Millions of bottles of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey are sold around the world every year. The top selling whiskey’s Tennessee roots go back to the late 1800s. When Jasper Newton “Jack” Daniel was born in or around 1850 (exact date unknown), a new era in American whiskey began.
The Life of Jack Daniel
As youngest of 10 children, Jack Daniel’s mother died when he was very young. His father died in the Civil War not long after. Independent at an early age, Daniel was taken in by a local preacher and moonshine maker named Dan Call in his teens. That’s where he began distilling with Call and distiller Nathan “Nearest” Green, a slave who continued to work for Call after emancipation. He learned to make whiskey using the “sour mash” method and how to filter whiskey through charcoal, which was common at the time. Other distillers would abandon the process for time and financial reasons, but it became a staple of Daniel’s final product.
Daniel used his inheritance from his father’s estate to found a legally registered distilling business in 1875. He purchased the hollow and land where the Jack Daniel’s Distillery is located today in 1884. Known as “Stillhouse Hollow” or “Jack Daniel’s Hollow”, the property includes a cave at the base of a limestone cliff. A life-size statue of Jack Daniel stands in front of the cave spring today. Limestone-filtered water is often considered an essential ingredient in good whiskey. At that time, more than 15 distilleries were operating in Moore County, Tennessee.
Daniel chose his signature square-shaped bottles in the late 1890s to convey a sense of fairness and integrity. His brand grew even further upon winning the gold medal for finest whiskey at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904. In the competition, he was up against 20 longstanding distillers of Europe and around the globe.
The Continuation of a Brand and Prohibition
Not long, his failing health led him to choose to retire and let his two nephews operate the distillery. He never married or had children of his own.
Moore County was voted to be a dry county in 1909. Tennessee passed a statewide Prohibition barring legal distillation of whiskey in the state in 1910. The company began distilling in St. Louis, Missouri and Birmingham, Alabama for a short time until nationwide Prohibition passed in 1920. None of the whiskey made at either location ever made it to stores because of quality issues.
Legend has it that Daniel injured his toe kicking a safe in anger when he couldn’t get it open. An infection is said to have began out of that injury which lead to blood poisoning and his death in 1911. Biographers dispute whether this is true. Daniel’s safe is still located at the distillery can be seen on tours. His grave site, also nearby the distillery, includes a gravestone accompanied by two wrought-iron chairs, said to be for the mourning girlfriends of Jack. They say there were several!
When federal Prohibition ended in 1933, Tennessee’s state law remained in effect. This prevented Daniel’s family from reopening the Lynchburg distillery until 1938. Production didn’t last for long, as it was halted again from 1942 to 1946 during World War II.
After the war and when good quality ingredients were again available, whiskey was made again but its new owner. Daniel’s nephew, Lem Motlow, was essential in building the brand and keeping it alive through all of the state’s hardships. After his death, the distillery was left to his children, who then sold it to the Brown-Forman Corporation in 1956. Brown-Forman’s marketing efforts embracing the origins of the Jack Daniel’s brand have helped it remain popular to this day.
Jack Daniel’s Legacy
Today, the distillery is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Moore County, the home of the Jack Daniel Distillery, is still a ‘dry’ county to this day. No Jack Daniel’s whiskey may be sold in Moore County. A state law provided one exception, however. A distillery may sell one commemorative product from its gift shop. So if you’d like a bottle, stop by The White Rabbit Bottle Shop inside the visitors’ center.
While the recipe and technique used to make Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey meets the regulatory critieria for making straight bourbon, it disavows the classification. Through efforts by the distillery, Tennessee Whiskey is defined as a straight bourbon authorized to be produced in the state of Tennessee after being filtered through charcoal made from sugar maple. This is known as the “Lincoln County Process.”
It is believed that the origin of the “Old No. 7” brand name came from the number assigned to Daniel’s distillery from the government. However, some say its from the recipe number or the number of girlfriends Jack had at any time. The brand was historically distilled at 90 proof until the late 1980s. It is now sold at 80 proof. Upon taking over the brand, Daniel’s nephew started aging the product longer, creating the black label product. Higher proof expressions are often released on a limited, premium basis.
Today, Jack Daniel’s Black Label (AKA Old No. 7) is the flagship product of Brown-Forman, selling over 10 million cases a year. It is consistently in the top five highest sold spirits in the entire world. Extensions of the brand include Gentleman Jack, Tennessee Honey, Green Label and Sinatra Select.
Tours to Jack Daniel’s Distillery
More than 250,000 whiskey lovers venture to Jack Daniel’s Distillery annually. Tours began in 2000 and continue today. One of the best ways to see Jack Daniel’s Distillery and learn more is through a Mint Julep Experiences whiskey adventure.
Book online and join us on a trip from Nashville to Lynchburg to discover the history and craftsmanship of Jack Daniel.
Your elevated tour of Jack Daniel’s includes a visit to Jack’s grave site, not normally available to the public, for a special salute. The expanded tour, known as the Angel’s Share Distillery Tour, includes a premium tasting of Jack Daniel’s single barrel, barrel proof and other high-end whiskeys. You’ll also get a souvenir glass to take home.
About the Author – Rachel Nix
Rachel Nix has been Director of Marketing at Mint Julep since 2017. Her extensive bourbon education includes becoming an Executive Bourbon Steward through the Stave & Thief Society and graduating from Woodford Reserve’s Bourbon Academy. She is a Certified Tourism Ambassador and enthusiastic advocate for her adopted hometown of Louisville. When she’s not promoting Mint Julep’s portfolio of southern experiences, she can be found walking her dog or enjoying a drink on a Germantown patio.