MO TASTED: Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey (and the Jack Daniel's Klock Werks First Responders Limited Edition Scout Bobber)
Distilling whiskey and putting out fires go together more than you might suspect
Some days are better than others. When Indian invited us to come see their new Klock Werks Jack Daniel’s First Responders Limited Edition Scout Bobber at the JD Distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee, they did not have to ask twice.
Dave Stang just retired after 32 years as Jack Daniel’s brand ambassador, which was not quite his official title but fits, and he keeps coming to work anyway. “When I was a kid working in a meatpacking plant, there was a guy who rode an Indian to work every day, and I was excited when Indian came back. We’ve been riding motorcycles and going to Sturgis for years.”
A few years ago Dave met Brian Klock of Klock Werks fame, another guy from a small town with a strong work ethic, and the two bonded. Sitting in a golf cart somewhere, they shook hands on a deal for Brian to build 150 bikes for Jack Daniel’s 150th anniversary. That was 2016, and all 150 JD Indian Chief Vintage models sold out in eight hours. Well not quite: #1 was auctioned off for $150 gees, with all proceeds going to Operation Ride Home. Last year Brian and JD collaborated on a Limited Edition Chieftain, and all 100 of those sold out in eight minutes, they tell us.
For 2018, then, they’re building 177 of these Indian Scouts. Bike #001 is being donated to a sweepstakes that’s only open to firefighters and EMS first responders, who can enter to win at a variety of events this year, including Daytona Bike Week (March 9-18), the Fire Department Instructor’s Conference (April 23-28), the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally (Aug. 3-12), and Red Knights Motorcycle Club International Convention (Aug. 16-19). The winner will be announced in October, following the Firehouse Expo.
That Brian Klock guy knows what he’s doing up there in Mitchell, South Dakota. These are very nicely done, understated Scout Bobbers with subtle jewel details that gradually emerge alongside the Jack Daniel’s Fire Brigade motifs.
Two-tone matte black paint makes the real 24-karat gold graphics on the tank and fenders pop. The 24-karat gold carries through to the Fire Brigade emblem on the tank and the “Bottles and Throttles Don’t Mix” emblem on the front fender.
Other custom details include a perforated leather seat with JD embroidery and custom grips, pegs, and shift levers inspired by JD’s Old No. 7 brand, its best seller. Fender struts, hand control levers, valve covers, and exhaust tips get premium gloss black finishes to show off the gold Indian Scout badging.
The chopped fenders, bar-end mirrors, vented exhaust shields, knobby tires and headlight nacelle were already in place. If you need one of these 177 units, you’ll have to act fast, and you’ll need $16,999 – which is a lot less than the two previous JD bikes. If you’re on the fence, note that each one will come with a fireman’s axe engraved with the owner’s name, motorcycle number (#001 thru #177), and VIN. Delivery of bikes should start in August.
Right, enough about the bike, let’s drink whiskey – a thing we of course do ONLY after the vehicles, firearms, women and children are put away for the evening. Or afternoon, in this case. The fire department connection is not an attempt at patronization, in fact it’s perfectly natural here. Lynchburg is the only place in the world where Jack Daniel’s is made, and they’ve got 89 warehouses scattered around them thar hills with an average 20,000 barrels in each one – enough whiskey that if JD had to pay all the $13.50 federal excise tax on every gallon at once, the bill would be $1.7 billion. Will you take a check?
That whiskey is in wooden barrels (which is what makes it whiskey), and a little bit of highly flammable alcohol is always in the air wherever 20,000 of them are stacked up. It only takes one spark to start a truly impressive conflagration, with barrels cooking off like shells in an ammo dump. Alcohol burns invisibly, too, and water won’t put it out – so firefighters require special training and equipment. Have a look at the 1996 Heaven Hill fire in Kentucky, where 90,000 barrels of bourbon went up in flames. In that one, whiskey barrels reportedly rocketed across the sky like shooting stars, and a two-mile long stretch of the creek that supplied water to the distillery was set ablaze.
Brian’s had some remarkable achievements with motorcycles, including building land speed record ones, but his JD association is what he says he’s proudest of: “My peers are jealous.” He actually got a little choked up when the Chief presented him with a picture of his Bobber with the whole department lined up behind it.
