The Jack Daniel Distillery lies in the rolling hills of Moore County, Tennessee, near the town of Lynchburg which is located 70 miles southeast of Nashville. When the founder Jasper Newton Daniel was born, this area was still a part of Lincoln County.
Jasper Newton “Jack” Daniel’s date of birth is unclear, since a town fire destroyed the courthouse records. Most commonly his birth date is believed to be September 1850, since the only thing that is certain with his birth date is that it was in the month of September. There are also records that indicate he may have been born in September 1846.
Jack Daniel was the youngest son of 13 children to Calaway Daniel, a man with Irish-Scottish decent. Jasper lived with a family friend until he was seven when he was hired out to work with the Dan Call family. Call, a Lutheran minister, also owned a whiskey still on the Louse River. Jack learned everything possible about whiskey-making from Call during the following years. Like Dan Call, he believed in mellowing the fresh whiskey through hard maple charcoal, a process which is unique to Tennessee whiskey-making and is also known as the Lincoln process.
To this day, the Charcoal Mellowing that Call taught Jack is what gives Jack Daniel’s its smooth character and taste. The charcoal mellowing process is the only technical difference between Tennessee whiskey and bourbon. The difference was officially acknowledged in 1941 by the US Government.
History of Jack Daniel’s
When Jack was only 13 years old, in September 1863, he bought the still from Call who had decided to concentrate on his religious calling. Jack registered his distillery in 1866 and obtained a license to produce whisky in the state of Tennessee. Jack Daniel’s distillery was the first registered distillery in the US and is also the oldest registered distillery in the US still making whiskey.
Jack moved the distillery near to his birthplace when a particular piece of land near Lycnhburg became available. The area was a perfect site for brewing excellent quality whisky with iron-free spring water from a limestone cave, plenty of corn, rye and barley fields and an abundant supply of as sugar maple trees. Initially Jack Daniel bottled his whiskey in earthenware jugs with cork stoppers as was usual at the time. However, he stenciled his name on the jugs. When glass bottles became fashionable in the late 1870 Jack developed a standard round glass bottle with the distillery name embossed on it. In 1895 he was shown a unique and untested bottle design; a square bottle with a fluted neck; a design that would distinguish his whiskey from others. The same square bottle is used for the Jack Daniels whiskey we drink today.
In 1904 when the World Fair was held in St. Louis, Missouri, Jack entered his whiskey Old No. 7 Tennessee (sippin’) whiskey in the international competition. He won the gold medal for “the world’s finest whiskey”. It was the only whiskey that was awarded a gold medal.
Jack was a thrifty salesman and his company grew steadily. During the St. Louis World’s Fair, he began what was to become a lifelong friendship with one of the international judges, Mr. M. Hoctor of Great Britain. He in turn encouraged Jack to export his whiskey to Europe. At the 1905 International Exposition in Liege, Belgium, Old No. 7 was admired and awarded another Gold Medal.
Jack Daniel never married nor did he have any children. Instead, he took his nephew under his wing in 1887. Jack’s 17 year-old nephew Lem Motlow was hard working and very good with numbers and soon became the bookkeeper of the distillery.
In 1905 Jack arrived at work an early morning and when he tried to open the safe he could not remember the combination. In anger he kicked the safe and sadly the only result was a broken toe that refused to heal. Due to his failing health Jack retired in 1907 and gave the distillery to Lem. Around this time the idea of prohibition was really beginning to take hold and in 1909 Moore County was among the first states voted “dry”. The rest of the country went dry ten years later.
In 1910 National Prohibition legislation prohibited Jack Daniel’s distillery to produce sprits in Tennessee. The distillery moved to St Louis, Missouri, and Birmingham, Alabama. The attempts to make whisky on those sites were never fruitful due to the changed conditions with different water for example. No whiskey made outside of Lynchburg was ever sold. In 1911 Jack Daniel died from blood poisoning, from the infection caused by his broken toe. He was buried in Lynchburg. Next to his headstone two chairs were placed for the many ladies who mourned his passing.
Nationwide Prohibition was instituted in January 1919, via the 18th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and the distillery was shut down. When Prohibition was repealed, via the 21st amendment to the U.S. Constitution, in December 1933 it did not supersede similar state laws and as a result the state of Tennessee remained dry until 1936. At this time Lem Motlow was State Senator and he understandably spent a lot of time lobbying. He was successful and a bill was pass passed in 1937 which allowed whisky to be produced in Tennessee and sold in other states -Jack Daniel’s Distillery could finally return to Lynchburg.
