You are on page 1of 4

Lacey McKee

CHEM 1010
Prof. Okleberry
Extra Credit Paper
In the summer of 2011 while I was working in Memphis Tennessee, I visited the Lynchberg,
Tennessee and took a tour of the Jack Daniels distillery. I was amazed at the extensive and unique
processes that the distillery used to get a one-of-a-kind product with a seamless taste. This paper is
about some of the chemical processes and interesting facts of what makes Jack Daniels Tennessee
whiskey one of the best whiskeys in the world.
Jack Daniels whiskey was initially a 90 proof drink, but in 2002 it was changed to an 80 proof
because consumers seemed to prefer that taste more. The mash for JD consists of corn, rye, and malted
barley. It is distilled in copper stills and filtered or mellowed through 10 ft stacks of sugar maple
charcoal. This charcoal is made on site from sugar maple timber that is primed with 140 proof JD, then
ignited under massive hoods to help prevent sparks. After charred it is sprayed with water to prevent
complete combustion.
Once the charcoal is ready, it is then grinded into pellets, and packed into 10 ft. vats used to
filter impurities from the 140 proof whiskey. It is then reduced to 125 proof for aging. It is this process,
known as the Lincoln County Process that makes it controversial as a whiskey. To be considered straight
whiskey, flavoring and coloring cannot be added after the grain has been fermented.
The limestone that is used to make the whiskey comes from the tucked away springs that flow
in the caves in Lynchberg, Tennessee. The distillery takes the water from the spring that flows at the
base of a limestone cliff. The limestone spring water removes Iron from the water making it the perfect
water for the Jack Daniels mash, since water that is heavy in Iron gives whiskey a bad taste.
The next step after the Lincoln County Process is to let the whiskey age in unique Oak barrels.
These Oak barrels are American oak grown only in the dry lands of Tennessee. The Jack Daniels distillery
hand picks the wood and makes these barrels on site specially for coopering the Whiskey. The Oak is
used for its unique chemical and physical properties. Chemically, this Oak wood is pure wood compared
to other tree species like pine and rubber trees with resin canals that have a strong flavor. When using
the Oak for spirits in barrel maturation, they must first be seasoned or heat treated.
The Oak wood barrels have a few very special chemical properties that make these barrels ideal
for the Jack Daniels whiskey. They are made of cellulose, hemicellulose, lignin, Oak tannins, as well as a
char layer. Each of these ingredients reacts differently and contributes to the flavor, color, and texture
of this smooth Tennessee whiskey. (R.R. Tatlock and Thomson, Glasgow, 1996)
First there is the cellulose. The cellulose plays no role other than to hold the wood together. It
plays no role in whiskey maturation although it does play a role in the maturation of wine. Next there is
the Hemicellulose, a 2-D polymer consisting of several simple sugars. It can be broken down into these
different simple sugars. Hemicellulose is less abundant and stable than cellulose when it is heated. At
140 degrees celcius, the breakdown begins and the simple sugars rapidly break down into carmelization
products. This aspect of toasting the charred wood is important in developing the rich, toasty flavors.
Toasting also yields furfural, hydroxymethyl furfural, maltol, cycloten, and other sugar condensation
products that give the brown caramel color.
Next is the Lignin. The Lignin consists of two structures called Guaiacyl and Syringyl, composed
of OH, OCH3, and CH3O. In matured drinks these structures bring about Vanillin, Navillic acid,
coniferaldehyde, sinapaldehyde, syringaldehyde, and syringic acid. Vanillin is the most prominent. When
extra heat is applied, it breaks down into steam volatile phenols which contribute to the smoky aroma
and flavors.
The most mysterious of the wood contributions is that of the Oak tannins. They are also the
most complex of the wood chemistry. They are hydrolysable and can be broken down into simpler parts
in water and acidity. Tannins are formed in the tree for the purpose of food storage and are called
ellagitannins. They are astringent and bitter compounds and unattractive to predators. The seasoning
and charring of the Oak breaks down tannins to render them more acceptable, but they are still
essential for the oxidation and creation of the delicate fragrance.
In this oxidation process, the wood tannins react with the Oxygen in the presence of a transition
metal such as iron, copper, or manganese, to release Oxygen represented by Hydrogen Peroxide. The
activated Oxygen oxidizes alcohol to acetaldehyde. Next, more alcohol combines with acetaldehyde and
creates a new compound in the drink, called Acetal. This gives it the strong, ethereal feel, creating the
delicate top note of JD whiskey. If not for this step, the whiskey would be dull and flat.
In bourbon, Oak lactones can reach 10 parts per million which is high compared to other drinks.
Oak strongly contributes to the unique, woody flavors found in Jack Daniels whiskey. The cis isomer is
the highest in the American White Oak found in TN compared to other oaks. The cis isomer makes the
flavor more intense than the trans and influences beverages coopered in American Oak. These are only
a simple overview of the complex parts of what makes Jack Daniels Tennessee whiskey so unique and
what attracts tourists to the distillery year round.

Works Cited