Straight from the Barrel

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I don’t know why my ancestors decided to settle in the Southern Appalachians, but I’m glad they did. Because of their decision to head south after getting off the boat from Italy, I get to enjoy the bounty of life in the South. Fried chicken. Pisgah’s singletrack. and of course, whiskey.

If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance that, like me, you’re within a half-day’s drive of some of the greatest distilleries on the planet–operations that are making bourbon, rye and Tennessee whiskey. It’s true that most of these distilleries distribute their whiskey all over the country and beyond, but there’s something special about going straight to the source for a taste. I recently had the chance to visit Jack Daniel’s in Lynchburg, Tennessee.

I got to tour the facility and walk through one of their barrel houses, where assistant master distiller Chris Fletcher tapped into a barrel on the seventh floor and let us take a few sips straight from the vessel. The whiskey was dark, smelled a hell of a lot like oak, and tasted good as hell. Yeah, the spirit was hot—out of the barrel, Jack Daniel’s is anywhere from 129 to 140 proof—so there was a little burn, but beyond that heat there were big notes of caramel and vanilla, along with stone fruit like cherry and even banana. And of course, the oak was all over that whiskey. Imagine your last Jack Daniel’s experience, then multiply it by 100. That’s what it’s like to taste it straight from the barrel.

While we’re closer to Jack Daniel’s distillery than most people in the country, it’s still a haul. The 2,000-acre property sits in the middle of Tennessee. Drive all the way to Nashville, turn south and keep on driving. It’s not exactly convenient. Luckily, Jack Daniel’s has taken some of the legwork out of the process of barrel tasting with their Single Barrel Barrel Proof whiskey. It’s big and oaky, with a hefty 130 (ish) proof, and as close as you can get to tasting whiskey straight from the barrel, on the seventh floor of one of their barrel houses.

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