Jack Daniel: a Personal and Business Evolution

Jack Daniel, the historical figure, famously founded the Jack Daniel Distillery in Lynchburg, TN. He sold it to a nephew, Lem Motlow, and a cousin before he died in 1911. Motlow became sole owner after buying the cousin’s interest.

State liquor prohibition was looming, which finally shut the distillery on January 1, 1910. Slow but steadily the states were going dry, presaging National Prohibition 10 years later. Jack Daniel’s personal story was also evolving. According to this account on April 29, 1909 in the Sequachee Valley News, Sequatchie, TN Jack, not having professed religion earlier, was baptized by immersion in Mulberry Creek.

The story:

CONVERSION OF
MAJ. JACK DANIELS

Once Proprietor of Famous
Distillery, Maker of No. 7,
Becomes Baptist.

SHELBYVILLE, Tenn., April 27.

Elder A. J. Willis, an ex-Primitive
Baptist preacher of South Pittsburg,
who has charge of two or three church
es in this county, was here yesterday
and told the Banner correspondent an
interesting story of the conversion of
Maj. Jack Daniel, the noted distiller
and former proprietor of that famous
whisky brand, “Jack Daniel, No. 7.”
Mr. Daniel made a profession of relig
ion several days ago and was baptized
by immersion in Mulberry Creek Sun
day by Elder Willis. The Elder says
that Maj. Daniel’s conversion was one
if the most earnest he has ever known.
Maj. Daniel is one of the wealthiest
men of Middle Tennessee and has long
been noted for his kindness of heart
and unbounded liberality. He is no
longer interested in the whiskey busi-
ness and has, it is stated, forbidded
the use of his name on whisky brands,
and in the future his large capital will
be differently employed. His famous
distillery at Lynchburg has passed in
to other hands.

The military title – 1890s news accounts term him a captain – was presumably for a militia post, or was perhaps an honorary title as for today’s Kentucky Colonels.

The reference to his kindness and “unbounded liberality” is notable. It seems the “hard-hearted executive” is not invariably the model to achieve lofty business success. It ties in, too, to the recent news stories showing Daniel pictured next to an evidently valued African-American employee. Clearly he wasn’t intimidated by social norms of the day, at least to that extent.

Tennessee had introduced liquor prohibition in stages before WW I. Finally, even making alcoholic beverages for shipment out of state was banned. Under its new ownership Jack Daniel’s relocated outside the state including to Hopkinsville, KY just over the state line.

The Lynchburg distillery clearly was able to ship a large amount of inventory to Kentucky before Tennessee’s full manufacturing ban took effect. As well, it seems the distillery could sell what was left in inventory in some parts of Tennessee. The ad below, from February 1910 in The Comet, a newspaper of Johnson City, TN states:

“Jack Daniel’s Old-Time Distillery, No. 7,
Ceased operation on December 31, 1909, in accordance with the law which
became effective on that date. This famous old Distillery, which has
been in uninterrupted operation since 1866, and is the oldest in the United
States, has earned and won the gold medals offored in the greatest Exposi-
tions of the earth. The quality, purity and general excellence of “Jack
Daniel’s Old No. 7” Whiskey is appreciated wherever whiskey is known,
and recommended by physicians everywhere.

16 YEARS OLD – I have a few barrels of Extra Fine Old Lincoln County
Whiskey. This is nearly 17 years old, at $3.00 per Gallon.
BRANDIES – My Own Make – Apple and Peach Brandles, can’t be beat.
ALL MY OWN GOODS – I do not buy anything from jobbers, and I han-
dle only the whiskies and brandies I make myself, so I know they
are always pure, properly aged, and my reputation for making
high grade whiskies and brandies is safe.

I Prepay All Express Charges – PRICES

White Lincoln County Whiskey, 75 proof, per gallon………………… $2.75
White Lincoln County Whiskey, 100 proof, per gallon……………….   3.25
Red Lincoln County Whiskey, 70 proof, per gallon……………………   2.75
Old Whiskey, 80 proof, per gallon………………………………………….. 3.25
Jack Daniel’s No. 7, age and proof considered, per gal…..     $3.00 to 5.00
Fine Old Blue Ribbon Whiskey, per gallon……………………………….. 6.00
Apple Brandy, 75 proof, per gallon…………………………………             2.75
Pure Brandy, 90 proof, per gallon……………………………………            3.75
Pure Apple and Peach Brandy, old 100 proof, per gallon…………..   5.00
Best Apricot Brandy, per gallon……………………………………………… 3.25
White Corn Whiskey, 75 proof, per gallon…………………………            2.75
White Corn Whiskey, 90 proof, per gallon………………………………..  3.00
White Corn Whiskey, 100 proof, per gallon………………………………  3.25
The Yellow Corn at the same prices as the White Corn Whiskey

4 Full Quarts No. 7, prepaid…………………………..                                $6.00
Case Goods 12 Full Quarts No. 7, prepaid……………………………..    15.50
No case goods guaranteed genuine unless corks branded “Jack Daniel’s
Old No. 7.”.

