Tennessee is where I grew up. Memphis, to be exact. It’s where my father was born and his father before him. Memphis is far from the heart of Tennessee whiskey country and, for that matter, moonshine country, too. But my grandfather was indeed a Jack Daniel’s man. He joined Jack Daniel’s early take on a super fan club, the Tennessee Squires, back in the 1960’s, which bestowed upon him a small plot of land in “The Hollow, Lynchburg” and honorary citizenship in Moore County, where Jack Daniels Distillery is situated. The language on the Deed he received is as flowery as charcoal is black, and surely, at that time, membership among the Tennessee Squires was seen as quite a big deal in Tennessee.
My grandfather grew up in the Depression, made a good living for himself and for his family as he got older, but always held on to a Depression-era mindset of spending money very carefully. In his seventies, one of his prized possessions was a bottle of Gentleman Jack. I don’t think I ever actually saw him drink it, it was simply too precious. But it was there, in the liquor cabinet, as a sign of allegiance to Tennessee.
Alas, the love of Jack Daniels was not passed down from generation to generation. My father fell for wine and hardly ever even touched whiskey, though I’ve recently introduced him to Pappy Van Winkle, and I am hopeful to knock some sense into him. As for me, I’ve never been a Jack Daniel’s man, but a love of bourbon and an eagerness to try whisk(e)y of all shapes and stripes has brought me back to Tennessee. And I’ve even been impressed by a few bottles of Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Tennessee whiskey, which, to my surprise, competes well with many a fine bourbon as a premium sipping whiskey.
I recently spent two days driving the rolling hills of central Tennessee, visiting five of the state’s six operating distilleries (the sixth is in Gatlinburg – Ole Smoky Moonshine – which I’ve visited previously). The differences between Jack Daniel’s, the oldest registered distillery in these United States, and Collier & McKeel, one of the newest, is tremendous, but they both adhere to a noble view of what makes a whiskey a Tennessee whiskey. Between those two, George Dickel, Prichard’s, and Corsair Artisan are just as distinct, each forging a unique path in whiskey and other spirits, each making Tennessee their home and part of their story. Stay tuned for a recap and photo tour of my visits to these fine Tennessee distilleries.
(Update: and here it is – check out all the stops on our Tennessee whiskey tour.)