For decades, I have been fascinated by winemaking, brewing, and distilling. The whole complex art and science of taking raw ingredients, and turning them (through both time-worn and innovative processes) into beverages with an amazing array of taste profiles is a source of wonder to me.
(Did you know I once worked as a wine steward in a fancy restaurant in Nashville? Little-known factoid.)
That fascination is one reason why I was excited to go on a tour of the Jack Daniel distillery last week during a visit to Tennessee.
I have read extensively about the process of creating whiskey (known, depending on where/how it is made, as bourbon, or scotch, or whiskey), and it was a real treat to witness how a huge manufacturer carries out the process, maintaining both high standards of technology and old traditional methods.
But part of what really struck me was the well-thought-out branding woven into the entire Jack Daniel experience. They make great use of story and tradition. And especially, the iconic founder-story of Mr. Jack Daniel.
Jack stood at an imposing 5’3″, though you might never know that from his statuesque presence on the grounds. The story of his acquisition of the land (including its famous limestone-filtered spring), his exacting methods, and his promotional approach are the heartbeat of the message when you take the tour.
There’s something powerful about the iconic-founder story. Think Steven Jobs with his design perfectionism. Or George Merck with his patient-first philosophy. These larger-than-life figures can drive a company for generations, through the power of story. Especially when the founder preaches and implements some sort of above-the-norm idealism, some remarkable founding principle(s).
The tour experience was exceptional because you could see, in action, the old traditional methods in active use, melded with more modern approaches to keep up with the demand. It’s one thing to read about charcoal filtering of the raw distilled product. It’s quite another to actually watch the sugar maple rickets burned exactly right; to see the ancient barn where it is ground into the right-sized pellets; and to view the huge vats filled with 10 feet of charcoal through which every drop of Jack Daniel’s is drip-filtered. It’s a fascinating operation.
And all throughout the tour, the story. How they recovered from Prohibition. The various owners and their impact. The influence of the distillery on the surrounding Lynchburg community. And, always, the adherence to tradition. The end product is still the same as it has been for decades.
Because that’s how Jack Daniel would have wanted it.
Related blog post: Tap Into the Power of Your Story
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