The Secret Ingredient In Jack Daniel’s That Might Surprise You!
If Westerns are to be believed, the first American settlers in the Wild West drank more whiskey than water. In fact, it’s so important to American culture that in 1794, Americans literally rebelled against a founding father, President George Washington, over whiskey, according to History. Basically, there is no liquor more American than whiskey. And while America makes a lot of whiskeys, Jack Daniel’s is probably the most famous.
In case you were in any doubt about the popularity of Jack Daniel’s, it reportedly sold 13.3 million, 9-liter cases of its whiskey in 2018, which is pretty incredible. And rumor has it that the great Frank Sinatra wouldn’t let a concert go by without toasting with a glass of Jack. The only logical conclusion is that you can’t beat the taste of Jack Daniel’s. Apparently the product’s distinctive taste is all down to how it’s distilled in the so-called “Lincoln County Process.” According to Discover, the process dates back hundreds of years and relies on a special secret ingredient, and that’s charcoal. Along with charcoal, the distinctive taste of Jack Daniel’s relies on knowledge passed down from an enslaved African American man known as Uncle Nearest Green, whose real name was Nathan. After researching Nearest, author Fawn Weaver launched a whiskey in his honor.
Historians now believe that slaves brought over a version of Jack Daniel’s distilling technique from West Africa, where it’s not uncommon to cook foods and filter drinks over charcoal. Nearest Green, who undoubtedly inherited these techniques from his ancestors, reportedly worked as Jack Daniel’s first distiller, a tradition which was carried on by his children and grandchildren. The Greens would teach Jack Daniel that filtering whiskey through charred sugar maple dramatically changes its taste. Meanwhile, filtering freshly distilled, unaged whiskey over charcoal mellows the liquor’s taste by reducing the strength of some of these by up to 50 percent.
The technique is not as novel as it sounds. As it turns out, charcoal is also commonly used to remove impurities and polish the flavor of vodka. But while Jack Daniel’s uses maple, vodka distillers prefer silver and birch, according to Spirits Distilled. Tequila has also jumped on the charcoal-filtering bandwagon. But as charcoal filtering is not unique to the Jack Daniel’s brand, there must be other secrets behind its exquisite taste profile.
First, it’s important to understand there are certain standards a distiller must uphold in order for a bottle of the liquor to achieve the rich, smooth, woody tastes associated with Tennessee whiskey. For one, it must be distilled from at least 51 percent corn. Secondly, it must be filtered through maple charcoal. And third, it must be aged in new charred oak barrels and bottled at over 80 proof, according to Time. Jack Daniel’s, of course, isn’t just any-old Tennessee whiskey. That’s thanks to what may be a third, secret ingredient, and that’s the water that’s used in production.
According to Jack Daniel’s, they use fresh, limestone spring water from Cave Spring Hollow, Lynchburg, Tennessee in their distilling process. The iron-free water runs year-round at about 56 degrees Fahrenheit, per New Food Magazine. And it’s not just dumb luck that Jack Daniel’s is located next to Cave Spring Hollow. Instead, Jack Daniel founded his distillery based upon the location of the spring alone. And when you know a little bit more about the distilling process, you can truly appreciate the importance of water. As Artisan Spirit Magazine explains, clean water with low alkaline levels is vital to healthy fermentation. Because yeast loves minerals, the water’s mineral content also aids the fermentation process.
As far as we know, Jack Daniel’s hasn’t played around with using different kinds of water in its distillation process. But in 2015, a group of gin distillers did. According to Wired, the group of distillers made the same gin six times. The only difference was that, each time, the distillers used six different kinds of water, from French mineral spring water to tap water. As expected, tasters noticed the differences immediately. The experiment was not scientifically reviewed, but its results were nonetheless compelling, and proved that water really matters when you’re striving to make high quality liquor.
So, is Cave Spring Hollow Jack Daniel’s big secret? We don’t know what exactly makes the taste of Jack Daniel’s so distinctive. However, we do know that it is something very special.