DRUM GOODS-100 pints, 200 1/2 pints, $27.00 F.O.B. You want the best,
then give my own goods a trial order.

                                Old Time

Jack Daniel       Distillery  Hopkinsville, Ky”.

…………….

Listed first under the appellation Lincoln County, setting aside the eye-catching 16-year-old whiskey, is the white whiskey. This was the original Kentucky type, as I explained earlier. However, a Red Lincoln County Whiskey is also listed, and various old whiskeys that would have been dark from barrel age. The 16-year-old fetched only $3.00 per gallon, not much more than the white and corn whiskeys. It is difficult to explain the absence of a meaningful premium for long age.

Maybe people thought such very old whiskey more a curio than something prime to drink. Alternatively, if the distillery had a window of time to sell remaining inventory perhaps pricing was set to unload the goods posthaste, hence the near parity in price with unaged, white whiskey.

I think all the aged whiskey shown was directly or indirectly influenced by the reputation of Kentucky bourbon, as discussed earlier. White Lincoln County whiskey was evidently still respected locally in Tennessee, as we saw too from Tennessee banker T.J. Latham’s high praise of a similar form in 1895. In Kentucky though, high praise at least since the Civil War was not assigned to white lightning or the not dissimilar corn whiskey, it was reserved for fine, aged bourbon.

Indeed “bourbon” meant a whiskey well-aged in new oak barrels, that was the essence of it. Note that corn whiskey in the ad is distinguished from White Lincoln County Whiskey. Differences in type and time of storage probably explain this, or in mash bill. The corn whiskey probably was aged for a time in re-used oak barrels, as some is today, which even if charred on the interior do not lend the distinctive, Kentucky-style flavour.

Yet further, we have Yellow Corn and White Corn whiskey – each offering a distinct flavour, presumably. Going by price the finest quality offered was not today’s world-famous Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7, then available in different ages and proofs, but an Old Blue Ribbon Whiskey at an impressive $6.00/gal.

The 16-year-old whiskey, at half the price and perhaps double the age, was likely more a collectible curio. Not that there is so much super-aged whiskey in our market today, but this 1910 pricing might cause those willing to pay big sums for very old whiskey to reflect. A frankly woody mint julep doesn’t sound so good, come to think on it, Sire.

Coda: the story of Jack taking religion stated his name would no longer appear on the distillery’s brands. But in ads appearing through 1910 for the whiskeys as shipped from Hopkinsville, KY his name is still prominent – as it is today.

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*The prices in the advertisement above were listed in the original source more neatly than I was able to reproduce. The original ad can be viewed here in the issue of The Comet mentioned above. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Material is used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

 

 

 

 

8 thoughts on “Jack Daniel: a Personal and Business Evolution

  1. Gary.
    Just to contradict myself slightly:
    Could it not have been the case that there was a small (very small) group of customers who enjoyed older whiskies?
    He states “…nearly 17 years old”.
    Why would he say that?
    Nobody would have been able to tell the difference, but he’s using it as a selling point.
    I stand by my claim, though, that he knew his “few barrels” were on their last legs and he needed to get rid of them.
    Alan.

    • I tend to agree that quality-wise Lem Motlow (now the owner) and any connoisseur would know that the whiskey was not the best at that advanced age. However, as today, there are people who want this. Think of some famous bourbon and rye brands in the last dozen years… Another or related possibility is, because the distillery had to say in the ad it was now in Kentucky, he may have wanted to give people a “bonus”, do something special to maintain interest in the whiskeys and their repute in Tennessee.

      Gary

  2. Gary.
    Agreed.
    Still strange that this “over-aged” 16-year-old would be sold as such.
    Why not “Extra-Old” or “Special Old”, something like that?
    Or……why not mingle a small percentage of this older stuff with younger?
    Alan.

  3. Gary.
    Also, I find it fascinating that all of these whiskies are NAS, when suddenly a 16-year-old appears.
    If the Old Blue Ribbon was 8-years-old, why not label it as such?
    And a jump from 8 to 16 is huge.
    Why not market a 10 and a 12?
    The 16 sticks out like a sore thumb, very confusing.
    Alan.

    • I think in general they didn’t want to mention age, even for the Old No. 7 which became the flagship, they refer to a range of proofs and years. On request I am sure people were told. To this day Jack Daniel’s doesn’t use age as a way to market the product, which in a time of penury of aged stocks, works to their advantage. Old Jack probably figured this out a long time ago…

      Gary

  4. Gary.
    That 16-year-old is certainly a curiosity.
    It obviously makes no sense from a business perspective to sell it at roughly the same price, as you point out, as the younger whiskies.
    My theory: He states that he has “a few barrels”, and that the whisky is “nearly 17 years old”. It was too old at this point, and still aging of course, and his “few barrels” that he had left he was selling at a discount.
    As you suggest, the younger whiskies were more popular. Those that were barrel-aged for 5, 6, 7 or 8 years sold, but not as quickly as the younger ones.
    Invariably there would be some still-aging spirit that would become, while certainly drinkable, not to the taste of the majority of customers.
    Alan.

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