Gentleman Jack And The Not So Gentlemanly Michael
Entegra service – done! Spartan service – done! Woo hoo! Time to make haste from Michigan to the panhandle of Florida, specifically to Topsail Hill Preserve State Park in Santa Rosa Beach where we would be starting our first work camping jobs on October 10th. Things were going well, everything was right on schedule to arrive there on that day. But as the saying goes, “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry”…
Departing Entegra on Saturday October 6, our route was Hwy 20 to US-31 South to I-465 around Indy to I-65 South, about a 4 hour drive to our first destination, Woods N Waters Campground in Columbus, IN. Located near I-65, it was a decent enough campground (although a bit tight maneuvering) for a quick overnight stop.
The next morning, Sunday October 7, we were off to a foggy start by 8:30 a.m. (early for us) but fortunately the visibility wasn’t bad enough to delay our departure. We stopped at the Sunshine Cafe at I-65 exit 50 for a hearty breakfast, plenty of parking for big rigs here. Continuing on I-65 south, Texas T Campground in Cornersville, TN would be our next one night stay. Some nice long pull-thru’s here. At check in, we were greeted by the super friendly and very accommodating owners of the campground, James and Pat Puckett.
At least we thought it was going to be a one night stay, then the “not so gentlemanly” Michael suddenly strengthened into a major hurricane and targeted Santa Rosa Beach on the FL panhandle, exactly where we were headed. Gulp! Once we learned of Michael’s track, we obviously decided to stay clear of the gulf coast for a while, but our decision was confirmed when the next morning (Monday October 8) we received a call from a Topsail Park staff member telling us they were evacuating the park that day and for us to stay put until we heard from them.
Fortunately, we were able to extend our stay at Texas T for four more days so our departure would be on Friday, October 12th (they were full after that). In the meantime, the track of Michael shifted slightly eastward as the storm intensified to nearly a Cat 5 hurricane. The new path meant that the Santa Rosa Beach area would be on the “good” side of the eye, but Panama City, Mexico Beach and surrounding areas were in the bull’s-eye. What devastation! Hard to imagine leaving your home, then returning to find nothing but a pile of rubble. How our lives can quickly change in a matter of minutes or hours! Our thoughts and prayers go out to everyone impacted by this natural disaster!
Now that our fast track had come to a screeching halt, we obviously had some time to kill. With a population of approximately 1200 (2010) people, Cornersville didn’t have a lot to offer in terms of restaurants, attractions, etc. but it is only a 15 minute drive to the small city of Lewisburg, not that there was much there either! Nashville was only an hour away but we had been there and done that, visiting the Hermitage and walking the Honky Tonk Highway in 2012 and 2016 so that was quickly ruled out. Another option was a trip to the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, AL but that was a good distance away and since we had to move on Friday anyway, we thought perhaps we might end up somewhere closer to Huntsville and visit then.
Instead though, our attention turned to another attraction. When we explored the Kentucky Bourbon Trail back in 2012 and in 2015, we had wanted to pay a visit to the Jack Daniel Tennessee Whiskey Distillery in Lynchburg, TN to see how Jack’s whiskey making differed from the bourbon process, but it was too far and we ran out of time. So as soon as we realized that Lynchburg was less than an hour away, we immediately signed up on-line for one of their tours on Thursday morning, October 11. Ah, yes, we finally would have an opportunity to give our regards to Gentleman Jack!
While exploring the Kentucky Bourbon Trail we learned that All bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon. So as we drove to the distillery we wondered is Jack Daniel’s a whiskey or a bourbon? They label themselves as a whiskey but what makes it different from a bourbon? It seems that Jack meets all the mandated requirements of a bourbon so technically it is a bourbon. But, Jack adds an additional step of filtering it thru sugar maple charcoal to give the spirit its smooth and unique flavor. Bottom line, Jack does not want to be called a bourbon and has received appropriate dispensation frorm the powers that be to avoid the legal requirement to label the product as a bourbon and is instead called Tennessee Whiskey. Interesting, this article provides more detailed insight.
Little did we realize that similar to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Passport, there is also a Tennessee Whiskey Trail Passport with 30 distilleries as well. Who knew? We certainly didn’t and probably a lot of other people don’t know this either because the Tennessee Whiskey Trail didn’t become a reality until June of 2017. With only a day, there was obviously no way for us to explore 30 distilleries (if we did, we’d be in deep trouble) to earn a “free” T-shirt! Some other time.
Back to the Jack Daniel Distillery, there are five different tours offered ranging in price from $15 to $100 and given between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. CST daily. Each tour has a limit on the number of people allowed on the tour ranging from 12 to 25. Although you can buy tickets on the fly at the Visitor Center, that depends on availability. If all the tours are already filled for the day you would be out of luck, and even if there are some open slots it’s possible you might have a long wait if all the earlier tours are already fully booked. When I called for more info, I was told that if you don’t have tickets it is best to arrive very early in the day to increase your chances of being able to join the tour you want. This is a busy place, so to get the tour you want at a specific day and time, it is best to make an on-line reservation in advance. Realize that each tour requires extensive walking and some climbing of stairs. We took the Flight of Jack Daniel’s Tour which is 1-1/2 hours in length, includes a tasting of 5 different Jack Daniel products and costs $20 per person ($16 for seniors 65+).
