Packaged in square bottles, Jack Daniel’s “Black Label” Tennessee whiskey sold 12.9 million nine-liter cases in 2017. Other brand variations, such as Tennessee Honey, Tennessee Apple, Gentleman Jack, Tennessee Fire, and ready to drink (RTD) products brought the total to more than 16.1 million equivalent adjusted cases for the entire Jack Daniel’s family of brands.
The Jack Daniel’s website suggests its founder Jasper Newton “Jack” Daniel was born in 1850 (and his tombstone bears that date), but says his exact birth date is unknown. The website states that it’s customary to celebrate his birthday in September. The Tennessee state library web site says that records list his birth date as September 5, 1846, and in the 2004 biography Blood & Whiskey: The Life and Times of Jack Daniel, author Peter Krass says he was born in January 1849 (based on Jack’s sister’s diary, census records, and the date of death of Jack’s mother).
Jack was one of thirteen children fathered by Calaway Daniel and was the youngest of his mother’s ten children. According to the Tennessee state library, Jack’s mother, Lucinda Cook Daniel, died in 1847 (making an 1850 birth date impossible). After Jack’s mother died, his father remarried and had several more children. Jack Daniel’s grandfather, Joseph “Job” Daniel emigrated from Wales along with his Scottish wife, Elizabeth Calaway, to the United States. He was of Welsh, Scottish, English, and Scots-Irish descent. Jack’s father died in the Civil War, and he despised his step-mother, and as a result he ran away from home and was essentially orphaned at a young age.
Jack was taken in by a local lay preacher and moonshine distiller named Dan Call, and began learning the distilling trade as a teen-ager from Call and Call’s slave Nearest Green, who stayed on with Call after his emancipation. In 1875, on receiving an inheritance from his father’s estate (following a long dispute with his siblings), Daniel founded a legally registered distilling business with Call. He took over the distillery shortly afterward, when Call quit for religious reasons. The brand label on the product says “Est. & Reg. in 1866”, but his biographer has cited official registration documents to assert that the business was not established until 1875.
After taking over the distillery, in 1884 Daniel purchased the hollow and land where the distillery is now located. By the 1880s, Jack Daniel’s was one of fifteen distilleries operating in Moore County, and the second-most productive behind Tom Eaton’s Distillery. He began using square-shaped bottles in 1897, with the square shape of the bottle intended to convey a sense of fairness and integrity.
According to Daniel’s biographer, the origin of the “Old No. 7” brand name was the number assigned to Daniel’s distillery for government registration. He was forced to change the registration number when the federal government redrew the district and he became Number 16 in district 5 instead of No. 7 in district 4. However, he continued to use his original number as a brand name, since his brand reputation had already been established.
Jack Daniel’s experienced a surge in popularity after the whiskey received the gold medal for the finest whiskey at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, although his local reputation was suffering as the temperance movement was gaining strength.
Jack Daniel never married and did not have any children. However, he took his nephews under his wing – one of whom was Lemuel “Lem” Motlow (1869–1947). Lem, a son of Jack’s sister, Finetta, was skilled with numbers, and was soon doing all of the distillery’s bookkeeping. In 1907, due to failing health, Jack Daniel gave the distillery to two of his nephews. Motlow soon bought out the other nephew and went on to operate the distillery for about forty years.
Tennessee passed a statewide prohibition law in 1910, effectively barring the legal distillation of Jack Daniel’s within the state. Motlow challenged the law in a test case that eventually worked its way up to the Tennessee Supreme Court. The court upheld the law as constitutional, however.
Jack died in 1911 from blood poisoning. An oft-told tale is that the infection began in one of his toes, which Daniel injured one early morning at work by kicking his safe in anger when he could not get it open (he was said to always have had trouble remembering the combination). However, Daniel’s modern biographer has asserted that the story is not true.
Because of the prohibition in Tennessee, the company began distilling operations in St Louis, Missouri, and Birmingham, Alabama, though none of the production from these locations was ever sold due to quality problems. The Alabama operation was halted following a similar statewide prohibition law in that state, and the St. Louis operation was halted by the onset of nationwide prohibition following passage of the Eighteenth Amendment in 1920. While the passage Twenty-first Amendment in 1933 repealed prohibition at the federal level, state prohibition laws (including Tennessee’s) remained in effect, thus preventing the Lynchburg distillery from reopening. Motlow, who had become a Tennessee state senator, led efforts to repeal these laws, allowing production to restart in 1938. The five-year gap between national repeal and Tennessee repeal was commemorated in 2008 with a gift pack of two bottles, one for the 75th anniversary of the end of prohibition and a second commemorating the 70th anniversary of the reopening of the distillery.
