Uncovering the History of Jack Daniel’s
An all-time favourite. It takes space in bars both top-of-the-line and rudimentary. You can toss it on the rocks or in a cocktail. Jack Daniel’s is a label that is name dropped often when ordering a glass of whiskey. But, have you ever wondered who Jack Daniel is? How did his aqua vitae find itself all over the world? And what exactly is the inside story of this household brand that we so love?
Today we will be uncovering more than a century-old legacy. We will look into the people and history involved in the making of Jack Daniel’s.
Jasper Newton Daniel
Let’s start from the very beginning. Jasper Newton Daniel commonly known as Jack was born in 1850 and is the youngest of 10 children. His mother passed at a very early age. His father died not long after during the United States Civil War. Jack leaves home in 1864 and was taken in by a local preacher and moonshine maker, Reverend Dan Call.
Jack, Call and the Art of Whiskey Making
At the Call’s family farm, Jack learns the art of whiskey making. He later became a master distiller and went on to purchase a hollow land to build his distillery with his father’s inheritance.
Nearest Green, A Slave, a Mentor, A Master Distiller
For much of the brand’s century and half of existence, the story went that young Jack learnt his trade from a pastor named Dan Call. In reality, he was taught to distil and make whiskey by an enslaved African, Nearest Green.
According to Clay Risen, author of Jack Daniel’s Embraces a Hidden Ingredient: Help From a Slave, slavery and whiskey are topics that are linked inextricably. Enslaved men not only made up the bulk of the distilling labour force, but they played crucial skilled roles in the whiskey-making process. Green was the one who taught Jack how to make his famous and groundbreaking Jack Daniels No.7 Whiskey using the “sour mash” method and filtering through charcoal.
Unfortunately, Risen’s research also reveals that the prevailing history of American whiskey at that time was framed as a white affair, centred on German and Scottish settlers who distilled their surplus grains into whiskey and then exported them internationally. It was natural that white distillery owners took credit for the whiskeys.
But thanks to modernisation, Nearest Green’s contributions and narrative is now well embraced within marketing campaigns and social media platforms. Green is recognised as Jack Daniel’s first master distiller.
The Student Becoming a Master
While we take time to give Green his honours, as a teacher and a master distiller, it is imperative to acknowledge that Jack was an outstanding student with impeccable character disposition. His brilliant work ethic made him devoted and dedicated to producing only the most premium quality of the whiskey.
Green’s charcoal mellowing technique was and still is the staple of Jack Daniel’s whiskey. This technique involves dripping un-aged whiskey through handcrafted charcoal at a pace dictated organically by gravity. The drip takes 3-5 days to complete. Once the process is done, it imparts the distinctive smoothness expected from a bottle of Jack Daniel’s.
“Charcoal can accomplish in days what the barrel takes a couple of years to accomplish," says former Master Distiller of Jack Daniel’s Jeff Arnett. It is this extra step that makes Jack Daniel’s whiskey a Tennessee Whiskey and not a bourbon.
Spring Water from the Limestone Cave
Jack has a great character but an even greater vision. With his father’s fortune, Jack purchased cave spring hollow and its surrounding land for $2,148. Which, at the time, was a whopping amount that people would be hesitant to part with even if it is for investments. But what did Jack see in the water of cave spring hollows that make it such a necessity?
It was absolutely nothing. As in no sediment. No impurities. Just clean, pure, spring water. The Cave Spring Hollow is Lynchburg’s greatest natural resource layered with limestones. Limestone removes iron and imparts natural minerals into the water giving Jack Daniel’s its distinctive character and flavour.
The spring water is the lifeblood of Jack Daniel’s whiskey and till today, every bottle of Jack Daniel’s sold around the world is made with water from this very source.
The Marketing: Jack Branding 101
So how did Jack’s premium whiskey from Tennessee, have such a great impact on today’s whiskey universe? Character excellence aside, Jack had a brilliant mind for branding.
He understood that if people remembered him, they would remember his whiskey. To that end, he decked himself out in an everyday signature look; a formal knee-length coat, a vest, a tie, and a wide-brim planter's hat.
Music and Whiskey Campaign
Jack realised that music drew people together. In the 1890s, he established the Jack Daniel's Silver Cornet Band - a ten-member group devoted to promoting his whiskey across the countryside. With a complete package of uniforms, instruments and a specially designed wagon for travelling, Jack made sure that the band played for every saloon opening, Fourth of July celebration, and political rally around.
His campaign created a culture of music and whiskey. Successfully bringing people together and also garnering fans from the professional music and entertainment industry. Frank Sinatra was the brand’s greatest fan. He called the whiskey “nectar of the Gods”. And would carry a bottle on all his foreign tours and take a sip before every concert. Sinatra was so enamoured with the brand that when he passed, a bottle of Jack Daniel’s was buried along with him.
Jack was about upholding high-quality standards. And when it comes to packaging, he wanted his brand to stand out from the rest and more importantly bring meaning. So in 1895, he adopted the square-shaped bottle for his whiskey. The new bottles reinforce an assurance that Jack was a fair dealer who put quality and honest work first. In addition, the square-shaped bottles prevent the whiskey from rolling around and breaking during transport.
In the words of Laszlo Ravasz, marketing director at Brown-Forman, one of the largest American-owned spirits and wine companies “Why change what you believe to be the best?”
Everything about Jack Daniel’s and its back story had character excellence - The founder, the formula, the craft and the culture hasn’t changed over the last hundred years and counting.
While Jack’s story of passing earth wasn’t so pretty - a toe infection from kicking a safe out of frustration that ultimately took his life in 1906, his life story, or rather his “way of life” and work ethics was beautiful and needless to say the true treasure of his legacy.
Make it Count
In 2020, a new slogan ”Make it Count” was released. This tagline is a modern articulation of Jack's spirit - to live life to the fullest, enjoy the moments we have, and give it your all. There is no doubt that the spirit of excellence and creativity is what led to the creation of a line of Jack Daniel’s flavoured expressions; Jack Daniel's Tennessee Honey Whiskey and Jack Daniel's Tennessee Fire Whiskey to name a few.
We owe it to Mr Jack and his legacy stewards for the golden liquid we enjoy today. With some knowledge of the back story you now have, it is quite possible that the next Jack Daniel’s you sip on may taste different. There could be flavours of exploration, inspiration or even better courage to living in the moment and doing what you always wanted to do.
Then again, doing things differently could be the side effects of alcohol, reducing your inhibitions but it could very well be the power of a true narrative at force. Either way, there is only one way to find out. Come stock up on your Jack Daniel’s with us, the classic, the flavoured or both to make it count! You can also enjoy free alcohol delivery from us should you cart out more than $98 worth of goods. Happy exploring and cheers to living life to the fullest!