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My Handcrafted Opinions on Whiskies, Distilleries and Other Related Stuff

The Jack Daniel Distillery, Tennessee, USA

My birthday treat in 2013 was two distilleries in one day. This was number two, with George Dickel being number one. I did not expect to learn a lot on this tour and Tennessee whiskey has by and large passed me by, but I felt that any self respecting “distillophile” has to see the home of the world's biggest selling whiskey at least once. The basic free tour I took (there is a $10 tasting tour as well) was, as you might expect, slick and well done. It starts with a video, a tour group photo (40+ distillery tours and this was a first for me!) and then a bus ride to the area where they burn the sugar maple ricks for their charcoal and then a walk back to visitors center taking in the cave springs, Jack’s old office, the production areas, including a bottling hall, and finally a warehouse. Well structured and informative this was good way to spend an hour. The tour was focused on Jack Daniel and skipped quite quickly through the technical side of things, but no real surprise there; the tour group was made of people who will probably only see one distillery in their lifetime and the themes and stories played well to the audience. We got to see the safe that Jack kicked in fit of frustration one morning and the subsequent broken toe led to gangrene, infection, less legs than he started life with and eventually death. The tour guide even made the “happy cows around here” joke I hear in about 1 in 3 distilleries. The thing that of course separates JD and Tennessee whiskey from bourbon is the charcoal mellowing (or Lincoln County process) and we spent some time on the tour’s “money shot” ie the charcoaling mellowing room. At end of tour you do get a chance to buy “commemorative bottles that happen to contain whiskey” as Lynchburg is famously a dry county and you can't buy liquor… and I walked away with two expressions I have never seen anywhere else, the Master Distiller and an unaged Tennessee Rye. One thing I had never realized was that the man’s name (and in fact the distillery name) is Jack Daniel. No “s”.   As in The Jack Daniel Distillery. I also did not know that is oldest registered distillery in USA, being registered in 1866 two years before distilling was formally legalized and taxed in 1868.  Do they have a gift shop?  No.  Really they don't have a gift shop at the distillery.  What they have is the town of Lynchburg a short walk away that can best be described as a Jack Daniel's Gift Town.  And if you show your tour ticket when you buy anything over $10 in any of the shops in town... you get a JD shot glass.

I also learned some more about the “Green Label” Old No 7 expression on the tour, which I occasionally see in stores but does not appear in any marketing or websites. Apparently it is a product that is “only available in certain states in USA” and is taken from barrels at the bottom of their barrel houses and has the least interaction with wood due to relatively less temperature fluctuations. The traditional “Black Label” and Gentleman Jack are taken from the middle levels and the Single Barrel comes only from barrels stored at the top level of the barrel house. A quick bout of mental arithmetic suggests this is at best an “approximation” as the relative volumes of the Black label in the market compared to Green Label and Single Barrel suggest that some barrels from bottom and top have to make their way into the blend as well.

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Auchentoshan, Glasgow, Scotland

Auchentoshan, Glasgow, Scotland

While we lived in Aberdeen we didn’t get to Glasgow much, and with so many distilleries on our doorstep in Speyside and the rest of the Highlands it seemed I would probably never get to this one. However we took a brief holiday in February 2011 and landed in Glasgow airport late on a Friday night and decided to stay in hotel in Glasgow rather than drive the two plus hours back to Aberdeen. The next morning a detour via Auchentoshan was negotiated and agreed with Tammy and my daughter. I really liked this tour, they allowed our daughter to come along and it was just the three of us on the first tour of the day. The tour guide was knowledgeable and the tour was detailed, even explaining in considerable depth the complex triple (well more like 2 ½) distillation process unique to Auchentoshan in Scotch whisky. They also had some unique features on their tour, for example they allowed me to taste the fermented wash right out of the washback prior to distillation. I found it tasted like apple juice or rough cider but soured with some vinegar, brought back memories of the short lived Cider Gate in Exeter in the early 1990’s. They also allowed you to hit a barrel in the warehouse with a sledgehammer to pop the bung out! All good fun.

Did some tasting at the end of the tour from the Auchentoshan family, but had to restrain myself as I had to drive for next couple of hours and we ended buying a bottle of the 18 year old (as well as an unusual bottle of Drambuie made with 15 year old speyside whisky).

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