I learned to really appreciate whiskey about ten years ago when I did my first tour of the Jack Daniel's Distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee. Before then, I could drink whiskey as a shot or in a mixed drink, but didn’t really appreciate it as a sipping drink. After that tour, though, once I saw how it was made and what went into it, I could pick up a glass of Jack and smell the wood burning in the charcoal production area and the clean, new barrels. It would transport me back to that chilly fall day, just before Thanksgiving, and then I could sip on it all day with a smile on my face.
While my tastes have grown and changed and evolved over the last ten years, there is just something about the smell of Jack Daniel's which has cast its spell over me. Like a first love or a first car I guess, just something that is (hopefully) always remembered with fondness. I’ve been back to the Jack Daniel's distillery half a dozen times or more since then and I've always enjoyed the tour. Because most of these more recent visits have been while I was guiding, and on tours where the visit was included, I have usually just breezed through Tullahoma on the way to or from Lynchburg. I always knew that the George Dickel Distillery was in Tullahoma, but never had the chance to stop and see it. I finally got there this week, and really enjoyed my tour there as well. I figured I would write this post comparing and contrasting the two tours for you. If you have the time to do both, they are both well worth the effort, but if you had to choose just one, here are a few factors to consider.
This obviously depends on where you are coming from. Assuming you are cruising down Interstate 24, Dickel is only about 20 minutes off the highway, whereas Jack Daniel's is closer to 40. Those are one-way distances, so double it for the return trip. This would definitely make Dickel a little more convenient as a quick diversion from the highway. If, on the other hand, you were coming from Interstate 65, it's about 45 minutes to Lynchburg and just over an hour to the Dickel distillery, making Jack Daniel's a little closer.
Dickel limits its tours to 16 people whereas the Jack Daniels tours can be double that. The tour at Jack Daniels starts with a short film, and then you load onto a bus from the visitor center up to the distillery. There you get to see the charcoal process, the stream where they get their water, some wonderful historic buildings, the distillery itself, the barrel house and the bottling facility. The Dickel tour is all very personalized, and everything you hear comes from the guide. You can walk from the visitor center across the street to the distillery and back. The tour takes in the distillery and barrel house. The Dickel Tour costs $12 and includes 4 whiskey tastes. Jack Daniels offers several different tours, but the two most basic are the Dry County Tour, which is $15 with no tasting, or the Flight of Jack Daniel’s Tour which is $20 and includes 5 different tastes. The Dickel tour lasts about an hour, and the Jack tours are about an hour and fifteen minutes and an hour and a half respectively. You can reserve both online so you don’t wait in line too long when you arrive. My guide at Dickel was great and I have never had a bad guide at Jack Daniels. The guides are passionate about the products they produce and most come from the local area. In comparing the two, let me start with Dickel. I really liked the smaller and more intimate nature of the tour and I preferred walking instead of riding the bus. At Jack Daniels, I like being able to see the whole process and I feel like you see more of it here than at Dickel. Undoubtedly, Jack Daniel's sees more visitors during the year too, which has allowed them to streamline the tour a little differently and put more money into the process. Dickel turns out about 900 barrels of whiskey a week, while Jack Daniels turns out 30,000 a day. I think this difference is what makes the difference in the tour. Dickel is just a smaller overall operation and comes off as such, whereas Jack Daniel's is a massive operation which has learned how to process a lot of people through in a short period of time. If you like things small and intimate, head on into Cascade Hollow where they make George Dickel, and if you like things big and eye-popping, turn your headlights towards Lynchburg and enjoy the ride.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, Jack Daniels is the reason I started drinking whiskey. It holds a special place in my heart and always will. I love the flavor of Jack Daniels, and I love the fact that the smell always brings me back to Lynchburg. On the other hand, I think Dickel is a little bit smoother, its rough edges mellowed down a little bit. Both are excellent Tennessee sipping whiskeys, and that is what you should do with them: sip them. I take mine neat.
These distilleries aren’t that far apart, so the surroundings are pretty similar. Downtown Lynchburg is unbelievably cute, but is primarily a tourist town. The shops there are more for the one-time visitor picking up souvenirs and some lunch. There are a handful of small hotels and B&Bs in the area. Tullahoma, on the other hand, is a real town where people live and work in other industries. The small downtown area is also cute, but a little more functional than Lynchburg. London’s and Daddy Billy’s are both great watering holes, stocked up on both George and Jack if you’d like to do the side-by-side comparison. There are plenty of hotels and other amenities in town as well.
Jack and George are undoubtedly the two big names in Tennessee Sipping Whisky, and they are made just 25 minutes or so apart. They are both made using a similar process (as is mandated by the state), and both make a good, solid whiskey. If you are a little shorter on time, I think Dickel is a fine place to visit, and you won’t be disappointed. If you have a whole afternoon, though, head on out to Lynchburg and sit a spell. Both towns will be glad to have you, and you’ll definitely be treated to some true Tennessee hospitality. Cheers!