Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

February 20, 2014

Just like Jack intended

By Heather Mullinix
Assistant editor

CROSSVILLE — Tennessee exports a number of goods, from cars to medical equipment to soybeans and corn. But none of these exports is as well known, or as well loved, as the Tennessee Sipping Whiskey produced in Lynchburg, TN, at the Jack Daniels Distillery.

Jasper Newton Daniel, or Jack, as he was affectionally known, was born in rural Tennessee in Moore County in 1850. Legend has it he started making whiskey at the ripe old age of seven, learning at the knee of a local Lutheran minister and proprietor of the dry goods store. When congregants told the good preacher he needed to choose between making whiskery and his flock, he chose the Lord and sold Jack the still for $25.

Jack may have only been 13 at the time, but he knew where he wanted to make his product. He bought a tract of land where Cave Spring bubbled up with clean, pure, iron-free water.

Next, he registered his distillery with the federal government, the first distillery to do so. From there, he worked and grew his business, developing a process that would set the standard for his product more than 140 years later.

All Jack Daniels Whiskey is still produced at that same site Jack purchased when he was 13 years old. Today, the Jack Daniels Distillery occupies about 2,000 acres where corn, barley and rye are mashed, mellowed and aged to bring to make the spirit known all over the world.

"Wherever you buy Jack Daniels, it was made right here in Lynchburg, TN," says R.D., the guide of one of the sampling tours held earlier this month.

The tour begins at the rick yard, where sugar maple is burned to make the charcoal that filters the raw whiskey. It's a specialized craft to control the water on the burns. Too much water, and there is a soggy mess. Too little water leaves only ashes. The charcoal is ground to a small size that allows it to be handpacked, ten feet deep in large vats.

The process includes making a mash of the grains, 80 percent corn, and fermenting it over several days. The alcohol is collected and filtered through the charcoal slowly, about four to five days. After that, it's put into white oak barrels, constructed in Kentucky specifically for Jack Daniels and using no nails or glue.

"They don't want anything to interfere with the taste of the whiskey," R.D. explained.

The whiskey will be aged in barrel houses for four to seven years, until the master distiller says it is ready. The barrel gives the whiskey its color and flavor using the power of nature. In the warm months, the liquid expands, soaking into the wood. In the winter, it contracts and draws out of the barrel.

Old No. 7, the flagship variety, is made by the master distiller mingling barrels to provide a consistent flavor and coloring. It's an exclusive job. The current master distiller is only the seventh to ever hold the post in 140 years.

Gentleman Jack goes through a second round of charcoal mellowing before it is bottled, while single barrel is never mingled with other barrels. Each barrel will have its own unique flavor that varies just slightly from the others, depending on the weather conditions it encountered. You can purchase an entire barrel, about 240 bottles worth, and have it bottled on site. Be prepared, though, as the cost can range from $8,000 to $12,000, depending on tax rules of your home town.

The barrels are only used by Jack Daniels once, but other spirit makers may find use for them in making wine or scotch. Or, visitors can buy one from the General Store one block over from the distillery on Lynchburg's historic town square. These are significantly discounted from the single barrel, but all the whiskey has been removed.

That's not the only thing finding new life after its work is done at the distillery. Charcoal is made into charcoal briquettes for grilling and the remains of the sour mash is used as feed for pigs, cows and other livestock.

The tour includes a stop outside Jack's office, the original office of the operation, situated next to Cave Spring. The office was closed on the day of this visit as it is being renovated and restored, but a statue of Jack himself stood on a rock, as if overseeing the operation. The man in the statue stands about 5 feet, 6 inches tall, but Jack himself was only about 5 feet 2 inches tall.

"I believe the artist thought Jack was bigger than life and tried to make him as big as he could," R.D. said. This isn't the original statue, of course, but a reproduction of the one inside the visitor's center. That original statue keeps true to Jack's height.

Jack was a bachelor and lived with his sister, turning the second floor of her home into a dance hall. He often didn't arrive at work until midday, but he trusted the operation to his nephew, Lem Motlow, whom he made his heir.

He died in 1911 from blood poisoning said to have been caused from infection after, arriving at work one day before sunrise, he kicked a safe after failed attempts to recall the combination. He broke his toe and the infection spread, always a step ahead of the amputation.

The distillery faced tough times during prohibition, which began earlier in Tennessee than the rest of the nation. Whiskey production stopped in 1909. Motlow traded in mules and his wife sold bottled Cave Spring water to make ends meet and they kept body and soul together until prohibition was lifted in 1933 across the nation.

Motlow then set about to reversing Tennessee's prohibition laws, which didn't end with the end of prohibition. He ran for state house and state senator to get those state laws reversed and Jack Daniels Distillery resumed production in 1938. It remained in the Motlow family until it was sold to current owner, the Brown-Forman Corporation.

Though one of the curiosities of Jack Daniels is that you can't buy the spirit in the community where it is made, and Moore County remains a dry county, the distillery is able to now offer an extended tour and a small sample of each of the three varieties of Jack Daniels bottled in Lynchburg — Gentleman Jack, Old No. 7 and Jack Daniels Single Barrel — for a total of one ounce. If your thirst exceeds that amount, you'll just have to settle for some fine Tennessee sipping lemonade.

The distillery offers tours year round starting from the welcome center. Free tours are offered free of charge. There is a $10 charge for the enhanced sampling tour, and only limited spaces are available. Bring your ID because sampling tours are for those 21 and up.

The enhanced sampling tour takes about 1 hour and 45 minutes to complete and includes 130 steps. Wear comfortable shoes and be prepared to be outside for much of the tour.

Afterward, stroll over the bridge to the town square and browse through Jack Daniels licensed merchandise, antiques and gifts and enjoy a bite to eat.