A trip to Tennessee wouldn’t be complete without a stop to one of the most iconic distilleries in the US, the Jack Daniels Distillery, of course. Every American knows Jack by first name, but what you may not know is that Jack Daniels Old No. 7 Tennessee Whiskey is the top selling whiskey in the world! Just a short, 90 minute drive from downtown Nashville, is the cozy little town of Lynchburg, TN home to the America’s oldest registered distillery. Every single drop of Jack Daniels, from Tennessee Honey to Gentleman Jack, is made right here. Whether you’re a whiskey drinker, a history buff, or just plain interested in how things are made, you’ll be completely amazed at the time-honored process and history that’s poured into every bottle of Jack Daniels.
There are lots of tour companies available if you’re looking for a chauffeur, but we opted to get a rental car and drive ourselves so we could explore Lynchburg at our own pace. I highly recommend popping into Lynchburg Fixins beforehand to grab a bite to eat because no one wants to whiskey taste on an empty stomach. If you like a little bit of everything try the Bacon Breakfast Bowl. It comes with biscuits, gravy, bacon, eggs, and home fries and it is out this world amazing!! I mean c’mon….just look at all that goodness!! My hubby ordered an omelette which he gave rave reviews as well and the food came out piping hot to our table in record time. And if that’s not enough the prices are super reasonable as well. This place is a great inexpensive alternative to Miss Mary Bobo’s restaurant. You’ll find them located just a few minutes past the distillery on Main Street. I can’t say enough good things about this place.
Main Street also offers a unique collection of Jack Daniels products. If you’re looking for t-shirts, whiskey glasses, repurposed barrel crafts, or other unique souvenirs, you’ll find them all here in the heart of downtown Lynchburg. The distillery sells bottles of whiskey but you won’t find any other JD merchandise. The parking there is pretty limited and fills up quickly especially when tours let out. You can always opt to park at the distillery and take a nice little country stroll down to the town square. It’s just a short 10-15 minute walk over and absolutely worth the effort.
Jack Daniels offers a variety of tour options so there’s definitely a little something for everyone! Tours run daily from 9AM-4:30PM (CST) every day of the year except for Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Years Day, and Easter Sunday. Choose from the Dry County Tour, perfect for those who want a behind the scenes glimpse into Jack Daniel’s whiskey making process and it’s unbelievable history. If you’re up for some whiskey tasting then go with the Flight of Jack Daniels Tour. In addition to a behind the scenes look into the world of Jack Daniels, you’ll also make a memorable stop at the Barrelhouse where you’ll sip a flight of five Jack Daniels products. If Jack runs deep in your blood or if you’re a whiskey afficionado don’t miss the Angel’s Share tour. This tour ups the ante and allows you to sample whiskey drawn from individual barrels, an honor that was once reserved exclusively for distillers and tasters only. We opted to get our feet wet with the Flight of Jack tour. Whichever option you choose, be sure to book your reservations online ahead of time as tours often sell out.
What to know before you go! Backpacks, purses and bags of any kind are not allowed on the tour so stash these items in your car. They also have free lockers in the main building to hold your belongings on a first come first serve basis. Cellphones and cameras are allowed on the tour so snap away unless you’re in a restricted area. Your tour guide will let you know when it’s ok to take pictures and when photo ops are not allowed. You’ll also need your ID to check in so make sure someone in your group has pockets. Allow yourself a bit of extra time to stroll around the Visitors Center which is an attraction all in itself. There’s a whole lot of history to explore.
Keep in mind this is about an hour and a half walking tour where you’ll be outdoors for about half of the time so dress according to the weather. Many of the buildings you’ll be exploring do not have climate control and can be very hot especially in the summer months. And you’ll also need to climb about 100-150 stairs over the course of the tour. All tours kick off with a group photo and then you’re shuttled over to the Distillery Hollow to learn more about the legacy that is Jack Daniels.
The tour kicks off at the Rickyard, where the charcoal is made. In order to be considered “Tennessee Whiskey”, it must be made from 51% corn, the whiskey needs to be mellowed through charcoal, then aged in charred, new American white oak barrels. Jack Daniels takes it a step further and makes their own charcoal from cords of sugar maple wood. The cords are strategically placed, doused in 140-proof whiskey and set on fire twice a day, 3 days a week. There’s only two people in the company that are trained to do this and those two people have been doing the charcoal burns for the past 15 and 17 years at the time of our tour. You’ll also get to try a sample of distilled bourbon before it gets mellowed through the charcoal process. Later on in the tour, you’ll get to see the mellowing process, where combinations of malt, barley and rye are dripped through vats of tightly-packed charcoal. The whiskey is filtered through 10 feet of charcoal, a drop at a time. It takes about a week for a whiskey drip to make it all the way to the bottom. Gentleman Jack is actually filtered through twice.
