People in Nashville still have accents. This is notable only because, in a time when accents are disappearing even from traditionally drawling places like Texas, it is almost startling to be confronted with a true regional twang.
There is a commitment to authenticity in Nashville and its surrounding environs, even if in some ways the ambience might feel more performative than real. The Jack Daniel Distillery and Homeplace is located an hour and a half outside the big city in Lynchburg, in exactly the same place it has been since the 1830s. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Tours pass directly by the spring where all of the water for the brand’s whiskey comes from and where Jack Daniel set up his original still. When I visited, my tour group had guests from as far afield as South Africa and New Zealand, all worshipping at the altar of the brand.
It is this growth in tourism and in the worldwide popularity of Jack Daniel’s that necessitated a new vision for the Homeplace — one that maintained the authenticity of the experience while providing more space for the ever-increasing numbers of yearly visitors (300,000) making the pilgrimage out to Lynchburg. In reimagining the tour, the question was how to provide visitors with an intimate experience, even as the site itself becomes more of a destination than a distillery.
Clickspring Design, a New York- and Texas-based firm specializing in branded environments and experiential marketing, was brought on to renovate Barrel House 1-14, turning it into a luxe tasting room. Built in 1938, the barrelhouse was previously the distillery’s smallest aging facility. The entry has been preserved as a barrelhouse, and as visitors enter, the scent of whiskey permeates the space (thanks to the 1,200 active barrels that remain), providing a toasted ambience.
The entry opens into a tasting room, which is composed of a pair of two-story glass-and-steel volumes that form two classrooms, appropriately called TOAST and CHAR. The glass walls and steel columns allow guests to be enveloped by the original structure of the barrelhouse. The tasting rooms fit seamlessly inside the space, alongside wooden beams and ricking and original concrete floors. The Jack Daniel’s Number 7 logo is emblazoned on the walls, lest visitors forget the iconic brand for even a moment. Though barrels line the walls, only a third of them contain whiskey.
Clickspring’s path to creating a space that appears to have involved minimal intervention involved some structural work. The glass and steel installation has much less tolerance for movement than the existing structure. Steven Dvorak, the design lead on the project, explains: “A barrel of whiskey weighs a bit over 468 pounds. Multiplied by thousands of barrels, the resulting load put on the structure of a barrelhouse is quite significant. The heavy-timber superstructure of Barrel House 1-14 was designed to move in response to various loading and unloading conditions. Our challenge was to minimize the movement of a structure that was designed to react to changing loads.” Post-to-beam connections were reinforced with steel gussets and haunches in order to create a more rigid framework.
Guests gather at the end of the tour in a space where they can sample whiskey together, the culmination of an hour-long trek through the site’s actual production facilities. From there, they are funneled into a gift shop. But the combination of the architecture of Barrel House 1-14 and the alcohol is a potent one, and a feeling of warmth overpowers even the tour’s more commercial elements.
Alyssa Morris is web editor of Texas Architect.