Jack Daniel's Master Distiller Speaks
by Bob Augustin Jr.
Jimmy Bedford, Master Distiller for Jack Daniel's Distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee, was the guest speaker at the June 15 meeting of the Lawrenceburg Rotary Club. Bedford is only the sixth Master Distiller at Jack Daniel since its inception in 1866, Jack Daniel being the first. Bedford became the Master Distiller in 1988. The Master Distiller oversees the entire whiskey-making process of milling, yeasting, fermentation, distillation, and maturation.
Jack Daniel left home at a early age and was raised by a family friend Dan Call. Mr. Call was a Lutheran minister who also owned a general store and a still. When Jack was about 13 years old, Mr. Call decided, with the help of his wife, to devote his full efforts to his ministry and sold the still to Jack. Bedford explained that because the courthouse records had been destroyed by a town fire, no one knows when Jack actually when he was born and, consequently, when he first began distilling whiskey. In 1866, Jack Daniel's Distillery became the the first Registered Distillery in the United States.
Bedford then explained the of making Jack Daniel whiskey begins with the water. Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey is made with cave spring water from right there in the Hollow at Lynchburg. This water flows year-round at 800 gallons per minute at a constant temperature of 56° and is virtually iron free. It’s the reason why the Distillery was located in this spot in the first place.
Jack Daniel's whiskey is mellowed by filtering it through ten feet of sugar maple charcoal. This charcoal filtering process is why it is designated a Tennessee Sour Mash whiskey and not a bourbon. After distillation, the whiskey is clear. It is then stored in barrels for maturation. It's the hand-crafted,charred white oak barrels that give it its amber color and distinctive flavor.
Bedford said that Jack Daniel's Distillery ceased production of whiskey during Prohibition and did not start back distilling whiskey until 1938. It has been in continuous production ever since and is exported around the world.