When was the last time you sat down and focused your eyes on the fine print of a Jack Daniel's label? All of those little details--"Lynchburg (Pop. 361)," "Lem Motlow, Proprietor," "Est. & Reg. in 1866"--are the center of a minor shake-up in Tennessee. The Wall Street Journal reports that "The Oldest Registered Distillery in the United States" is confronting some of the half-truths the company has been perpetuating with a "refinement" to the whiskey's label.
Chief amongst them is that first detail above about Lynchburg, Tennessee's population. One resident jokes that when she moved to town and married a Jack Daniel barrel roller 30 years ago, their four children boosted the population from the advertised 361 to 365. In fact, when the town was consolidated into Metropolitan Lynchburg in Moore County the number jumped drastically, hitting 6,362 in the 2010 consensus. And business is booming:
Some folks in Lynchburg might still sit on the porch and whittle. A good few have jobs at the distillery. (Ask anybody how many people work there, and the answer will likely be, "About half.") But some folks also live in million-dollar houses on Tims Ford Lake, or work nearby at Arnold Air Force Base, simulating space flight.
True, Lynchburg has no big-box stores. The closest mall is 20 minutes away. That's because Lynchburg is full up. Nestled in every hollow are the warehouses and packing plants of its biggest taxpayer. They ship 119 million bottles of Jack a year, world-wide.
Jack Daniel's history is so storied, and the updated label will omit some of the other less accurate claims. A company historian showed Journal reporter Barry Newman a photograph with the only existing proof of the label's claim of the establishment date "one old photograph showing "Est. 1866" scrawled in runny paint on Jack's office wall, since painted over." The new label will hold on to the 1866 assertion, but since there are no tax records showing the company's registration the "oldest" and "est. & reg." claims are gone.
Also gone is the name of Lem Motlow, the inherited the distillery when Jack, his uncle, died in 1911. Though the Journal reports that the company believes foreign buyers could care less about Americana, it's also careful to point out that it was Motlow's sons who sold the distillery to a Kentucky corporation for $20 million in 1956. That doesn't make Jack Daniel's a bourbon by any stretch of the definition, but the two states have always had a bit of a rivalry when it comes to spirits. This most recent reminder of who's winning must sting. (Full disclosure: I'm from Tennessee. It does sting.)
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.