Jack Daniel’s is a pairing of words or a name that is synonymous today with whisky. It sits on everyone’s tongue when we think of whisky. It has been vilified throughout the world as a brand that supersedes all others to the general public. So what is it about Jack that we all love so much? could it be the history? could it be the romance? could it be how it makes you feel when you walk into a bar at the end of a hard day and ask for the immortal “Jack and Coke”.
Lets delve a little deeper into the non production side of Jack Daniel’s whisky.
Around 1850, a time in which America was growing. Cities were being formed and governments were arguing, it made for a very exciting, risky and empowering time in America and to be American. But in Lynchburg, Tennessee something very exciting was about to unfold. It is widely agreed that Jack was born in 1850 but nobody’s really sure about when his birthdate actually was. In fact when Jack died different newspapers printed different dates for his birth. It’s this ambiguous nature that surrounds Jack that lends a certain air of romance to the Jack Daniels brand that makes it one of the most interesting whisky stories in the world today.
Born to a mother who died during complications in Jack’s siblings birth, of which he had 11 and a father who died of pneumonia during Jack’s teens, Jack had it tough. Jacks early life meant that when he was around ten Jack’s father decided that it was time for Jack to learn a trade. Jack was hired out to the Lutheran Minister who ran a dry goods store. in which the the store owner would sell this new whisky that he made from the local water source and was different to all whisky that was available at the time. The reason? Rev. Dan Call, the minister, had created a new way of making it called the “Lincoln County Process”. Other distilleries used this technique which is the a early charcoal mellowing system that Jack Daniels still uses to date. However the other distilleries abandoned this method stating that it was too time consuming and expensive. But not the Reverend he stood by it and was true to his feeling that this was the best way to create a whisky. Upon learning his trade this was a method was taught and instilled into Jack.
QUICK FACT: WHAT IS CHARCOAL MELLOWING?
THE PROCESS OF RUNNING THE WHISKY THROUGH SWEET MAPLE WOOD THAT HAS BEEN CHARCOALED. BEFORE HAND JACK DANIEL’S TASTES BITTER. AFTER THE MELLOWING IT BECOMES SWEETER AND SMOOTHER
In 1863 a fiery sermon from a female evangelist inspired Rev. Dan Call’s wife to put her foot down and demand that Dan leave the whisky business for good or leave the Ministry for good. A hard choice but Dan opted to sell the lease of the distillery to his young apprentice and associate who pounced on the opportunity. Jack Daniel found a tract of land in Lynchburg that included a limestone cave and spring. The pure spring water from the cave became the most important business tool Daniel ever purchased. With the War Between the States over in Tennessee and it starting to come to a close elsewhere, Jack Daniel rightly anticipated the Federal government would levy a tax on distillery operations and, at the age of 16, became the first to register his operation with the United States government. The taxes levied on his company’s product were something he always despised, but because of his quick business move and the growing popularity of a unique whiskey that produced much-needed revenue for the government.
Picture this for an instant. Jack Daniel is 16 and stands at a great height of only 5’2”, he has taken over a distillery in the middle of a war. He has picked up the distillery and moved the entire thing because he believes in his gut reaction that the water is better there. and he has registered it to the new Federal Government, which now is the oldest registered distillery in the US. Jack Daniel had balls. What were you doing when you were sixteen? Ten years later he bought the whole thing including the land in which the water source (the hollow) resided, all 142 acres of it.
Daniel was the first in Tennessee to use hot-air balloons as a promotional tool and often fascinated the locals with his advertising antics. Jack Daniel also started the practice of issuing commemorative bottles to celebrate certain events. He generally stayed with his trademark square bottle, which some say he did as a symbol of his being a “square shooter”, which was a popular saying of his day.
WHAT’S A SQUARE SHOOTER?
IT IS A PHRASE THAT IS USED TO DESCRIBE A STRAIGHT AND HONEST PERSON.
AS A SQUARE IS A SHAPE THAT CONFORMS IT HAS TAKEN THE MEANING OF BEING HONEST AND FAIR
Jack was a big fan of music and understood the correlation that his whisky had with it. A powerful brand tool that Jack Daniel’s still uses today. In 1905 Jack hired The Silver Cornet Band to play in Lynchburg square in which he owned two saloons. At this time there was no way to hear and band without seeing them. He believed that people would come from miles around to see the band and when there they would need a drink. Jack had cemented the link between whisky or alcohol and music.
In 1909 Tennessee goes dry due to a statewide prohibition and Jack has to move production to Missouri for seven years. Jack had put the wheels in motion that would make his nephew Lem Motlow his successor and he was trusted in this difficult time. Lynchburg Tennessee, where JD is distilled, is a dry county still today. You cannot buy alcohol there, a fact which is an integral part of the JD story. It goes back to these days of prohibition when the distillery was forced to shut down production for 7 years. Although it nearly bankrupted the company back then, Jack Daniel’s eventually survived. This is a perfect example of a protagonist facing conflict, overcoming adversity and emerging victorious. Which is how the whisky makes you feel isn’t it? This is one of the many true stories that defines the brand today.
In 1911 Jack got angry in his office and kicked his safe because it wouldn’t unlock. He hurt his toe and it developed gangrene. The irony is that if he had just dipped his toe in the whisky he was making it would stop his death, but Jack was a stubborn man until he died shortly after. It was at this point that the labelling on the iconic Jack Daniel’s bottle became black, maybe it was a tip of the hat to Jack’s passing. We like to think so.
This wasn’t the end of the Jack Daniel’s story though. At the start of America’s involvement in the Second World War the country asked for all A grade whisky to be sent towards to the war effort. Jack Daniel’s refused to create the whisky with anything less than A grade corn and so they shut their doors. This turned out to be a marketing masterpiece. A New York newspaper towards the end of the war published an article asking where Jack Daniel’s whisky had gone? proclaiming it as ‘the best whisky you never tasted’. What followed was an influx of calls and letters to Lynchburg. Jack Daniel’s response was that they would reproduce as soon as A grade corn became available again and that everyone would just have to wait. it must of been like waiting for Christmas to the whisky drinkers of the North. It created the insatiable appetite that was about to follow.
In 1955 Jack Daniel’s received a call out of the blue from a certain Mr Frank Sinatra. Frank didn’t want to be paid in anything other than whisky. he truthfully loved Jack Daniel’s whisky and became the world’s Global Ambassador. Frank calls Jack the “nectar of the gods” and sales double by 1956.
Jack Daniel’s whisky has been honouring the legendary past ever since. For me, it is the honesty and the integrity that the brand connotes. It exudes quality and relevance. It will never be outdated. it is synonymous with everything each of us yearns to be. I’ll leave with Jack’s motto that we could and should carry into everyday life.