The whiskey candy man


I don't know how I made it through the last year without a road trip.

A few weeks ago, Zac and I decided that we had to get away for a while, so we headed north to Lynchburg, Tennessee.

Oddly enough, Lynchburg wasn't much bigger than the town we left behind. We booked a room in nearby Tullahoma because we could't find a room in Lynchburg available online. 

When we got there, we realized it is because there is exactly one motel in Lynchburg. 

A sign on the way in notified us that we were entering metro Lynchburg. By the time I got through reading the sign, we had exited metro Lynchburg. 

There is exactly one reason to visit Lynchburg, Tennessee: the Jack Daniel Distillery.

It was a first visit for both of us. Really, the distillery was only a pit stop until we can make it to Kentucky to tour the Bourbon Trail. 

I can't fully explain our recent interest in bourbon, but it's very millennial of us.

I've learned all sorts of interesting things through books and documentaries in the last year. Here are a few.

1. Bourbon is a type of whiskey that can only be produced in America because the federal government has said so since 1964. 

2. The federal government has A LOT to say about distilled spirits, and it's possible the U.S. economy would collapse without them because the taxes levied on this industry are mind-boggling. One gallon equals $13.50 in federal excise taxes. The state of Alabama piles on another $18.23, which gives us the fourth highest tax rate in the country, according to 2017 data.

3. Jack Daniel's meets the criteria to be called bourbon but insists on being called Tennesse whiskey. A fight with the feds (them again!) ensued in the 1940s that settled this distinction for label purposes.

4. A whiskey made in Tennessee is not the definition of a Tennessee whiskey. The state of Tennesse has a whole set of rules on that, and most of them tend to favor the pride of Lynchburg — Jack Daniel's.

I learned from "Pappyland," a book about the cult culture surrounding Pappy Van Winkle, to not believe most of what I read on a label but to enjoy the story anyway.

That's how I approached our tour of the Jack Daniel Distillery. I think we might have heard a tall tale or two, but I didn't drive two hours and pay good money for the truth.

The day before our tour, I convinced Zac to go in search of the Lynchburg Cake and Candy Company, which had gotten rave reviews on the sites I had been reading before the trip.

I was a little surprised when Google Maps took us not to downtown Lynchburg but to a road that looked like it went off into a residential area.

"Where is this place, Grandmama's house?" I asked. Turns out, it was at Grandpappy's house.

We pulled into the driveway, parked behind a brick home and walked up to a building that I would have mistaken for storage if not for the signs out by the road that had assured us that we were in the right place for the Lynchburg Cake and Candy Company.

Inside, we met a nice man named Billy Thomas. One of the first things he pointed out to us was the picture of his late mother, Ethma "Bunt" Thomas. 

It is her recipe that is used to make the Lynchburg Whiskey Cake. Mrs. Thomas did not imbibe, so it was her son's idea to douse it in Jack Daniel's.

Mr. Thomas uses a type of Jack that is only sold in Tennessee. 

When he found out that we were from Alabama, he told us an interesting story about how Gov. George Wallace once made it mandatory that liquor sold in Alabama be the cheapest in the nation. When he started the business, he drove across the state line and found out pretty quickly that Wallace's order must have gone out the door with him because he could buy Jack much more cheaply in Tennessee.

We bought some of everything he had in stock, which included the whiskey cake, whiskey praline pecans and whiskey balls. I'd recommend all of them, but it's probably not a good idea to drive after eating a slice of that whiskey cake.

If you want to hear the story of the company as told by Mr. Thomas, check out his episode on the Tennesse Crossroads YouTube channel. 

Jennifer Cohron is the Daily Mountain Eagle's features editor.