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Jack Daniel's - A One Trick Pony In Disguise? History of Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey

Updated: Mar 5


Jack Daniel's range of bottlings

Image by The Whisky Ardvark/ Jack Daniel's


Before we start - Hold your horses Jack Daniel's lovers! There is a question mark in our headline for a reason, and it's there so we can look into the world of Jack Daniel's with an open mind.


For years Jack Daniel's whiskey has divided people - many either hate it or love it. But one thing is for sure - they have the best marketing team in the industry. In this article, we will see several different bottlings from the Brown-Forman-owned distillery, and dig into the history of what makes this iconic Tennessee whiskey one of the best-selling whiskies in the world.


 

The Man Behind the Name


Jack Daniel whiskey legend

Image by Whiskeypedia Wiki


Jasper Newton Daniel was born in 1849 in Lynchburg, Tennessee as the youngest child of a family of ten children. With roots in Scotland, Ireland, and Wales, his family moved to the US at the end of the 18th century. After his mother died of complications following childbirth leaving his actual birthday a mystery, his father soon remarried, and he was raised in a Primitive Baptist church.


The story of how Jack learned to distil his famous spirit involves a man called Dan Call, who was a distiller and a preacher. Unlike first thought, Jack didn't learn the craft from Mr. Call in around 1864, but from one of his slaves Nathan Green AKA 'Nearest'.


Nathan 'Uncle Nearest' Green and Jack Daniel

Image by The Times/ Nathan 'Uncle Nearest' Green, Jack Daniel



There has been speculation about the real founding year of the distillery. Brown-Forman insists that it was licensed in 1866, but recent data argue that it took another 9 years to establish the premise as a distillery. Jack Daniel is credited for being the first master distiller in the US.


As a famous figure, even his death has been up for debate. The famous story tells how a frustrated Jack broke his toe with a kick after forgetting the combination to his safe. Soon after, he died of blood poisoning due to an infection in 1911. In recent years this has been disputed and some believe he broke his toe a couple of years earlier and died of unrelated gangrene. Nevertheless, the safe still survives to this day and is displayed as 'The safe that killed Jack'. Little on the nose, the distillery has released a bottle of Single Barrel Select displayed in a safe-shaped packaging.


The safe that killed Jack Daniel myth

Image by Youtube


Mr. Daniel never married and left no heir to his whiskey kingdom. He left his fortune and distillery to his nephew Lemuel 'Lem' Motlow, who owned the distillery till his death in 1947. In 1965 the distillery was sold to the current owner Brown-Forman who has established Jack Daniel's as an empire that has enchanted people all over the world.



 

What is Jack Daniel's Old No7?


Is it bourbon? If not, then why? Jack Daniel's is a Tennessee Whiskey, not a bourbon. The process and ingredients of bourbon and Tennessee whiskey are the same, but what separates them is the Lincoln County Process which in its simplicity is charcoal filtration of the spirit. The charcoal is used to filter out impurities, and some say, make it smoother.


Secondly, most bourbon is made in the state of Kentucky even though there is no law restricting its production to this part of the US.


So what exactly does the No7 refer to? It was believed that the No7 stood for the 7th mash bill that Jack approved to be the best, but it had more to do with licensing. According to Daniel's biographer, the origin of the "Old No. 7" brand name was the number assigned to Daniel's distillery for government registration. He was forced to change the registration number when the federal government redrew the district, and he became Number 16 in district 5 instead of No7.

Jack Daniel's Tennessee whiskey different labels

Image by The Whisky Ardvark/ Jack Daniel's No7 - different label designs



Whatever the reason, the Old No7 is what Jack Daniel's is most known for, and believe it or not - most bottles of Jack Daniel's contain the same liquid! But here's where the best marketing team in the industry comes into play. We wonder if they sat around a table to figure out how many different presentations they can put in the market that people would buy, and ultimately collect at the same time as buying a regular bottle for drinking.


Special bottlings and decanters of Jack Daniel's whiskey

Image by The Whisky Ardvark/ Jack Daniel's No7 - limited releases


The spirit might differ slightly from different times due to development in wood management and refining of the process, but you are ultimately drinking Jack Daniel's Old No7 made with the same sour mash bill and tradition. The No7 is made from a mash bill of 80% corn, 12% barley, and 8% rye. Limestone-filtered water and a starter mash (aka sour mash) from previous batches are added for fermentation to allow product consistency. After a six-day fermentation, the mash is distilled to 140 proof.


