Bottle #6: Jack Daniel’s Old No 7

Bottle #6 is a tiny bottle of Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 Tennessee whiskey with a black label. It looks a lot like a modern bottle of Jack Daniel’s, although it’s a little hard to tell, because it’s covered in a fine coating of what looks like dust, but I’m pretty sure is mold.

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The story of Jack Daniel’s whiskey starts with an enslaved man named Nathan “Nearest” Green. He was born in the 1820 and enslaved by a country preacher and distiller by the name of Dan Call. According to Call, “Uncle Nearest is the best whiskey maker I know of.” One of the things that made Green’s whiskey the best was his use of sugar maple charcoal for filtering the whiskey. Today, this process is what distinguishes Tennessee whiskey from its otherwise identical sibling, bourbon.

In the 1850s a young boy named Jasper Newton Daniel turned up on Call’s farm. The youngest of a family of 10 and motherless, he was looking for a way to improve his lot in life and escape a hated stepmother, so he began working on the farm doing various chores. But as he grew, he became increasingly interested in what was going on in the distillery located on Call’s property, and eventually Call turned him over to Nearest, instructing the skilled distiller to teach the boy everything he knew.

And learn he did. While still just a teenager, Daniel was already selling this renowned whiskey to towns around Lynchburg, including to Civil War soldiers. After the war, Daniel would go into partnership with Call in the distillery business, eventually buying him out in 1875 and renaming the distillery for himself. His relationship with Nearest Green had continued over the years, and in 1875 Daniel hired Green to serve as the distillery’s first master distiller, making Green the first African American master distiller. Green retired in 1881, but his sons and grandsons would go on to work with Daniel as he expanded and built his whiskey empire.

This story has only recently been brought to light, when the company began preparing for its 150th anniversary and researching its own origin story. They reached out to a reporter named Clay Risen, who wrote about it in the New York Times in 2016, and that article inspired a woman named Fawn Weaver to learn more. She discovered that Green and his sons were mentioned around 50 times in a 1967 biography of Jack Daniel’s, but apparently no one was really paying attention to the implications of that.

While visiting Tennessee to do research Weaver learned that Call’s farm property, where Nearest had taught Jack, was for sale, and promptly bought it. Since then, she has gone on to found the Nearest Green Foundation as well as Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey, where Victoria Eady Butler – Nearest Green’s great-great-grandaughter – is employed as their award winning master blender.

Nearest Green wasn’t the only enslaved person making whiskey, he’s just the one with the best paper trail. Pre-emancipation, enslaved men would have made up the majority of distillery labor forces. And techniques like the charcoal filtering that gives Jack Daniel’s its much-touted smoothness may well have been brought to America by West Africans who used similar technique there.

The Jack Daniel’s brand is one of the best-selling whiskeys in the world today, and is the top seller for its current owner, Brown-Forman. My bottle is probably from around 1982. There’s an 81 embossed on the bottom of the bottle, which means the bottle itself was manufactured in 1981. But it has a red tax label over the cap, and because of the rules about what terminology had to appear on tax labels changes through history, the color of the label and presence of just the word “distilled” rather than “distilled spirits” means it must be from between 1982-1985.

I don’t have much experience with Jack Daniel’s – I think I’ve tasted it once, maybe twice. But assuming only the outside of the bottle is moldy, I’m looking forward to eventually comparing this bottle to its modern counterpart. Before 1987, Jack Daniel’s bottled its black label Old No 7 whiskey at 90 proof/ 45% ABV (compared to 80 proof for its lower-end green label bottles). But by 2002 the black label was also just 80 proof, so it’ll be interesting to see how the whiskey expresses itself.

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Bottle #6: Jack Daniel’s Old No 7

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Bottle #6 is a tiny bottle of Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 Tennessee whiskey with a black label. It looks a lot like a modern bottle of Jack Daniel’s, although it’s a little hard to tell, because it’s covered in a fine coating of what looks like dust, but I’m pretty sure is mold.

The story of Jack Daniel’s whiskey starts with an enslaved man named Nathan “Nearest” Green. He was born in the 1820 and enslaved by a country preacher and distiller by the name of Dan Call. According to Call, “Uncle Nearest is the best whiskey maker I know of.” One of the things that made Green’s whiskey the best was his use of sugar maple charcoal for filtering the whiskey. Today, this process is what distinguishes Tennessee whiskey from its otherwise identical sibling, bourbon.

In the 1850s a young boy named Jasper Newton Daniel turned up on Call’s farm. The youngest of a family of 10 and motherless, he was looking for a way to improve his lot in life and escape a hated stepmother, so he began working on the farm doing various chores. But as he grew, he became increasingly interested in what was going on in the distillery located on Call’s property, and eventually Call turned him over to Nearest, instructing the skilled distiller to teach the boy everything he knew.

And learn he did. While still just a teenager, Daniel was already selling this renowned whiskey to towns around Lynchburg, including to Civil War soldiers. After the war, Daniel would go into partnership with Call in the distillery business, eventually buying him out in 1875 and renaming the distillery for himself. His relationship with Nearest Green had continued over the years, and in 1875 Daniel hired Green to serve as the distillery’s first master distiller, making Green the first African American master distiller. Green retired in 1881, but his sons and grandsons would go on to work with Daniel as he expanded and built his whiskey empire.

This story has only recently been brought to light, when the company began preparing for its 150th anniversary and researching its own origin story. They reached out to a reporter named Clay Risen, who wrote about it in the New York Times in 2016, and that article inspired a woman named Fawn Weaver to learn more. She discovered that Green and his sons were mentioned around 50 times in a 1967 biography of Jack Daniel’s, but apparently no one was really paying attention to the implications of that.

While visiting Tennessee to do research Weaver learned that Call’s farm property, where Nearest had taught Jack, was for sale, and promptly bought it. Since then, she has gone on to found the Nearest Green Foundation as well as Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey, where Victoria Eady Butler – Nearest Green’s great-great-grandaughter – is employed as their award winning master blender.

Nearest Green wasn’t the only enslaved person making whiskey, he’s just the one with the best paper trail. Pre-emancipation, enslaved men would have made up the majority of distillery labor forces. And techniques like the charcoal filtering that gives Jack Daniel’s its much-touted smoothness may well have been brought to America by West Africans who used similar technique there.

The Jack Daniel’s brand is one of the best-selling whiskeys in the world today, and is the top seller for its current owner, Brown-Forman. My bottle is probably from around 1982. There’s an 81 embossed on the bottom of the bottle, which means the bottle itself was manufactured in 1981. But it has a red tax label over the cap, and because of the rules about what terminology had to appear on tax labels changes through history, the color of the label and presence of just the word “distilled” rather than “distilled spirits” means it must be from between 1982-1985.

I don’t have much experience with Jack Daniel’s – I think I’ve tasted it once, maybe twice. But assuming only the outside of the bottle is moldy, I’m looking forward to eventually comparing this bottle to its modern counterpart. Before 1987, Jack Daniel’s bottled its black label Old No 7 whiskey at 90 proof/ 45% ABV (compared to 80 proof for its lower-end green label bottles). But by 2002 the black label was also just 80 proof, so it’ll be interesting to see how the whiskey expresses itself.

Watch me taste this bottle with Sother Teague!

 

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