Some distillers take pride in being hands on in their whiskey production, but Master Distiller John Lunn and Distiller Allisa Henley took that to a whole new level in late March when they unloaded four ricks of sugar maple wood from the trailer hitched to the back of John’s pick-up truck and began burning it in his backyard.
Lunn and Henley know a thing or two about making charcoal from sugar maple and then using that in the Lincoln County Process, since they are respectively the former Master Distiller and Distiller of George Dickel. Lunn left Dickel in 2015 and Henley followed in July 2016, both landing at Popcorn Sutton Distillery before that was bought by Sazerac at the end of last year.
Burning maple creates the charcoal for the Lincoln County process, essential for making authentic Tennessee whiskey, something Lunn and Henley are anxious to do now that they have joined the Sazerac family. Late last year, Sazerac purchased the distillery in Newport Tennessee, and although the distillery has yet to have a formal new name, Lunn and Henley are not letting that stop them from making authentic Tennessee whiskey.
“We know it’s going to take many years for this whiskey to age up, so we were anxious to get started on production as soon as possible,” stated Henley. And what a start! The wood was sourced from a sawmill in Tennessee and each rick contains pieces of maple approximately two inches by two inches and stacked in a specific way to let air flow through for a more consistent burn. Lunn and Henley took extra care in burning this charcoal and plan to be involved very closely in each step of the production process to ensure the highest quality Tennessee whiskey is produced.
“We believe we can produce a better charcoal ourselves rather than buying it from a third party,” said Henley. “It is a very controlled process. We don’t want it to burn too long, but not too short either.” To be classified a Tennessee whiskey the whiskey must be filtered through maple charcoal. The charcoal mellowing process will influence the whiskey making for a unique finish that distinguishes it from bourbon.
Lunn and Henley will continue to burn more wood themselves as it is needed for the future, but for now, the next step is whiskey production. “The grains are in, the charcoal is ready, the barrels are here and we’re gearing up to start distilling in our pot stills, so stay tuned for more updates,” added Henley.
The Tennessee whiskey, like the distillery, does not have a brand name yet, but announcements will be forthcoming as new developments are made.