Jack Daniel moved his operation here in 1881 for the water that flows out of Cave Springs, on its way here to the distillery. The whole area is shot through with limestone caverns that filter all the iron out of the water but leave the good minerals in. That’s Jack’s original office.
JD never married, but owned two saloons, lived with a sister (he had nine siblings) and was reportedly quite the ladies man. He died in 1911 from a lingering toe infection that resulted from kicking the office safe he couldn’t open one morning because the guy with the combination had not yet arrived at work. The moral of the story is, never go to work early.
Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7’s grain bill calls for 80% corn, 12% barley and 8% rye. Fill huge vat with cold cave spring water, add proprietary yeast cultured in house and let ’er eat… it’s the yeast eating up the grain that produces alcohol.
… six days later we’ve got liquor. Chris Fletcher is assistant master distiller. He grew up three or four hills over, went away to earn a degree in chemistry, and came back to follow in the footsteps of his granddad, JD master distiller from 1966 to ’89.
But we haven’t got whiskey yet. It’s aging in new oak barrels that makes it whiskey. JD buys white oak trees to make its own; a good cooper can knock out 200 barrels a day. How that barrel is toasted, then fired to draw out its sugars is a JD proprietary secret. The oak barrel is the only added “flavor,” and gives the whiskey its brown color as well.
If you make that alcohol from at least 51% corn and don’t add anything else to it, you can call it bourbon. But don’t call Jack Daniel’s that; the fact that it’s filtered through charcoal before it goes into the barrel disqualifies it. JD is what you call Tennessee whiskey. Measuring instruments can’t detect any difference between the liquor before and after charcoal filtering, but you can smell and taste a difference. Mostly it removes the aroma of corn.
The things I do for MO at great personal risk… Master Distiller Jeff Arnett (left) started out at the Pringle’s potato chip plant in his hometown of Jackson, TN, before going on to be a coffee bean connoisseur for Folger’s in New Orleans. Somewhere along the way he developed an acute sense of flavor or possibly just a remarkable tolerance for alcohol. Maybe both. He’s also a serious gearhead, but more cars than motorcycles. He’s only the sixth man since Jack Daniel to hold the title master distiller.
Storing the barrels in different warehouses and different parts of the warehouse varies the flavor, but they keep the end product consistent by blending barrels together before bottling. Unless we’re talking JD Single Barrel Select, no two of which are exactly alike. Storing barrels high up subjects them to more heat and dryness, and creates more “angels’ share”– the amount that evaporates from the barrel. That means more concentrated flavor and higher proof. Your JD Green Label is a lighter, less mellow whiskey from barrels on the lower floors and more toward the center of the warehouse, where the whiskey matures more slowly.
To be perfectly honest I was never a big fan of No. 7, but this was my first sample of Gentleman Jack. That’s because it costs more, somebody said. Exactly. Gentleman Jack gets run through the charcoal again after it’s barrel aged. Damn, that is smoooooth…
JD was a relatively small operation until Frank Sinatra started calling it “nectar of the Gods” on stage and TV in the ’50s. After that, the distillery had to step up production to meet demand. About 60% of what they make now is exported around the world.
That’s about the last I remember, except that like two-thirds of the 800 employees had or still have relatives who work at the distillery, and everybody gets a free bottle of No. 7 the first Friday of every month – good Friday they call it.
Dave Stang may be retired but he never rests. He just parked eight new Airstream trailers on the property for bartenders in training to stay in, and he’s always thinking of new ways to promote the brand. JD’s distillery is already a motorcycle destination, but not as big of one as it ought to be, really, when you realize that Jack Daniel’s around the world is right up there with such bastions of Americana as Harley-Davidson and Coca-Cola (and Indian is catching back up). Anyway, Lynchburg’s only an hour south of Nashville, where there’s a big airport and plenty to do especially if you like barbecue and music – and there’s an Eagle Rider there too that will rent you a Harley, Indian, Victory, Gold Wing or Africa Twin according to the website.
Just remember, bottles and throttles don’t mix! But an Africa Twin parked up next to one of Dave’s Airstreams after a day of dirt-road exploring, and a bottle of Gentleman Jack, really wouldn’t be a bad way to go at all.
More by John Burns