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Whiskey Rock-A-Roller - Jack Daniel's and Jim Beam Will Drink to This: It's Time to Make RNG

We can’t conjure up a more old-school, more intrinsically American industry than whiskey-making, or more iconic whiskey names than Jack Daniel’s and Jim Beam — the latter, of course, being a bourbon, a particular type of whiskey. The recipes for both “Jack” and “Jim” have remained unchanged for generations and their distillers in Tennessee and Kentucky, respectively, are traditionalists to their core. That doesn’t mean, though, that they’re unaware of the need to reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions — or are blind to the opportunities that decarbonization may present. Now, as we discuss in today’s RBN blog, both Jack Daniel’s and Jim Beam are all-in on producing renewable natural gas (RNG) from spent grains.

Sure, whiskey’s roots can be traced back to medieval monks in Ireland and Scotland — and there’s a lot to be said for Scotch whisky, whose producers are Whiskey Bent and (Hydrogen) Bound — but whiskey (spelled with an “e” in the U.S.) is, in many ways, as American as baseball, hot dogs and apple pie. Heck, George Washington ran a whiskey distillery at Mount Vernon, and in 1795 (during Washington’s second term as U.S. president) Jacob Beam — an early settler of Kentucky — sold his first barrel of Old Jake Beam Sour Mash, using his father’s corn-whiskey recipe. The product’s name was later changed to Old Tub Bourbon and finally, in 1943, to Jim Beam Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. As for Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 Tennessee Whiskey (the classic variety), its story “only” goes back to 1866, when Jasper “Jack” Daniel, working with the Reverend Dan Call and a formerly enslaved man named Nathan “Nearest” Green (who later became head distiller), established the Jack Daniel Distillery in Lynchburg, TN. (No. 7 was the number assigned to the distillery’s government registration.)

Before we dive into the Jack Daniel’s and Jim Beam RNG projects, we need to define a few things. First up is alcohol. Whiskey is a spirit distilled from a fermented mix of grains, including barley, corn, rye or wheat. Bourbon is a whiskey that meets a series of specific requirements: (1) it must be made in America (per a 1964 U.S. law); (2) the distillery’s grain bill (similar to a refinery’s crude slate) must be at least 51% corn; (3) it must be distilled at no more than 160 proof (80% alcohol) and must enter the barrel at no more than 125 proof (62.5% alcohol); and (4) it must be aged in new, charred-oak barrels. Jim Beam is up to snuff on all these and, as it turns out, so is Jack Daniel’s, but Jack technically isn’t a bourbon because it goes through an extra step after it’s distilled and before it’s “barreled” — namely, over a 3-to-5-day period it’s filtered through (or steeped in) a 10-foot-tall vat filled with charcoal chips to remove impurities and “mellow” the whiskey. (This is known as “the Lincoln County Process.”)

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