We’re lucky that we get a fair amount of visitors to come stay at our humble home. This past week, in fact, we had 11 friends come stay with us in the Cedar House over a 10-day period. And what kind of tourism marketers would we be if we did not, in fact, take them to a few of our favorite area gems? In other words, we have an excuse to go on Jack Daniel’s tours at the distillery regularly, and I don’t hate it one bit.
A lot has changed at Jack Daniel in the past few years. For one, while it’s still a dry county—yes, those rumors are unfortunately true—you can, in fact, sample at the distillery, which wasn’t the case a decade ago. Now, there are three exceptions to purchasing alcohol in Moore County: 1) when you go on an official Jack Daniel’s tour through the distillery, 2) if you’re an employee and are the recipient of Good Friday each month (more on that later) and 3) if you purchase something from the on-site White Rabbit Saloon to consume back at home.
Dry county or not, Lynchburg locals are some of the most jovial humans I’ve ever met, and our tour guide Kim on this particular occasion followed suit by being friendly, informative, fun and outright hilarious. It must be something in the air, or maybe the (spring) water.
Getting to Lynchburg
Lynchburg may be what us locals would consider “out in the boonies,” but it’s pretty accessible from Nashville—less than 90 minutes if you take I-24 south and then get off the interstate right around Christiana and veer through Shelbyville—and Huntsville, where it’s just under an hour due north on Highway 431 from downtown.
There’s not a whole lot to do in Lynchburg itself, so I wouldn’t plan to linger beyond your tour and exploration of the square, which is an hour, tops. From there, you can cut over through my hometown, Tullahoma, to hit up George Dickel, then continue on to Bell Buckle and up the mountain to Sewanee. There are also plenty of state parks in the area, many of which I have outlined here in my summer ideas for Tennessee travel post.
Which Jack Daniel’s Tour to Take
In the past few years, the distillery has evolved, thanks to a piece of legislation that changed some archaic laws in this dry county a few years ago. If you’re not a drinker, you can still take the Dry County Tour ($14). If you want to sample a bit of the hard stuff, but aren’t really a whiskey connoisseur (yet), the Flight of Jack Daniel’s Tour ($20), in which you get to taste a flight of five, is the perfect option for you.
If you know your way around a barrel, however, and appreciate the finer things in life, then I must point you toward the Angel’s Share Tour ($25), which gives you an in-depth look at the whiskey-making process and allows you to taste five single-barrel pours. I’ve done this twice, and it is without a doubt, my favorite distillery tour anywhere. Forget Old No. 7; you’ll want to stock up on the Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel, Jack Daniel’s Barrel Proof, Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Rye, Jack Daniel’s Sinatra Select and Gold 27 before you leave. Bonus: All tastings are done inside this amazingly gorgeous barrel room.
For those who really want to know more about the area, there’s one final option dubbed the Taste of Lynchburg, where for $100, you get a three-hour experience, which includes a storyteller-led tour, the Angel’s Share tastings and lunch at Miss Mary Bobo’s (see below). While I’ve never done this, if you’re a first-timer to the area breezing through town and you really love you some Jack, that might be the way to go to really maximize your time on the ground.
No matter when you’re visiting or which tour you choose, however, you need to make tour reservations in advance. SVV tried to drop in midweek last fall when one of our muralists was in town, and even then, it was more than a two-hour wait to get on a tour as a walk-in.
Purses and backpacks are no longer allowed in the distillery, so bear this in mind and either pack a fanny pack (words I thought I’d never utter!) or wear something with pockets so you can take your phone and wallet with you. You’ll (obviously) need your ID to get in.
Cameras are allowed, and there are free lockers in the visitor’s center in which you can store your belongings if you don’t leave them in the car.
The tours themselves are fascinating, both because of the history of the area, the spring that feeds the whiskey and the process of manufacturing such a product in general.
When I say you get a behind-the-scenes look at distilling, I’m being serious; on the Angel’s Share tour, at least, we got to venture out and see where the barrels are charred and learn more about how the char brings the natural sugars of the wood out and how toasting them to a certain degree alters the final taste, much like a marshmallow.
We also got to inhale the vapors from distillation, something SVV took full advantage of, using it as his personal cologne. Jack is missing a big market here!
