Jack Daniel's Woods, Water & Whiskey: One Prize-Winning Whiskey Is Re-Greening Its Methods and Its State

By Lantz, Gary | American Forests, Autumn 2010 | Go to article overview

Jack Daniel's Woods, Water & Whiskey: One Prize-Winning Whiskey Is Re-Greening Its Methods and Its State


Lantz, Gary, American Forests


The Jack Daniel Tennessee Whiskey distillery in tiny Lynchburg, Tennessee--population "whoever happens to be on Main Street"--is modern in an old-fashioned way. And it's as green as the hills that surround it. The method of making Old Number Seven "sippin' whiskey" is much the same today as it was when founder Jack Daniel first drew water from nearby Cave Spring. Today, Jack Daniel's draws the same quality water from the same spring, uses traditional methods to filter and age its product, and works fiercely to protect the woods, water, and way of life that have combined to make Jack Daniel's a legend around the world. That's something the folks around Lynchburg are proud of, according to master distiller Jeff Arnett. The Tennessee native points out that the firm chose an ambitious environmental path more than 30 years ago, and hasn't deviated since.

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The Cave Spring water source that serves as the foundation for Jack Daniel's whiskey dates back to 1866. That's when the young and ambitious Jack Daniel, a runaway who learned whiskey-making from a local minister, bought the spring to provide iron-free but mineral-rich water for a recipe that would become among the most sought out spirits in the South.

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Cave Spring still flows much as it did back when the water's purity first inspired young Mr. Daniel. Years ago, the Jack Daniel's firm took steps to keep the water pure by purchasing hundreds of acres in the recharge area surrounding the spring. Today these wooded acres remain as natural as they were when Jack Daniel first knelt to sip from the spring, and the firm keeps the recharge area wild to ensure quality infiltration.

Distillery discharge receives the same green care that goes into protecting the spring. Lynchburg is a tiny town in Tennessee's smallest county, and addressing stream quality means protecting the same place your kids go to play.

"My home is two miles downstream from the distillery," Arnett says. "So if we pollute here in town, then I'll have to live with the consequences." Arnett adds that Jack Daniel's has equipped the distillery with state-of-the-art water treatment systems and quality stormwater runoff protection measures.

"We want to insure that our community can count on excellent wellwater and drinking water quality," Arnett says. "After all, most of us are the community, and we know that our children deserve a safe, clean environment."

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A key part of the Jack Daniel's distilling process depends on wood. Sugar maple is turned into charcoal for filtering, while prime white oak provides barrels for aging.

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"Our sugar maple comes from within a one-hour radius of the distillery." Arnett points out. The white oak may come from Tennessee, forests in the Ozarks, Appalachia, or even from as far away as Minnesota. Then the timber is quarter-sawn and assembled at a cooperage plant in Louisville, Kentucky.

"We may use as many as 400,000 white oak barrels annually," Arnett says. The interiors are "toasted and charred" to bring out the wood's natural sugars, which in turn color and flavor the whiskey.

The barrels can't be reused for aging Jack Daniel's, but this doesn't mean they can't be recycled. The sugar maple charcoal goes into Jack Daniel's smoking pellets for backyard barbeques. The white oak barrels take on an afterlife as aging kegs for Scotch and Canadian whiskey, and certain brands of tequila, where they are routinely used over and over.

"The good grain in our quarter-sawn white oak means a better fit in our barrels, thus less leakage," says Arnett. "Many of the barrels are reused to make furniture, bars, and tables. Also, Tabasco sauce is fermented in white oak barrels, and many of ours go to serve in that capacity."

It takes fuel to heat the water for the distilling process, and while Jack Daniel's could get along with a coal-powered unit, the company would rather not. …

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