My latest adventure started in Atlanta but I left it as soon as I had landed and headed north towards Tennessee as I wanted to explore some positively rural corners of the south. After quite a pleasant drive (including an overnight stop in the fantastically named Chattanooga) I got to the first place I planned to visit during this trip, the town of Lynchburg. This small city, located in the rural heart of Tennessee, is home to one of the best known brands in the world, the legendary Jack Daniels. Of course the J.D. distillery (located just east of town) had to be my first port of call. I'm the sort of guy who likes visiting mines, factories and all sorts of strange industrial places, but this distillery is a great place for anyone to visit.
The free tour offers the chance to visit a real working distillery, a place where every single drop of J.D. comes from. Unlike some other well known brands (for example Guinness, which is nowadays brewed in many countries), Jack Daniels whiskey still comes only from Lynchburg. Our well-spoken and entertaining guide took us to all the important parts of the distillery. Stops included: the fermenting vats (where we could even dip our fingers and taste the contents), the building where the whiskey is filtered through charcoal, the bottling plant and the barrel storehouse. We also visited the spring where all the iron-free water comes from as well as the house once used by Jack himself. But probably the most unusual stop was part of the factory where the maple charcoal is made. To start the wood fires burning workers use extra strong whiskey as an accelerant (so not to contaminate the wood) and they will let you taste a bit of it. Damn, it burns. I strongly recommend this tour to anyone being within a 1000 mile radius of Lynchburg. It is well worth the effort of getting there.
The city of Lynchburg itself is also worth stopping in. Its population is about 5000 and it has only one traffic light (rather unnecessary judging by the traffic when I was there), but it is full of southern charm. The heart of it is a lovely town square dominated by the Moore County Courthouse. The square is lined with local businesses offering all sorts of things connected to Jack Daniels, from key rings to cooking sauces and from T-shirts to furniture made from the old barrels. And somehow it doesn't really feel too commercial or kitschy. I really had a great day in Lynchburg. Oh, by the way, Lynchburg is located in, so-called, dry county which prohibits the sale of alcohol, so you won't be able to buy the famous whiskey itself. The only exception is the distillery itself which has a special waiver to sell collector edition bottles there.
Next stop, Nashville. On the first look of it, it is just another mid-sized city in the middle of the country. But don't be fooled. It might be an average city during the daytime but once it gets dark, it is a great place to experience some of the best night life in America. To put it simply, Nashville is the capital of the country music industry. Everyone who is someone in this business, as well as anyone hoping to be someone, heads there. Of course it helps if you like country music even just a bit, but to be honest the bars and saloons of Nashville offer great fun for everyone. Most of them are conveniently located along the short stretch of Lower Broadway which means you can visit many of them during the night. It was a mid-week evening when I got there, but all the joints were open late. And I really mean late (especially if you are used to the ridiculously early closing hours of British pubs). By the time I headed back to the hotel, around 3am, none of the bars were closing and most of them still had live music on. There are plenty of talented and hopeful young aspiring musicians in Nashville and they all want to impress, regardless of the time of night, which means that Lower Broadway is buzzing and lively well into the wee hours. It is also a great sight with many colourful neon signs advertising bars with names like “Tequila Cowboy”, “Wild Beaver Saloon” or “The Full Moon Saloon”. I definitely had a great time in Nashville.
In general Tennessee offers a great mix of rural and urban experiences. Driving rural highways on the way to Lynchburg gives you time to listen to local country music stations and take things slowly, while a night in Nashville will be as much fun as in much bigger cities like Chicago or Boston. Tennessee is also a state which offers a quite interesting cultural contrast between the conservative heartland, where the sale of alcohol is prohibited in many counties, and the party atmosphere of Nashville, which is in a large part fuelled by booze. One thing for sure, boring it ain't.
The Great Gatsby
Author: Gregor Swiderek