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What is the Lincoln County Process?

Jack Daniels Lincoln County Process
1965 Jack Daniels whiskey ad titled "Load of Hard Maple"

I remember the first time I heard the phrase Lincoln County Process it left me completely at a loss about what this mysterious "process" was and which Lincoln County this was referring to. It really revealed nothing about the phrase, and thus required me to hit the Google in hopes of finding out more, as one does, I guess. If you take away nothing else, just know that the Lincoln County Process is a process by which whiskey is filtered through - or steeped in - charcoal before going into casks for aging and is named for Lincoln County, Tennessee which was where Jack Daniel's distillery was located at the time of its establishment. But that's just the tip of the iceberg...

Who Uses the Lincoln County Process?

The Lincoln County Process is used in producing almost all Tennessee Whiskey. The two main producers of Tennessee Whiskey are Jack Daniels and George Dickel.

What is Tennessee Whiskey?

All current Tennessee Whiskey producers are required by Tennessee law to produce their whiskey in Tennessee and to use the Lincoln County Process prior to aging the whiskey. Interestingly, the only exception to this rule is Benjamin Prichard's which has a special grandfathering provision exempting it from having to use the Lincoln County Process while being able to label its products as Tennessee Whiskey.

Is Tennessee Whiskey Bourbon?

Beyond the nuance of the charcoal filtering process, Tennessee Whiskey and bourbon have almost identical requirements, with most whiskey's labeled as Tennessee Whiskey meeting the legal requirements to be labeled as a bourbon.

How Does the Lincoln County Process Work?

Almost exclusively, distilleries utilize maple (Acer sp.) for their charcoal filtering. In the case of Jack Daniels, stacks of 2-inch square maple logs under hoods (hoods help prevent sparks) and then sprayed with 140 proof whiskey before being ignited to burn nearly completely until being doused with water to arrest the combustion further. This charcoal material is then machined to create small pellets that are layered into 10-foot-tall vats in which the whiskey is percolated through to remove impurities. The 140 proof whiskey is then diluted to produce a 125 proof barrel entry liquid that is then aged.

In the case of George Dickel, the vats utilized are 13 feet deep and the whiskey enters the vats at 135 proof (nearly as hot as the 140 proof Jack Daniels enters at). Dickel also lets the whiskey steep in the charcoal as opposed to trickling through, filling the vat in their entirety and using "chill filtering." Why? Dickel believed that the best whiskey was made in the winter, as such coils are used in the vats to keep the temperature a brisk 40 degrees.

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