Sometime in the early 1860s, a boy by the name of Jack Daniel ran away from home because he didn’t like his stepmother, who was his only surviving guardian — his mother had died giving birth and his dad died of pneumonia during the Civil War. Jack went on to work on a farm, where he learned to make the black-labeled Tennessee whiskey served at all of America's best bars and restaurants today. It’s no secret that the world-famous spirit is among the most beloved of all time, but Jack Daniel’s has a long and alluring history you may not know about.
Jack Daniel’s real name was Jasper Newton Daniel, but everyone called him Jack (or Mr. Jack) so he just went with that instead. Imagine ordering a Jasper Newton Daniel and Coke at the bar?
No one has the slightest clue when this man was born because his birth records were destroyed in a fire. “September 1850” is inscribed on his tombstone, so the brand celebrates his life for a full 30 days.
Jack Daniel was only 5 feet 2 inches tall. He wore a size four shoe.
After Jack Daniel left home, he found work on Reverend Dan Call’s farm in Lois, Tennessee, where he met then-enslaved Nathan “Nearest” Green. Green kept watch over the farm’s still and taught Jack how to make whiskey. After emancipation, he stayed on as a freedman, and when Call sold the still to Jack Daniel, he made Green the brand’s first-ever master distiller. The two families have been making whiskey together now for more than 150 years.
Buffalo Trace claims to be the oldest continuously running distillery in the country, but Jack Daniel’s is the oldest registered distillery in the U.S. Some reports say the company was founded in 1875, but an official plaque on the property proudly displays, “REGISTERED DISTILLERY NO. 1, 1866.”
Frank Sinatra liked his Jack Daniel’s on three rocks with a splash of water. In 1955 (eight years after his first sip in 1947) legend has it the singer took his glass on stage and said, “Ladies and gentleman, this is Jack Daniel’s and it’s the nectar of the gods.” This elevated the brand from small town fame to household name. Ol’ Blue Eyes became the whiskey’s first unofficial brand ambassador up until his death in 1998. He was buried with a bottle of Jack, a pack of cigarettes, a lighter and 10 dimes. A new 90-proof whiskey was later named in his honor called Sinatra Select, and it’s still available today. The musician was the first person who was not a Jack Daniel’s employee or relative to have his name on a bottle.
He never married or had children (that anyone knows of, at least) because as rumor has it, Jack Daniel was a ladies man and never wanted to settle down. After he died, he passed his legacy down to his two nephews and it stayed in the family until the Brown-Forman Corporation acquired it in 1956.
Legend has it that Jack Daniel couldn’t remember the combination to his safe, so he got frustrated and kicked it, shattering his left big toe. He didn’t see a doctor and got gangrene. He had his toe surgically removed first, followed by his foot and eventually the entire leg up to the hip. Six years later, he died from complications from the infection.
Jack Daniel’s currently employs 700 people. Two-thirds are generational and 95 percent are local to Lynchburg. Most of these staffers are part-time because Brown-Forman (Jack Daniel’s parent company) says they won’t promise anyone full-time employment without the guarantee that they’ll have the job for life. Full-time employees are extremely valued and can trust that they won’t be let go.
Lynchburg’s greatest natural resource is Cave Spring Hollow, a sediment-free spring with a steady temperature of 56 degrees Fahrenheit. Iron ruins the color and flavor of whiskey, but the cave’s limestone layers strip the mineral completely from the water. Every single bottle of Jack is made with water from this spring.
Jack Daniel’s is matured in uninsulated buildings. In the summer, warm weather forces whiskey into the cracks in the wooden barrel and in the winter, it pushes it back out. This is how the whiskey gets it color and flavor. This happens for four years before the initial tasting. If it’s ready then, it’ll get bottled. If it’s not, it gets put back and tested at years five and six. The maximum time for maturation is eight years because after that, whiskey starts to lose its sweetness.