Jack Daniel’s distillery ceased operations from 1942 to 1946, when the U.S. government banned the manufacture of whiskey due to World War II. Motlow resumed production of Jack Daniel’s only in 1947 after good quality corn was again available. Motlow then died the same year. He bequeathed the distillery to his children, Robert, Reagor, Dan, Conner, and Mary, upon his death.
The company was later incorporated as “Jack Daniel Distillery, Lem Motlow, Prop., Inc.” This has allowed the company to continue to include Lem Motlow, who died in 1947, in its marketing, since mentioning him in the advertising is technically just citing the full corporate name. Likewise, the advertisements continue to use Lynchburg’s 1960s-era population figure of 361, though the city has since formed a consolidated city-county government with Moore County, and its official population had thus grown to over 6,000 by the 2010 census.
The company was sold to the Brown-Forman Corporation in 1956.
The Jack Daniel’s Distillery was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.
In 2012, a Welshman, Mark Evans, claimed to have discovered the original recipe for Daniel’s whiskey, in a book written in 1853 by his great-great-grandmother, whose brother-in-law emigrated to Tennessee.
Moore County, where the Jack Daniel’s distillery is located, is one of the state’s many dry counties. Therefore, while it is legal to distill the product within the county, it is illegal to purchase it there. However, a state law has provided one exception: a distillery may sell one commemorative product, regardless of county statutes. Jack Daniel’s now sellsGentleman Jack, Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel, the original No. 7 blend (in a commemorative bottle), and a seasonal blend (on rotation) at the distillery’s White Rabbit Bottle Shop.
Lowering to 80 proof
Jack Daniel’s black label was historically produced at 90 U.S. proof (45% alcohol by volume). The lower-end green label product was 80 proof. However, starting in 1987, the other label variations were also reduced in proof. This began with black label being initially reduced to 86 proof. Both the black and green labels are made from the same ingredients; the difference is determined by professional tasters, who decide which of the batches would be sold under the “premium” black label, the rest being sold as “standard” green label.
Finally, starting in 2002, all generally available Jack Daniel’s products were diluted to 80 proof (including both black label and green label). The reason stated for this was that the distillery’s marketing had found that customers preferred a lower-proof whiskey; this also simplified the production process, and lowered production costs. This reduction in alcohol content was condemned by Modern Drunkard Magazine and a petition was formed for drinkers who disagreed with the change.
Jack Daniel’s has produced higher-proof products at times. A one-time limited run of 96 proof, the highest proof Jack Daniel’s had ever bottled at that time, was bottled for the 1996 Tennessee Bicentennial in a decorative bicentennial bottle. The distillery debuted their 94 proof “Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel” in February 1997. The Silver Select Single Barrel is currently the company’s highest proof at 100, but is only available in duty-free shops.
Jack Daniel’s Black Label Tennessee Whiskey remains the flagship product of the Brown-Forman Corporation. In the fiscal year ended April 30, 2013, the company sold a total of 11 million cases of the beverage.
In 2006, Jack Daniel’s sponsored the Perkins Engineering team in the Australian V8 Supercar series, which continued until the end of 2008. From 2009 their sponsorship moved to the newly formed Kelly Racing team, formed from the remnants of Perkins Engineering and now-defunct HSV Dealer Team. Jack Daniel’s also sponsored the Richard Childress Racing 07 car (numbered after the “Old No. 7”) in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series from 2005 to 2009. Jack Daniel’s also sponsors Zac Brown Bands Tour.
Jeff Arnett, a company employee since 2001, became Jack Daniel’s master distiller in 2008. He is the seventh person to hold the position in the distillery’s history. His predecessor, Jimmy Bedford, held the position for 20 years. Bedford retired in mid-2008 after being the subject of a $3.5 million sexual harassment lawsuit against the company that ended in an out-of-court settlement, and he died on August 7, 2009, after suffering a heart attack at his home in Lynchburg.
Other former Master Distillers include Jess Motlow (1911–1941), Lem Tolley (1941–1964), Jess Gamble (1964–1966), and Frank Bobo (1966–1992).
A Tennessee Squire is a member of the Tennessee Squire Association, which was formed in 1956 to honor special friends of the Jack Daniel’s distillery. Many prominent business and entertainment professionals are included among the membership, which is obtained only through a recommendation of a current member. Squires receive a wallet card and deed certificate proclaiming them as “owner” of an unrecorded plot of land at the distillery and an honorary citizen of Moore County, Tennessee.”
*Information from Jackdaniels.com and Wikipedia.org
**Video published on YouTube by “Alux.com“