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Column: The famous birthplace of Jack Daniel’s
by Loran Smith
Columnist
November 14, 2013 01:27 PM | 3151 views | 0 0 comments | 83 83 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Loran Smith
Loran Smith
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LYNCHBURG, Tenn. — There are some very interesting facts about this Tennessee town which got its name from a popular lynching tree back its yearling days. You get caught stealing or doing something bad wrong and the lynching tree awaited.

Davy Crockett, the frontiersman who got elected to Congress and died fighting Santa Anna at the Alamo and is buried in San Antonio, once lived a couple of miles from what is now the center of the town.

This is where Johnny Majors, Hall of Fame tailback for the University of Tennessee and later the coach of a national championship team at Pittsburgh, learned the rudiments of football from his father, Shirley, the very successful Lynchburg high school coach. Bill Dance of Bill Dance Outdoors learned to fish in nearby Mulberry Creek.

People, here and there — including those in foreign lands — are likely unfamiliar with all that, but mention Jack Daniel’s whiskey and they know about Lynchburg — even in France where an entire nation is insulted if you think there is any region on earth which can produce better wine.

There are, however, Jack Daniel’s aficionados in France, especially in the night clubs of Paris. Scotland was a wee bit upset with Prime Minister Winston Churchill when he disclosed that he enjoyed a sip of Jack Daniel’s.

You come here for a tour and you learn how the popular Tennessee whiskey is made. At the end of the tour, don’t expect a sample which you likely can experience at the bourbon distilleries in Kentucky. Lynchburg, the seat of Moore County, is dry. Baptists don’t have to worry about speaking to one another in liquor stores here. There aren’t any.    

There are 435 employees at the distillery. If you peruse the black label on the trademarked square bottle, you notice that the population of Lynchburg is 361. That hasn’t changed since the time that first label was printed and is not likely to change for an interesting reason. To change the wording on the label would require a new trademark and the distillery would forfeit trademark protection.

Tours of the distillery take place all day long, and there always seems to be a curious group eager to move about the property to learn how the world’s best selling whiskey is produced. You might wind up in the company of Mike Russell, who hosts tours with an informative presentation, linked with a little levity about how Jack Daniel’s is aged and readied for marketing.

If Mike, a genial and accommodating sort, doesn’t get around to covering every detail of how Jack Daniel’s is made — time constraints make that likely — you can go downtown to the hardware store and purchase “Jack Daniel’s Legacy,” written by Ben A. Green.

This book reflects the lore and history of Jack Daniel the man.  A smallish fellow at 5-2, Daniel became a distiller at age 13. How that came about is a study in attitudes. There was a Lutheran minister, Dan Call, who swore he would never drink a drop of whiskey but thought that making whiskey was okay.

According to Green, Call once said, “The folks around here think making whiskey is just as honest and good and right as it is to draw water from a well.”  As time went by, a segment of the populace found it incongruous that a man who filled the pulpit Sunday would make and sell whiskey the rest of the week.   

That is when the reverend let Jack Daniel, his young friend who had come to live and work for the minister at age 7, take over his distillery.

The Jack Daniel’s legacy had begun. It is interesting to learn about this legacy, highlighted by challenge and generosity. First there was the accident of place. Jack Daniel’s is made from iron-free water which flows from a cave spring near the distillery, which is part of the legend and mystique of Jack Daniel’s. Then Jack perfected the “Lincoln County process,” which calls for filtering the whiskey through charcoal created  from the abundant , locally grown sugar maples which brought about a mellowing that made Jack Daniel’s special.

This made Tennessee whiskey what it is today, but there was a lot to contend with from marketing to production to dealing with the government’s healthy take to Prohibition. Daniel made a lot of money but he gave generously to churches, charities and friends in need.

He had a habit of being the first to show up for work, too. One morning, he tried to open the safe in his office but couldn’t remember the combination. In desperation he kicked the safe and broke his toe. That led to infection, amputation and a battle with gangrene, which resulted in loss of a leg and finally his life.

Said Mike Russell, “The moral of the story is that you should not come to work early.  It could kill you.”

Loran Smith is an administrative specialist for the University of Georgia sports communication department. You can reach him at loransmithathens@bellsouth.net.
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