Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Jack Daniels Distillery: A success story in Lean Manufacturing

Hola Amigos! I hope all of you enjoyed your mid semester break and had a wonderful Thanksgiving. Being new to America, I decided to embark on a road trip with my friends to explore the fine American culture. One of the last things that I expected to learn on this trip was 'Lean Manufacturing'; and to top it all at 'Jack Daniels' Distillery'!!

Being whiskey connoisseurs, we decided to take a stop at Lynchburg, Tennessee to witness how the world's largest selling whiskey is manufactured. The hour long tour taught us about the origins of 'JD', the myth behind the 'No. 7' brand, the manufacturing process and how a single distillery produces all the whiskey that is available in 135 nations globally.

Amidst all the information, the one that stuck with me was how 'lean' their manufacturing process is. It all begins at the 'Rickyard' where the charcoal for distilling the whiskey is prepared by stacking wood into "ricks" and carefully burning it. The secret behind this process has been passed along generations and it is this charcoal, which is later used to mellow the whiskey, that gives JD its unique smooth taste.

The next stop is the "Cave Spring" which is a source of natural iron free spring water which was discovered by Mr. Jack. This was the main reason why Jack setup the distillery in Lynchburg nearly a century ago. The clear flowing stream of water is one of the main ingredients in the whiskey making process.

Next on the agenda is the "Copper Stills". Corn, Marley and Rye are mixed in a proportion which was laid down by Jack himself to form the mash which arrives at the copper stills. The mash is then treated with high pressure steam from the cave spring which vaporizes the alcohol from the mixture and it rises to the top of the still where it is cooled by copper coils to form a clearer and more potent 140-proof spirit.

The next stop is the "Charcoal Mellowing". The spirit from the copper stills is then mellowed using the charcoal prepared in the 'rickyard'. The whiskey is allowed to flow drop by drop through 10 feet of the specially prepared charcoal until it is good and mellow. This is what makes Jack Daniel's a smooth sippin' Tennessee whiskey instead of ordinary Bourbon.

The next stop is the 'Barrel House' where the whiskey is stored before it is bottled and sent to its destinations. Jack Daniel's makes its own barrels from high quality wood to avoid compromising on quality. Each barrel is carefully hand-crafted and is used just once. The barrels are then stored at different levels in the storage house where they will mature. Whiskey tasters taste the whiskey from each barrel personally to ensure consistency in flavor, color and taste. The levels at which the barrels are stored is a crucial factor in decided what kind of whiskey it will mature into and based on that it is sold as the 'No.7', 'Gentleman Jack' or 'Green Label'.

However, the most fascinating fact is how Jack Daniel's ensures zero wastage.
  • The charcoal that is used for mellowing is replaced every 6 months and the used charcoal is sold as souvenirs at stores or sold to local businesses.
  • The barrel which is used just once is then exported to Europe where other whiskey manufacturers use it for their whiskey storage. Some of the barrels also double up as thrash cans all over the distillery facility.
  • The mash which is used for producing the whiskey is processed and sold as fodder to local farmers who use it to feed their cattle.
  • The water is used for cleaning and irrigation purposes.
It was fascinating to learn not only how Jack Daniel's produces the world's finest whiskey, but also the efforts taken by them to ensure that the environment is protected and the alternate sources of income generated through proper waste management.

Has anyone else personally witnessed a Lean Manufacturing process?
Do you think the fact that JD uses manual wine tasters ensures Quality Control or does it actually hamper the manufacturing process?

I recommend you visit the facility which will help all of you appreciate the 'No. 7' a bit more next time you sip on one. But don't keep your hopes too high of getting a free sample at the end of the tour. Lynchburg, sadly, is a dry county !!


No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.