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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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Yellow Rose Distilling, Texas, USA

Yellow Rose Distilling, Texas, USA

I was very fortunate to live in Aberdeen for almost three years. For that time I was a short drive from Speyside, the Highlands and just 11 miles from the nearest single malt distillery, Glen Garioch. Moving back to Texas in 2011, even though Texas whisky was starting to appear on the scene in form of Balcones, Garrison Bros and Ranger Creek I never expected to be living so close to a whisky distillery again. Then Yellow Rose Distilling moved from the outskirts of Houston to an industrial park less than five miles from my house. Five miles!   Not yet operational (they have a new still but are not rigged up yet) I went to visit the site, sample some of the house products and meet the master distiller, Troy, in January 2014. It is always nice to be taken around a site by the actual distiller and Troy’s passion is clear. Yellow Rose started making their Outlaw Bourbon with a tiny hand-made still they purchased from Portugal.   They will continue to make their Outlaw Bourbon when their new still is up and running (though I have to wonder how similar the product will be as the stills are very different?) but also have a line extension strategy which includes making vodka with the same still, a blended “Canadian” style whiskey and a Rye whiskey, both of which they have made for them offsite out of state and a Double Barrel bourbon which they also have made for them offsite and then put into Californian red wine casks for additional maturation onsite. Think Angel’s Envy. As well as the warehouse space they will use for distillation and maturation they are developing a nice visitor experience with the original Portuguese still on display, a bar with all of the Yellow Rose products for sampling, some of the usual goodies like Yellow Rose Glencairn glasses and they can even sell bottles (under the archaic Texas licensing laws they can sell up to 2 commemorative bottles every 30 days per person). If you want the “classic” distillery experience… this definitely is not it. But the whiskey is good, the people are nice and you have to drive a long way from Houston to find the next nearest distillery.

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