Tennessee whiskey is born from a bourbon, but before it’s barreled it gets filtered through 10 feet of sugar maple charcoal “kind of like a Brita,” a Jack Daniel’s spokesperson told The Daily Meal. Three days a week, staffers stack pallets of hard sugar maple soaked in raw, unaged whiskey. These get set on fire and burn until they’re nothing but pellet-sized pieces. Filtering the whiskey through charcoal gets rid of any impurities, creating a better tasting and smoother spirit.
Jack Daniel’s is one of the only distillers in the world that makes barrels for its own product. This is so that they can control the quality rather than count on an outside source for consistency. Each barrel is handcrafted from 33 staves of American white oak. Once assembled, the inside is charred to bring out the wood’s natural sugars, which are caramelized by the heat. This is vital to the spirit’s flavor development during maturation.
Approximately 2,500 barrels of whiskey are made each day, but once the whiskey inside reaches maturation, the barrel is never used again. Like tea bags and coffee grounds, you can’t get the same quality twice, so each barrel is recycled and used as planters, tables, chairs and other furniture. Others are used to flavor scotch, rye, Irish whiskey, rum, tequila and tobacco.
Jack Daniel’s is the only distillery in the world that has its own fire department. The 34-person team includes volunteers from bottling, distillation and the charcoal-burning yard. The firehouse is aptly called “Firehouse No. 7” after Jack Daniel’s No. 7. When danger calls, these folks are already on the scene to keep the people (and whiskey) safe.
The Jack Daniel’s recipe (also called a mash bill) features 80 percent corn, 12 percent barley and 8 percent rye. During the distillation process, these grains are mixed with yeast and mash from a previous batch, and iron-free water from the Cave Spring Hollow. This ferments for six days before being single-distilled in copper. After that, the resulting 140-proof alcohol steeps through sugar maple charcoal. All leftover mash goes to cow feed and local pet companies within a 25-mile radius.
Jack Daniel’s original and most famous whiskey is called “Old No. 7,” but no one truly knows the number’s significance. Rumor has it that Mr. Jack was a playboy with seven girlfriends. Another variation on the tale claims he had six girlfriends and the whiskey was his seventh love. Seven could’ve just been his lucky number — he was a bit of a gambler — or maybe he knew everyone loved lucky number seven, so he used it as a marketing tool.
The Jack Daniel’s distillery is located in Tennessee’s Moore County. This has been a dry county since Prohibition, so you can’t legally purchase liquor here. Visitors can imbibe a flight of whiskey at one of Jack Daniel’s historic barrelhouses or buy bottles in the distillery gift shop, though. You just won’t find them at stores or restaurants.
Not only does the distillery sell bottles, but it sells entire barrels of whiskey for $10,000 a pop. After hand-selecting your own barrel, your preferred whiskey gets bottled and shipped to your local liquor store on a palette. One barrel fills about 240 customizable bottles. Each person who buys Jack in bulk this way gets their name engraved on the wall of Jack Daniel’s Personal Selection Room in Lynchburg. According to a Jack Daniel’s spokesperson, the biggest buyers in this category are members of the military.
Every year, seven graduating high school students are selected from Moore County High School (which exists right next door to the distillery) and Jack Daniel’s pays their tuition for an associate’s degree in exchange for two years’ worth of part-time work at the brand’s affiliated restaurant and famed tourist attraction, Miss Mary Bobo’s Boarding House. Here, guests dine on authentic Southern family-style meals — sweet tea, fried okra, fried chicken, corn bread, baked whiskey apples and more — hosted by sweet old Lynchburg ladies eager to chat your ear off about the town’s history.
Jack Daniel’s is America’s top selling spirit (and the most recommended shot by bartenders). According to a brand spokesperson, it accounts for the majority of all sales for Brown-Forman, which also owns Woodford Reserve, Old Forester, Herradura, El Jimador, Finlandia, Chambord and more — all perfectly good staples at the 75 most popular bars in America.
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