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  • Day10

    Nashville to Chattanooga

    June 16, 2017 in the United States ⋅ ⛅ 23 °C

    The drive today was not as long as some days so we could be a little more leisurely, but the main highlight was going to be a visit to the Jack Daniel’s Distillery. Negotiating some of the complicated highway junctions out of Nashville proved particularly testing this morning, but the other drivers were patient and we were soon in heavy traffic. This eased when we turned off onto ordinary roads which became increasingly countrified, until we arrived at the tiny town called Lynchburg where whiskey has been made, off and on, since1884, although it seems that there were extensive periods when production ceased due to prohibition and WW2.

    The distillery is tiny as is the site. Visitor tours are obviously a money maker for the company and are very well organised. Our excellent young guide was clear and entertaining and proceeded to do most of the tour walking backwards while talking to us, a feat which made him audible to everyone. Bussed up to the top of the site, we first saw an eight storey barrel house where the oak barrels full of whiskey are matured for six or more years. Then we walked down past the place where they produce the charcoal which is used later to filter the whiskey, the original water source, Jack’s original office containing the safe which may (or may not depending on the historian) have been the cause of his demise, the mashing plant where the grain is fermented and a sort of beer produced, the still house where the liquid is distilled, the filtration house where the ‘moonshine’ is passed through 10 feet of charcoal and the bottling plant where much of the work is still carried out by hand. At the end were given a taste of five whiskeys, mainly single barrel and the variation was amazing and not altogether pleasant for either of us. The one I did like was $100 a bottle, so I left it on the shelf.

    Strangely, the distillery is in a ‘dry’ county so they are allowed to make the stuff but not sell it locally. As something like 250,000 visitors come to the site however, they are a huge money spinner for Tennessee so they have made an exception and certain whiskeys can be purchased in the visitors centre. It was surprising that all the Jack Daniel’s worldwide is produced here. It did not look big enough.

    The story is told that JD used to come into work late as he had two saloons to look after at night, so usually someone else opened the safe. One morning he came in early and needed something out of the safe but could not remember the combination. In his angry frustration he gave the safe a mighty kick, broke his big toe but did not seek medical assistance. His injury turned gangrenous and they had to amputate his foot. Over the next few years, they amputated more and more until he passed away in 1911 from complications. There is an obvious moral to this story and it makes a good tale for a tour, but later biographers say it is not true, although he did die from blood poisoning.

    Moving on, we headed back to the interstate but tried to keep to more normal and more interesting roads where possible. We stopped for lunch at a small sushi restaurant in the middle of nowhere (although everywhere here seems to be in the middle of nowhere). I ordered a plate of 7 pieces of sashimi which came with a bowl of rice. The fish wasn't the best but it was ok - tuna, salmon and a white fish, but imagine my surprise when I realised that there also two pieces of crab stick! I don't like it much normally but I have never seen it served as sashimi before.

    The journey went from generally quite flat to increasingly hilly and then as we approached Chattanooga it became more mountainous. The city is not large and is nestled on a bend of the wide and slow flowing Tennessee River, surrounded by tall, forested hills. We made our way straight to the Dwell Hotel and after checking in and recovering for a while, we set out to have a walk around but it was so ferociously hot, especially in direct sun, that we did about two blocks and then returned to the hotel for a drink in the nicely air conditioned bar. The hotel, only refurbished a year ago, has been decorated in an authentic 1950/60s style and many items and much furniture are original. Decoration was minimalist and very light and the whole was very effective.

    We booked dinner at the St. John’s restaurant about half a mile away and walked there as the sun was setting and heat declining a little. We had a very good upscale ‘southern’ meal but it was more sugary and salty than we are used to: icing sugar liberally sprinkled on a pork belly starter was rather a shock and a salt glaze on the bread and liberally sprinkled over the halibut was rather too much for a British palate, but there is something very enjoyable about experiencing other people’s food. We did have a very good New Zealand white though.

    Afterwards we walked back to the hotel and had a very interesting historical and political conversation with the two thoughtful young guys behind the desk, one of whom had done a journalism course and the other had studied at St. Andrews in Scotland. It was a very revealing but maybe quite a slight view of American life for young people, and these guys were well educated. We came away feeling that it was quite hard for them to make their way. For instance the guy who had studied in the UK is about to turn 26, at which point he will drop off his parents’ health insurance. Unless he pays $500/month, he will be uninsured. On his pay and with his student debts to repay, he cannot afford it on his salary of $20,000/year.
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