Production resumed in 1938 but due to cash flow problems Lem was forced to bottle some of the barrels before they had matured for four years. The Lem Motlow’s Tennessee Whiskey was matured for 12 months only and the first bottling occurred in 1939. The brand was only ever sold in Tennessee and Georgia and was discontinued in 1986.
From 1942 through 1947 the U.S. Government banned all whiskey making for the duration of World War II, which forced the Jack Daniel’s distillery to go dry for a second time. When the ban was lifted in 1946 a restriction remained which allowed only inferior grades of grain to be used in whiskey making. Unwilling to compromise with quality Lem refused to resume operation until 1947 when the restriction was lifted and good quality grain where once more available.
Lem expanded the business and in 1944 his name was incorporated in the company name. When Lem died in 1947 the distillery was handed on to his sons. It was sold in 1956 to the Brown-Forman conglomerate but the Motlow family is still majority owner and continues to operate and manage the company. The company name “Jack Daniel Distillery, Lem Motlow, Prop., Inc.” also includes “Lynchburg (361)”. When the label was trademarked in the early 1960s the population of Lynchburg actually was 361 which is the cause behind that number. The label cannot be changed without applying for a new trademark, which might be the reason why the number is still 361. The current population of Lynchburg is close to 5,800, largely due to its consolidation with Moore County.
Regarding the origin of the name Old No. 7, there are conflicting theories. Some say that it had to do with a lucky roll of the dice, others that it refers to Jack’s seventh try at a mash recipe, but neither theory has been proved to be the truth.
Although whiskey production accounts for a major segment of the Moore County economy, the county remains dry. Up until January 1995 whiskey could not be sold at all. Due to the 1994 special act of the Tennessee Legislature, Jack Daniel’s Distillery is able to sell commemorative decanters containing Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey. The distillery makes a $3.50 donation to Moore County for every bottle sold.
The Old no. 7 bottling sells the most and it is available in 130 countries. In 1988 Gentleman Jack Rare Tennessee Whiskey was released, the first new whiskey release in a long time. It is charcoal-mellowed twice – once before it’s aged in those charred white oak barrels, and once again four years later before it’s bottled. The double charcoal mellowing gives the whiskey a very smooth and elegant character, thus the name. Since 1997 single barrels have been released .
Production at Jack Daniel
The water from Cave Springs is clear and rich in minerals from limestone. Jack Daniel’s only uses one mash tun. The mix for all whiskies is 80% corn (maize), 12% rye and 8% barley. Sour mash is used in the process (a small amount of mash from an earlier batch). The distillery uses 16 open washbacks made from stainless steel.
Besides being made in Tennessee, what makes Jack Daniel’s a Tennessee whiskey and not a bourbon, is the ‘Lincoln County Process’, more commonly known as charcoal mellowing. The mellowing involves dripping the liquor through 10 foot deep vats of maple charcoal. The charcoal used is produced at the distillery from hard sugar maple trees cut from the Tennessee countryside, split into short lengths (staves) and stacked into Ricks. These are then burnt in the open air and cooled with water from a hose until charcoal is produced. Once the spirit has seeped through the charcoal, fusel oils and other minor impurities are leeched from the spirit, and the end result is a smooth Jack Daniel’s Whiskey.
The whisky is cut to 62.5 ABV and is stored in new oak barrels from a cooperage in Kentucky. According to American law, whisky barrels may only be used once, so used barrels are sold as garden decorations, burned as fuel or sold to Europe where they are used by Scottish and Irish whisky distilleries. After maturing in the more than 50 warehouses on the distillery grounds, the whisky is bottled on site and shipped out for the world to enjoy.
The annual output of the Jack Daniels Distillery is 8-9 million liters.
Contact Jack Daniel Distillery
Jack Daniel Distillery, Route 1, Lynchburg, Tennessee 37352, USA
Phone: +1 502 585-11001
Master Distiller: Jimmy Bedford.
Visitors: Visitors are welcomed in the modern visitor centre (built in 1999). The Visitor centre is open every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve day, Christmas, New Year’s Eve day and New Year’s Day.
Tour hours are: 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tours last about an hour and fifteen minutes and start every fifteen minutes. Visitors are asked not to take backpacks, camera bags, tote bags, shopping bags or other large bags on the tour.
Due to Tennessee law, the White Rabbit Bottle Shop is closed on Sundays. It is also closed on the days the distillery is closed to visitors, as well as on certain holidays like the Fourth of July and Labour Day. However, the shop is allowed to do business on Election Day.
Owner: Brown Forman Corporation