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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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Glenfiddich, Speyside, Scotland

Glenfiddich, Speyside, Scotland I have visited this distillery in Dufftown (the self titled Malt Capital of the World) on number of occasions and as you would expect for Glenfiddich it is slick and well done.  Supposedly it was the first distillery to open a visitor's center as well as being one of the first distilleries to actively market their single malt whisky, which is now the world's largest selling single malt brand.   The facilities are as good as any distillery I have been too with a large visitor's center, shop and a nice restaurant.  The tastings perhaps are not as generous and free flowing as some of the less commercial tours, however that is not really a complaint but more of an observation.   I also like the fact they are big enough to stay open all year, including Sundays compared to many distilleries, even major ones, that have quite limited seasons and hours for their visitors centers.

I love their entire range and the 21 year old which is finished in a rum cask, is one of my favorites of all time.  I also got a bottle of the limited release Snow Phoenix as Christmas present in 2010 which was devoured rather too quickly (thanks Dad) and before I started taking detailed tasting notes.   Tammy enjoys the Glenfiddich liqueur over ice as well.

So what's not too like?  Well for some apparently there is plenty.  Glenfiddich often manages to raise the ire of the scotch whisky anorak community, and at the very least it's popularity and ubiquity seems to turn off those who thrive on recommending obscure distilleries whose total annual liquid output appears to amount to slightly less than most people use to make their morning coffee.    

That's their loss and leaves more for the rest of us, not that there is much danger of the world running out of Glenfiddich, which in itself makes the world a better place.

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