And, finally, you get a bit of a history about the cooperage via video, then get to walk through the active bottling room as the bottles themselves are speeding down the conveyor belt.
Some facts you might not know about Jack Daniel, both the human and the distillery:
Jasper Daniel died of gangrene in 1911. The story of kicking the safe, breaking his toe, and officially succumbing to gangrene is indeed (at least partially) true. You get to go in the former office and see the malicious safe that took the famed distiller’s life. (Wear steel-toed boots, ha!)
He was a short man. He was five feet, one inch, the height of my wee mom. In photos displayed of him on the property, he was the only one who was not sitting down—and the other men still towered over him.
“Good Friday” is a monthly holiday among distillery employees at Jack Daniel. This dates back decades, if not centuries, and I have had many a friend employed by the distillery who looked forward to the day each month when they got a bottle of Old No. 7 to take home with them.
In order to be “Tennessee whiskey,” it must meet a few criteria. It has to be made from 51 percent corn, filtered through charcoal, then aged in charred, new American white oak barrels. Jack Daniel’s uses a 10-foot bed of sugar maple charcoal, though this varies by distillery.
All Tennessee whiskey is bourbon, but not all bourbon is Tennessee whiskey. Urban legend: “bourbon must be made in Kentucky.” False!
Jack Daniel’s Distillery has 90 seven-story barrel houses, each of which stores 1 million gallons of whiskey. That’s a lot of liquid gold! And yet, 60 percent or more of the revenue is paid back directly to Uncle Sam. Womp womp.
The secret sauce is in the spring. The distillery’s headquarters are right atop Cave Spring Hollow, from which it draws its water. Every wonder why all the best bourbon and whiskey in the world comes from Tennessee and Kentucky? You have our limestone beds to thank. Can you believe that Jasper Daniel purchased the hollow and its surrounding land for a cool $2,148 back in the mid-1800s? There’s no secret Fountain of Youth, and no sediment—just clean, pure, natural spring water.
The black you see on the outside of barrel houses and many trees is due to a fungus common among distilleries everywhere. It feeds on ethanol and isn’t harmful to humans or animals for that matter.
Lunch at Miss Mary Bobo’s Restaurant
For as long as I can remember, my family has been taking every out-of-towner who passes through to the iconic former boarding house known as Miss Mary Bobo’s. This Lynchburg institution has been feeding both locals and passersby since 1908. It’s accumulated quite the following with the commitment to down-home Southern cooking and the fact that it is backed by the Jack legacy. Miss Mary herself stood at the boarding house helm until she died the year I was born, 1983, just one month shy of turning 102. For 31 years after that, Jack’s great-grandniece Lynne Tolley took the reins until selling it in 2014.
Note: You need a reservation for Miss Bobo’s, and you’ll be asked to arrive about 15 minutes prior to seating. Once your table is called, you’re accompany your hostess to the room, where you, your companions and complete strangers will be seated around one big family table and served generous helpings of Southern cuisine, family-style. Every time I’ve been to Miss Bobo’s, the menu has been a little bit different—though there are always staples of mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, biscuits and, of course, fried okra—with the proteins rotating among such dishes as fried catfish, meatloaf and fried chicken. Since it’s a dry county, you can’t order booze, but there is a bit of Jack baked into the dessert always, and tea—both sweet and unsweet—and coffee are served with the meal.
One thing’s for certain: You won’t leave hungry! Expect to spend about an hour at lunch, so plan your tour accordingly. I suggest doing the tour/tasting and then the lunch, as you’re going to need a nap afterward. Lunch at Miss Mary Bobo’s is a set fee of $25 for adults and $9 for children with two seatings available Monday through Saturday. Be sure and tip your servers generously as they’re all students on scholarship from the local Tullahoma college, Motlow State.
Where to Stay Near Jack Daniel’s Distillery
Lynchburg itself is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it town, meaning there aren’t a whole lot of lodging options. There are, however, a few decent Airbnb rentals in the area, as well as a lovely bed and breakfast, Lane Street Inn, just 20 minutes up the road in Shelbyville.
Want more ideas for whiskey travel in Tennessee? Start here:
- How the Tennessee Whiskey Trail came to be
- West Tennessee’s lone distillery in Memphis
- The urban distilleries of the Nashville area
- The backroads of Middle Tennessee
- East Tennessee’s moonshine culture