery: World record holder
  • Lynchburg -- River adjoining distillery property
  • Lynchburg -- Old courthouse
  • Lynchburg -- shops
  • Lynchburg -- shops
  • Stones River Battlefield -- National Cemetery
  • Stones River National Cemetery: A cemetery for Americca's veterans
  • Stones River National Cemetery
  • Stones River National Battlefield -- Thompson Lane: A pictures drive through the heart of this Civil War battlefield.
  • Stones River National Battlefield -- Slaughter Pen
  • Stones River National Battlefield -- cannons

Twitter: @DrFumblefinger

"We do not take a trip, a trip takes us".  John Steinbeck, from Travels with Charlie

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Comments (4)

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Thanks for the comment, PHeymont!  I was surprised at what a quality craft the making of Jack Daniels is.  The fine attention to all details -- form harvesting their own trees and making their own charcoal, to having their own oak barrels made from wood harvested near by -- key elements to producing a unique product.  It was quite fascinating to me.

Twitter: @DrFumblefinger

"We do not take a trip, a trip takes us".  John Steinbeck, from Travels with Charlie

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