TRINITY, Ala. - It's only about 80 miles from Trinity, Alabama to Lynchburg, Tennessee. That short trip is one of the biggest steps in the journey to making one of the world's best-known products.
The view from Sky19 flying over the Jack Daniel Cooperage in Trinity gives you a unique view of rows of neatly stacked pallets of wood, a lot of it from the stave mill in Stevenson. The white oak really comes to life inside the plant.
Brown Forman is the only whiskey distiller left that makes its own barrels, about 285,000 a year. And a third of them are made in Lawrence County. You can tell by the letter J stamped on rivets used to hold the metal bands together that wrap around the barrels. Cooperage employee Rosa Melendez smiles and says, “It’s something to be proud of.”
The plant floor is a symphony of sounds, carefully choreographed by workers who consider each other family. “And you really see that throughout the whole plant from the office all the way to the floor,” another worker Rachel Howard told me.
The team is focused on building a quality product. “The barrels that go to Jack that don`t leak, there`s a lot of pride in that,” Seth Jones told me. “And everyone along the way had a major role in ensuring that’s the case.”
Working at the cooperage is more than just a paycheck. “I think for me, it’s just the history of Jack Daniel” Jones said. “It’s well known worldwide, being part of something I’ve never done before.”
Along the way, each worker leaves their mark on the barrels. Another employee, Byron Copeland smiled and said, “We make what we like to call the number one ingredient.”
They make about 900 barrels a day. 100 percent of the whiskey’s color comes from the charring process which only lasts for about 10 seconds. It also delivers about 40 to 60 percent of the taste. “It does help with the flavor of the whiskey and a part of that is as we go through maturation,” Safety and Security manager Kent Clouse told me. “It’s moving in and out of that wood.”
After watching Taylor Howard raise a barrel, they let me give it a shot. “We just want it snug,” Taylor told me. It took me a few minutes because there’s a rhythm that you get into. I looked at Taylor and told him, “I’m going to be the only guy hired and fired in the same hour.” We laughed. I raised my first and last whiskey barrel.
So the next time you see a Jack Daniel whiskey barrel in a story, check out the rivets. If you see that “J” stamped on a rivet, you’ll know it was made in Alabama.