Jack Daniel's Tennessee whiskey is a staple of American liquor, and it has been around since 1866. The whiskey is distilled and aged in the hills of Lynchburg, Tennessee, but the barrels the liquor rests in have a story of their own.
Brown-Forman, the parent company of Jack Daniel's, owns and operates its own cooperage facilities. The first is the Brown-Forman cooperage in Louisville, Kentucky, and the second is in Trinity, Alabama.
"The art of coopering is actually making a barrel by hand," said Shane Tapscott, operations manager for the Trinity cooperage.
The Jack Daniel Cooperage in Trinity, Alabama is a relatively new addition to the production line. The facility started production in 2014 and employs around 120 people, all committed to the skilled trade of coopering American White Oak barrels exclusively for Jack Daniel's whiskey.
"The art of coopering is actually making a barrel by hand, or repairing a barrel. When we repair a barrel, if there's a defect in the barrel that has to be removed or can be repaired, we're, in fact, 'coopering' a barrel."
Tapscott said there is a great deal of science and automation that goes into the production line of the facility, but the bulk of the operation is very hands-on and labor intensive, which requires training. The cooperage is upwards of 170,000 square feet and houses an estimated $25 million worth of wood.
Tapscott said no two barrels are alike. This comes from the fact that no two trees are truly alike, either.
Jack Daniel's uses one type of wood for all of its barrels: American White Oak, or Quercus alba. The majority of the wood is found in the Ozark and Appalachian mountains, and it ends up in different wood mills managed by Brown-Forman specifically for use in Jack Daniel's barrels.
Each barrel consists of roughly 32 wooden staves, or boards, all rung together to create a single barrel.
Once the barrel takes shape, it goes through a proprietary toasting and charring process that breaks down the natural aldehydes within the wood.
"One thing I can tell you is that we don't simply place our whiskey into these barrels; it's entrusted to them."
Tapscott told Circa that 100 percent of the rich, amber color of Jack Daniel's whiskey and 60 percent of the flavor comes from the aging process within the barrel.
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