Jack Daniel Distillery Celebrates 150 Years

| June 21, 2016

On a recent visit to the Jack Daniel Distillery, I had the chance to enjoy a chat (and a drink) with Master Distiller Jeff Arnett. We talked about the distillery’s 150th Anniversary plans and got a sneak peek of what’s coming up for the legendary brand.

2016 marks the 150th Anniversary of the Jack Daniel Distillery. Founded in 1866, the distillery is Tennessee’s oldest operating DSP. Plans to celebrate this monumental occasion include special gifts to the fans of Old No. 7. One will come in the form of a commemorative bottling expected to hit the shelves this summer. Additionally, 20 million of the $140 million phase two expansion is going towards improving the consumer experience in Lynchburg.

“We did lay down some special juice a few years ago,” explains Arnett on what Chris Fletcher called “Jeff’s baby.” Arnett describes the “special juice” as “trying to honor the whiskey that made us famous. [I] Didn’t change the grain bill but slightly reduced the entry proof to match a different barrel.” As one of the only distilleries making their own barrels, Jack Daniel is able to control and experiment with all aspects of the barrel, from wood choice to char level.

Tennessee Whiskey charcoal

Fresh maple charcoal at Jack Daniel Distillery (image via Cary Ann Fuller/copyright The Whiskey Wash)

“We (Brown-Forman) have another brand that’s become very popular. They used a wine toast barrel as a finishing barrel for the product (Woodford Reserve) Double Oaked, and I thought it would be an interesting play to make it the principal barrel. So I took the wine toast barrel and made it the only barrel. Coupling with a slightly lower entry proof, we’re going to pretty much come out close to a 100 proof product. What we’re shooting for is liquid candy.”

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When asked how long ago this juice was laid down, Arnett says, “We don’t want to use age statements as a seal of quality; we’re not Scotch. We do everything to taste, not to time. The tongue is more valuable than an egg timer.”

The visitor center in Lynchburg is getting a facelift as well. The bottle shop has been remodeled and the exhibit hall will soon receive some cosmetic work. An area known as the Lynchburg Room is being remodeled to improve traffic flow for the distillery’s 300,000 annual guests. It will serve as the new entrance into the center and will have a café type setting.

Recent changes to Tennessee laws allowing samples as part of the tours necessitate another big project – incorporating tasting rooms. Jeff says that they “really were not set up for that,” as their infamous location in a dry county prohibited serving any of their products. The oldest warehouse on the property (built in 1938) will solve this space shortage. “It holds 6,000 barrels but we’re going to bring that down to a few hundred barrels and re-purpose that space into tasting rooms,” allowing more of their guests to choose the sampling tour option.

The Motlow House is one more project now underway to improve guest experience. Originally owned by Jack Daniel’s descendants, the house was sold to Brown-Forman in 1956 as part of the distillery purchase. Sitting two feet below the flood plain, the house was in bad repair. The house was stripped to the studs, taking painstaking measures to save as much of the original building material as possible, and reconstructed on slightly higher ground. This space will be used to host Tennessee Squire events as well as the more than two hundred annual barrel selections.

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At 150 years old, Jack Daniel’s is showing no signs of slowing down. New products and improved facilities continue Mr. Jack’s motto, “Every day we make it, we make it the best we can.”

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Cary Ann Fuller

Cary Ann is an Army Brat with Southern tendencies. Born in Washington State to parents from Florida, she lived many points in between before settling in Nashville, TN (again). Cary Ann developed a passion for brown water early in life, and has translated that into a whiskey-centric life. Under Straight...