Jack Daniels has about 90 seven-story barrel houses, each home to 1 million gallons of whiskey at any given time. Just take that in for a second! The barrels are such an important part of the whiskey making process that Jack Daniels has their own barrel factory. Each and every barrel is handmade and built one American oak stave at a time. But get this…each barrel is only used just one time! It’s a good thing an experience barrel maker can crank out about 500 barrels a day. Whiskey is aged in the barrel for 4-12 years in a barrel house. The whiskey ages differently based upon where it’s placed in the barrel house. The air temperatures can vary by over 20 degrees from bottom to top. Once a barrel has served it’s purpose they are then available for sale to the average person. Many go overseas to Scottish whiskey-makers, to Jamaica for rum aging, or to Louisiana for Tabasco hot sauce production.
Arguably the most important part of the Jack Daniels legacy is Cave Spring Hollow. Every bottle of Jack Daniels sold around the world is made with water from this iconic limestone spring cave. The spring contains no sediment just clean, pure, natural spring water. This is the main reason why Jack Daniels will never move from Lynchburg, because without this water, it wouldn’t be Jack Daniels. Jack purchased the hollow and it’s surrounding land for just $2,148 back in the mid-1800s and the rest is history of course! The statue that stands in front of the hollow depicts Jack as 7 inches taller than his 5’2″ statue and makes a great photo op.
Just steps away from the spring is a small building that was home to Jack Daniels office. Inside you’ll find pictures of the 7 master distillers that have made this product great for the past 150 years. That’s right, only 7 people have held this great honor. Jeff Arnett is the seventh master distiller and has held that title since 2008. Stepping into the office is like stepping back in time. You’ll find lots of great history in here including Jack Daniels original desk as well as his infamous safe, which is now sits empty.
As legend has it this safe is ultimately responsible for the demise of Jack himself. Jack was a local bar owner and somewhat of a night owl and as a result of this, his nephews would handle opening the office for him on a daily basis. One morning Jack decided to head in early and needed money from his safe. But seeing how this was not regular practice for him, Jack couldn’t remember the safe combination. Out of frustration and anger he kicked the safe and broke his toe. He didn’t go to a doctor…because…arrrgh…MEN!!!! Am I right?!? As a result the toe became infected, the infection spread, and ultimately Jack needed his entire leg amputated. He died due to complications from the gangrene infection on Oct. 9, 1911 at the age of 61. Moral of the story…..Don’t go into work early, it could actually kill ya! Take that to your boss!!
Wanna drink whiskey like it’s your job? Well it can be…but it takes A LOT of practice!! An official Jack Daniels taster must go through a rigorous 10 years of taste testing before they can even be considered for an official tasting position. And the pay isn’t what you’re hoping for either. Tasters in the training program get paid only 0.75 cents per day and your paycheck comes in the form of a gift card that you can use for yep, you guessed it, more Jack Daniels.
Our tour concluded in the tasting room where we sampled each of the five iconic flavors, Gentleman Jack, Jack Daniels Old No. 7, Jack Daniels Rye, Tennessee Honey, and Tennessee Fire. Believe it or not, all of these varieties (excluding the Rye) start off with Old No. 7 as the main ingredient and then additional flavors are added. Our tour guide spilled the beans that an Apple Jack flavor is in the works and we can’t wait!!
Interestingly enough, Lynchburg is actually a dry county, meaning the sale of alcohol is forbidden here. Whiskey tastings have only recently been made allowed in the past decade or so due to a few loopholes in the legislation. For example, samples can now be given, but not sold to visitors on the distillery property. And commemorative bottles can be purchased in The White Rabbit Saloon in limited quantities for consumption at home.
If you’re in the Nashville area you’ve gotta put the Jack Daniels Distillery on your list! It’s totally worth the drive. The tour was absolutely amazing and I left with a newfound respect for this whiskey brand. Like they say, every day we make it, we’ll make it the best we can. And they sure do!
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