Jack Daniel's Tennessee whiskey different packaging

Image by The Whisky Ardvark/ Jack Daniel's


With so many different bottlings including limited decanter replicas and commemorative releases, Jack Daniel's has managed to create a booming industry of collectivity by packaging. Jack Daniel's official website recognizes around 65 different bottlings of Jack with only a handful of variations. To some, this is a clear indication of selling the same thing over and over again successfully in different disguises.


But the fact is, that for those Jack Daniel's lovers who choose to grow their JD collection with different 'clothes', it doesn't matter what's inside the bottle. As long as it's JD whiskey it has value. Why fix something that isn't broken, and people keep buying it no matter what?


Decanters of Jack Daniel's Tennessee whiskey

Image by The Whisky Ardvark/ Jack Daniel's



 

Variations


Even though Jack Daniel's is known mainly for its signature No7, in the last 30 years or so they have expanded its portfolio with different takes on the classic. The first, Double Mellowed Gentleman Jack was created and introduced in 1988 by their new master distiller Jimmy Bedford.


Jack Daniel's Tennessee whiskey variations

Image by The Whisky Ardvark/ Jack Daniel's


With the booming whiskey market, Jack Daniel's has enticed different types of consumers with different modifications to their original recipe. But in the heart? No7.


Jack Daniel's No27 Gold - Second maturation in maple wood casks

Gentleman Jack - 'Double Mellowed', Second charcoal filtration

Single Barrel Series - Select, Select Barrel Proof, Select 100 proof, and Rye

Unaged Tennessee Rye - Clear high proof 'white dog' rye

Jack Daniel's Tennessee Rye - 70% Rye content

Jack Daniel's Tennessee Fire - Cinnamon flavoured

Jack Daniel's Tennessee Honey - Honey flavoured

Jack Daniel's Tennessee Apple - An updated version of Winter Jack, Apple flavoured


Jack Daniel's has also released an experimental Traveler- series that included 2 high-proof whiskies - Straight bourbon Discover No1 Sweet & Oaky, and rye Discover No2 Bold & Spicy.

Jack Daniel's Traveler series

Image by The Whiskey Wash



 

Jack The Celebrity


JAck Daniel's and celebrities

Image by The Whisky Ardvark/ Jack Daniel's


For many, Jack Daniel's is part of the rock'n'roll and punk movement. It's the rebel, the stand-out, the only choice for a true rocker. Critics will argue that this obsession has more to do with marketing than the taste of the product itself. Whatever the reason, Jack has managed to infiltrate the music industry as a permanent community member and character.


Early on, Jack Daniels gathered some famous followers. Probably the most loved was the late Frank Sinatra, who was buried with a bottle of JD on his side. As a big part of making Jack what it is today, the distillery has released 2 limited editions in honour of the late swinger whose swag helped JD on its way to stardom.


Jack Daniel's Sinatra

Image by The Whisky Ardvark/ Jack Daniel's



Other famous Jack Daniel's drinkers include Keith Richards, Slash, and Lemmy from Motorhead. JD has become a brand that breaks boundaries, and for many, it is a status symbol of hardcore and 'don't give an f'-attitude. Displaying your inner rebel can be found on all kinds of merchandise from lighters and belt buckles to guitars and fridges. This makes us wonder how much of its sales of Jack are spirit-based compared to the merchandising sales...


As a popular culture symbol, Jack has also made appearances in movies as the whiskey of choice. Most famously in Stephen King's thriller Shining, Jack Nicholson's character orders a bourbon at the hotel bar and is handed a glass of Jack Daniel's. This is when a whiskey drinker should flinch. Some argue that it was a conscious decision made by the director Stanley Kubrick. We think it was a mistake.


Jack Daniel's range of merchandise

Image be Whisky Ardvark/ Jack Daniel's


Hate it or love it, history will always remember the whiskey-making man from Lynchburg, Tennessee.

 

Stay tuned to The Whisky Ardvark with #whiskyardvark #thewhiskyardvark



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