There is one question Lynne Tolley, the great-grand-niece of Jack Daniel, founder of Jack Daniel's whiskey, is asked more than any other.
Unfortunately, she doesn't know the answer.
When she travels to events like the whiskey tasting she'll host tonight at Brix Village Pointe, 225 N. 170th St., what people always want to know is what the Old No. 7 on the Jack Daniels bottle means.
The truth, she said, is that Jack never told anyone before he died in 1911. So no one knows for sure.
Plenty of people have theories, she said. Some have speculated that he added the number to the label to signify his seven girlfriends (he was a lifelong bachelor, though he loved to entertain and to generally have a good time) or his seven original distributors.
Tolley's father told her once that before the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis, Jack sampled whiskey from seven barrels before deciding which to send. The whiskey from the seventh barrel was the best, so he had it shipped to the fair, where it won a gold medal. After that, he decided seven was his lucky number.
So that's the story she goes with.
Tolley has worked for Jack Daniel's in various capacities since 1980, and she owns Miss Mary Bobo's Boarding House, a restaurant specializing in Southern comfort food (which very often contains Jack Daniel's) in Lynchburg, Tenn. But her most envied post is that of Jack Daniel's taster.
Once a week, she and 23 others sample Jack Daniel's whiskey to make sure each barrel is up to snuff. Tasters don't get to swallow the booze — they just swish, rinse and move along to the next sample, looking for notes of vanilla, caramel, maple and oak, which almost has a bit of a pecan flavor. Tolley was evaluated for an entire year before the tasting board officially let her join, but she was confident of her skills all along — she figures she has both good genes and the good fortune of having been born a woman.
“Men just don't have the sense of smell that women do,” she said.
Tolley will be at Brix from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., mingling with whiskey lovers, answering questions and selling copies of “Jack Daniel's Cookbook,” which includes recipes from some of the dishes served at Miss Mary Bobo's. The event, which will include samples of various Jack Daniel's whiskeys, is free and open to the public.
Last month, I wrote about Cut Spike, a new microdistillery started by the guys at Lucky Bucket.
Cut Spike released a limited supply of a new American single-malt whiskey back in August and sold through the 70 bottles allocated for sale in the tasting room in just two days, said Lucky Bucket president and founder Jason Payne. The whiskey has continued to see strong sales at grocery stores, liquor stores and local bars — where another 70 bottles are available through a distributor each month.
The quick success has surprised even Payne, who may be biased but believes he and his crew have created a good whiskey.
“I wish we had more whiskey to offer to people,” he said.
Cut Spike may have a limited supply of whiskey — at least until early 2015 when Payne anticipates that about 4,000 bottles will be available for sale each month — but it now also offers vodka.
Cut Spike vodka hit the market last week, and while it hasn't proved quite as popular as the whiskey, it too is finding fans in Omaha. It's available at Whole Foods and Hy-Vee, among other retailers, as well as in the Cut Spike/Lucky Bucket tasting room at 11941 Centennial Road. The vodka retails for $23.99 a bottle.
To celebrate the brewery's foray into the microdistillery business, the tasting room rolled out a limited cocktail menu last week, Payne said. They're not doing anything too crazy — it's important to Payne and others that the featured drinks allow the taste of the alcohol to shine through. They're offering vodka tonic, cranberry vodka and vodka lemonade, as well as a whiskey sour, and they might add an old fashioned.
“We highly encourage that people try it neat or on the rocks first,” Payne said.
Also available at the tasting room: the microdistillery's rum, which Payne expects will be available in grocery stores and elsewhere early in 2014.
The tasting room is open Wednesday through Friday from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Beers from Oregon-based Deschutes Brewing will be available in Nebraska next month, giving local craft beer lovers another option.
Deschutes Brewing is one of the largest craft breweries in the United States. Among its best-known brews: Inversion IPA, Black Butte Porter and Obsidian Stout.
Deschutes beers will officially become available for purchase on Oct. 14, and various Omaha bars are planning launch events, said Nick Leaders of Johnson Brothers Distributing. Stay tuned for more details.