After we arrived at the Visitor Center and obtained our tickets, we had about 30 minutes before our tour started so we perused all of the exhibits which were quite interesting.
Finally it was time for our tour. Ashley, our tour guide was excellent even though she had only been employed there for four months. During our tour she mentioned that she was the third generation in her family to work at the Distillery.
Below is a photo of the layout of the distillery campus. During the tour, we visited each building (except the Motlow House) and the Cave Spring.
As we walked from one building to the next, Ashley explained everything from the history of the distillery to the process used to make the whiskey. Ironically, Lynchburg is located in a dry county but there is a state law that allows the distillery to sell its bottles at their White Rabbit Bottle Shop.
The Jack Daniel Distillery was officially established in 1866, making it the very first and oldest registered distillery within the US and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Jack Daniel purchased the Cave Spring Hollow and its surrounding land for $2,148.
According to their website, “drawing 800 gallons of water from miles below the Earth’s surface every minute, it’s our whiskey’s lifeblood. Crisp, cool, and a constant 56-degrees.” The 2 mile deep cave’s layer of limestone removes iron which is horrible for making whisky from the water while imparting minerals that add to the flavor of Jack Daniels.
Jack’s original recipe using 80% corn,12% barley and 8% rye is still being used today. This recipe won him a gold medal at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri.
Distillation begins by mixing these grains with the iron-free water from the Hollow and starter yeast. The mash ferments for six days, then is distilled only once.
By law, Tennessee whiskey must be produced within the state, but it must also undergo a filtering process with sugar-maple charcoal. The charcoal is made on site and requires a precise burning process. It is then ground and placed in 14-foot barrels. They even have their own fire brigade just in case!
Once distilled to 140-proof, the moonshine is dripped slowly – drop-by-drop – through ten feet of firmly packed hard sugar maple charcoal, it takes 3 – 5 days for each drop to complete its journey through the charcoal where along the way it is transformed into the unique product that is Tennessee Whiskey.
Once the distilling and charcoal mellowing are complete, its time for the product to go into a barrel and spend a few years gestating. Unlike most bourbon makers, the barrels are handcrafted there at an on-site cooperage. But just like bourbon barrels, they are made from American White Oak, are used only once, then are sold to hot sauce makers, beer brewers, and Scotch whisky distillers who will reuse them several more times.
Each Jack Daniels barrel has 33 separate wood staves and once assembled, the barrel’s interior is toasted and charred using their own exclusive methods to coax the wood’s natural sugars out and caramelize them.
The whiskey will then sit in its barrel for four to seven years, after which a master taster will determine if it’s ready. Each warehouse holds one million gallons of whiskey, and there are 87 warehouses at the distillery. Now that’s a lot of whiskey!
In the building that once was Jack’s office, we learned the story of how he died. An oft-told tall tale is Daniel injured one of his toes one morning at work by kicking his safe in anger when he could not get it open. A nasty infection set in (hmmm, maybe he should have poured some whiskey on it!). Eventually it became gangrene, resulting in the need for his left leg to be amputated but despite that, the gangrene continued to spread throughout his system. Daniel died on October 10, 1911 at the age of 61.
At the end of the tour, we were escorted into the tasting room.
Here we sampled: Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey, Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Fire (similar to Fireball), Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey (my favorite), Gentleman Jack and Jack Daniel’s Rye.
Although we liked several of them, amazingly we escaped from the bottle shop without buying anything. The prices are probably better at some outside of Lynchburg, but note there are some unique products in the shop that are available nowhere else.
By now we were getting hungry so upon leaving the Visitor Center, we walked over to the Lynchburg Historic Square.
During the tour, Ashley had recommended two restaurants, Miss Mary Bobo’s Boarding House Restaurant for family style dining and Barrel House BBQ. Although Miss Mary Bobo’s sounded quite intriguing, it was $25 per person (plus tax and gratuity) and having already spent $36 on the tour, our pocketbooks overrode our hunger pains! Perhaps next time.
Instead of Miss Mary’s, we went to the less refined but interestingly “decorated” Barrel House BBQ. I could try to describe this eclectic eating establishment but this video (which also has scenes from the distillery) can probably do a much better job!
Since it is the home of the “Grilled Cheese On Crack” that’s what I ordered – Pulled Pork, American Cheese & Habanero sauce ($6.99) while Rob had the Grilled Cheese Crack Jack – Pulled Pork, Pepper Jack Cheese & Habanero sauce. We ordered the sandwiches without the homemade Habanero sauce (mild, medium or scorcher) so we could add our own at the table. Most people wouldn’t think to rave about a grilled cheese sandwich but we did as soon as we took our first bite! Now we are not BBQ connoisseurs by any means but the sandwich was overstuffed with the most tender and delicious pulled pork we have ever had! Yummy!
If you are ever in the area, highly recommend stopping here to tour the distillery and to eat at the Barrel House BBQ. I know we’ll definitely be back!
The next morning we said goodbye to Cornersville headed for our next destination. Hopefully we won’t be saying hello to Michael! More about that in our next post!
Jack was one of the “spirit ” drink choices of ours. We thoroughly enjoyed this write up. Mmmm good . Cheers !
The sandwiches sound wonderful, but the cheese doesn’t look like it’s melted yet. They look so good in fact, I went to the website and checked out the full menu. Yum!