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.