Friday, July 1, 2016

Another Take on Jack Daniel's 150th Anniversary

A few days ago, we posted about Jack Daniel's phony 150th anniversary. Our good friend Down Under, Chris Middleton, the former Global Brand Director for Jack Daniel’s, contributed the following.

There may prove to be a grain of truth in the Jack Daniel’s claim of 150 years distilling at the Cave Spring, thereby probably being the oldest registered whiskey distillery in continuous operation, excluding periods of State and Federal Prohibition.

Jack Daniel may have only started distilling at the Cave Spring in 1884, but the distillery may have older antecedents.

This story begins with Joseph Hiles and William Berry who allegedly purchased the land surrounding the Cave Spring in 1817, and erected a grain mill. At some point they built a still house, the exact date is not known. Some books credit Wilburn Hiles and William Berry as the original owners; however, Wilburn was only born in 1826 and William Berry in 1776. Whether it was Berry’s son inherited or later bought this land and then partnered with Joseph Hiles’ son Wilburn (born 1826) or Walton (born 1831); I have been unable to verify. 

Regardless of both genealogical lines, Hiles & Berry were operating a distillery at the Cave Spring soon after the Civil War ended. They had allegedly ceased distilling before they put the Cave Spring property on the market. Hiles & Berry distilled 44 bushels or 110 gallons a day by 1877. This was the 142 acres Jack Daniel purchased from them June 14, 1884, for $2,180.40. Daniel & Call distillery (1876 – 1882), down the creek was five bushels a day less than the Hiles & Berry. 

In all likelihood, the Hiles & Berry families operated a still at the Cave Spring site possibly before, but certainly immediately after the Civil War. Tennessee was granted readmission to the Union on July 24, 1866, so it came under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Government’s July 1, 1862 regulation registering still and boiler capacities. Any distillery operating in Tennessee was required to be registered and a Treasury gauger appointed to monitor daily production, e.g. assistant deputy tax collector J W Bryant supervised Lynchburg’s half dozen distilleries in 1877. 

This line of inquiry would indicate that a still house had operated at the Cave Spring site since the introduction of still registrations in Tennessee from late 1866. If Jack Daniel had been able to transfer the distillery registration to himself as part of the Hiles & Berry deal, then the distillery claim may prove true. If not, they are celebrating 132 years.

In close pursuit, subject to how you define ‘continuous’ distillery operations at the same location, Ripy brother’s Tyrone distillery at Lawrenceburg Kentucky (now Wild Turkey) is the closest contender for a distillery consistently operating at the same site since 1869, and very likely registered.  Woodford Reserve distillery was a rebuild on the Old Oscar Pepper distillery site of 1790. Then there’s Laird & Co in New Jersey, which preceded the formulation of US Government of 1789 when New Jersey became an independent colony and first taxed distilleries in 1777.


David said...

This sounds much more reasonable than celebrating a "fake 150th anniversary." What would be Jack Daniel's motivation to not tell the truth? There's no way a corporation would risk a reputation of brand like Jack Daniel's over 18 years of disputable history.

Unknown said...

Hehehe, American Whiskey LOVES a good story. Just about every major distillery indulges in stretching the truth or all out fibbing, and quite frequently! The motivation is selling bottles ;)

Erik Fish said...

Nobody risks anything with marketing shenanigans like this, least of all their reputation. You forget that we are in the nerdsphere here. Average consumers who think that Betty Crocker and Aunt Jemima, and probably Mr. Clean too, are real people are not going to get tied in a knot over some nitpick like this. Besides, it's not just American whiskey. Diageo, one of the worst offenders, is British, and Scotch marketing isn't any better.

Sam Komlenic said...

Though the distillery is now demolished, they've all still got a ways to go to match Pennsylvania Michter's run of 237 years.

Erik Fish said...

Well, there again, to arrive at Michter's 237 years you have to define the criteria of your continuity for maximum flexibility. The distillery site may have been that old, but how meaningful that is to Michter's is open to debate considering that the Michter's name itself as well as the whiskey are a creation of the early 1950s, and the guy who created both had no particular connection to previous family owners, recipes etc., other than he had the money to buy the site. There is at least no doubt that Brown-Forman continued to make old Jack's and Lem's kind of whiskey.

Anonymous said...

Curious; where does Beam fall in all this with a start date of 1795???

Sam Komlenic said...

I'm just saying that there was a whiskey distillery in Lebanon County, PA that made whiskey from 1753 to 1990. This would be far from the first distillery that changed hands and brand names during its tenure.

My initial comment only relates to JD's trumped-up claim of the oldest registered distillery, in that there were those who distilled way before Jack that would have had to have been registered earlier once that requirement was initiated.

Unknown said...

>Curious; where does Beam fall in all this with a start date of 1795???

That's actually something I have been wondering about as well - and for multiple reasons. For one thing, there's the whole deal about whether that "1795" date (which was supposedly the year Jacob Beam sold the first barrel of whiskey) is actually accurate but the other thing I have been wondering about was whether their "Family tradition since 1795" can be called, say, accurate.

People who are into bourbon history probably know that Jim Beam (or D.M. Beam & Company at that time, I believe), was forced to shut down in the 1920s because of the Prohibition. I'm not faulting that decision - without any idea how long the Prohibition will last, getting out of the bourbon business and trying something else does make sense, but lineage wise the company ceased to exist. While the company made an amazing comeback (it is said that Jim and Jeremiah Beam took only 120 days to rebuild the distillery) after the end of the Prohibition, it is also true that the country had been dead for a decade or so.

That said, however, in this case it's hard to ignore the fact that the people who re-launched the company and the brand were the same people who were running the company before the Prohibition. I would argue that Jim Beam has a pretty strong claim to that "since 1795" claim but other people might disagree with me.

Unknown said...

Hey I am actually a descendant of Joseph Hiles
I wish my family hadn't sold that land we could be getting free whiskey

Anonymous said...

The water at the cave is nearly dried up. The water table is much lower now than it use to be. If you google earth the distillery you will see large water intakes from Tims Ford reservoir. That water is pumped thru the cave to make it look legit. Notice the water falls over a weir and vanishes. It's like being a Ripplys Believe it or not. There is a valve near the water fountain to control the water flow. If they are filming the turn it wide open.