History of Jack Daniels
In the circle of men, when whiskey is being discussed, failing to mention Jack Daniel’s could pass for a crime, punishable by 12 hours in a ‘whiskey barrel’. Just kidding!
Touted to be America’s most famous whiskey, the 150 years of Jack Daniel’s history dates back to 1866, when the first distillery was opened. It was the first registered distillery in the U.S, founded by born Jasper Newton Daniel, who also served as the first Master Distiller.
By 1904, with the growth of the brand, the Old No. 7 earned a gold medal at the World’s Fair – the first of the seven gold medals it has won to date.
The journey began when the young Jack was taken in by a local preacher named Dan Call after he ran away from his father’s home because he despised his step-mother.
Until recently, the story told was that moonshine distiller, Call had taught his young apprentice, Jack, how to run his Tennessee distillery, but it turns out that it was one of Call’s slaves named Nearis Green who had passed on his distilling experience to Daniel.
‘Uncle Nearest is the best whiskey maker that I know of’, Call is recorded as having said in a 1967 biography, Jack Daniel’s Legacy.
The key role of Green in advising Jack Daniel had been suspected before but, like that of many slaves, his contribution to the development of American whiskeys was never recorded.
Phil Epps, the global brand director for Jack Daniel’s at Brown-Forman, which has owned the distillery for 60 years, insists it was not a ‘conscious decision’ to omit the Greens from the whisky’s history.
According to Epps, they had come across the founder story while researching the origin of the whisky.
‘As we dug into it, we realized it was something that we could be proud of,’ Epps said.
1875 Jack founded a registered distilling business with Call using money from his late father’s estate. Shortly thereafter, Call quit the business due to religious reasons, and Jack took over the ownership.
By 1884, Jack Daniel purchased the land where the distillery stands today and ran the business until 1907, when he handed over to his nephew, Lemuel “Lew” Motlow, since he never married or had children.
Motlow oversaw the distillery for 40 years. The business suffered from the statewide prohibition passed in 1910, causing the distillation of Jack Daniel’s in Tennessee illegal.
Motlow challenged the law in a case that went to the Tennessee Supreme Court, but failing to won the case, the company moved production to St. Louis, Missouri, and Birmingham, Alabama, but was not able to achieve the quality of whiskey that was produced in Tennessee.
Missouri and Alabama also suffered similar prohibitions leading to several years of repeals and changes to the law, before the distillery was finally up and running for business in 1947.
With the World War II building to a peak the distillery ceased production in order to redirect resources to help serve the war effort.
Frank Bobo, it was, the chief distiller between 1966 to 1988, that transformed Jack Daniel’s from a local sippin’ whiskey in the south of US into a whiskey famous around the world, with the Old No. 7 as synonymous with rock and roll music as the electric guitar.
With clubs in New York City playing host to the biggest names in rock and roll, and Jack Daniel’s partnering most of those events, so did the popularity of the drink grow.
Jeff Arnett is currently the chief distiller at Jack Daniel’s and under him, the brand has seen its biggest expansion in its history, introducing its first flavored expression, Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey and Jack Daniel’s Fire four years later.