Aug 16, 2016

Booze before barbecue in Lynchburg, Tenn.

What’s the most fitting way for a newly married commoner and his wife to celebrate their honeymoon?  A classic road trip, of course, which is exactly what Punky and I did over the course of 10 days last March.  And perhaps the best part of any road trip is unplanned.  So, with time to spare between stops in Nashville, Tenn., and Montgomery, Ala., we decided to pay a visit to our good friend Jack Daniel in Lynchburg.

Even the most casual drinker is likely familiar with Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 Black Label Tennessee Whiskey -- Jack for short.  And Lynchburg, in the ironically “dry” Moore County deep in the hills and hollows of south central Tennessee, is Jack Daniel’s home.  Still, the county’s largest employer is beloved by its residents and helps keep a steady tourist economy coming through the area.

In fact, the welcome center was already bustling with activity when we arrived before 10 a.m.  

Apparently, quite a few people appreciate morning whiskey!

Punky and I were very impressed with how immaculate the entire welcoming area was, as well as how large of a tourist attraction Jack Daniel’s has become over the years.  We saw dozens of states’ license plates in the lot and heard almost as many languages from visitors milling about.

We felt quite fortunate to get tickets to a tour that morning, particularly one that ended with a visit to the tasting room.  

Feeling mellow with Jack Daniel's ... it was too easy; I had to say it.
And while we waited for our tour to start, there were plenty of exhibits in the welcome center to check out.

The tour itself was very rewarding and informative, as our guide took us through the evolution of the distilling and aging process.  Our guide’s personal fondness for her employer (and the product), as well as her charming personality, made the experience even more enjoyable.  Along the way, we visited the Rickyard, where pallets of maple wood are burned to make the charcoal that is integral to the Jack Daniel’s distilling process which helps flavor the whiskey.  

We also passed by the cave spring that provides the distillery its water source, the grain prep and storage units, the fermentation area and the massive stills where all the ingredients come together, and the charcoal mellowing room, where I got to open the lid of one vat to give everyone on the tour a sniff as the whiskey worked its way drop by drop through the charcoal (yes, I had the tour guide’s permission).  It should be noted that much of this portion of the tour was off-limits to photography -- apparently flashes and flammable ingredients don’t mix … which may also be a good excuse to preserve a few trade secrets.

We also passed by several historic buildings on the grounds, including the property’s own fire station and Jack Daniel’s original office.  

Our tour guide couldn't wait to share some samples!
At the end of the tour, we finally got to sample the finished product.  They can only give away a couple of ounces per visitor, so they have to spread it out over five varieties of whiskey.  Still, nobody seemed to mind.  

Following our tour, Punky and I decided to follow the creek-side path from the visitor’s center into town.  Our walking tour and slivers of whiskey had apparently whet our appetites for something more.  The downtown area, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, was bustling with foot traffic, and it seemed to have several shops with cool collectibles and curiosities, but our nose led us further downhill to the Barrel House BBQ.

With a Sun Drop vending machine and a hillbilly dummy on the porch, how could we go wrong?  

We found bench seating outside, and a waitress was quick to take our order and supply us with sweet teas.  

As far as options go, Barrel House is your standard barbecue joint, serving up your typical sandwiches and plates with the usual sides of slaw, beans, potato salad and the like.  There is one exception, though -- the grilled cheese on crack.  

Guess who had to try it as a combo plate?  From personal experience, I could see how this combination of pulled pork, melted cheese and habanero sauce in between two slices of toast can become pretty addictive.  The beans and slaw were pretty darn good, too.  And if you need more sauce, Barrel House’s tends to be on the spicy side and compares favorably to many other Tennessee-style barbecue joints.   

All in all, we had an excellent detour through Lynchburg.  We left with a newfound appreciation of Jack Daniel’s Whiskey and enjoyed a decent barbecue lunch, too.  Of course, we couldn’t leave without visiting the Jack Daniel’s bottling room to purchase something special.  Our bottle featured the rye label.  Fortunately, although you’re only allowed to purchase the bottle in a dry county, the good folks at Jack Daniel’s are nice enough to let you have the whiskey inside it for free.  

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