Friday, June 3, 2011

The Truth About Jack Daniel

A funny thing happened about a month ago: A Wall Street Journal reporter called me. It was pretty exciting because I'd been living in my pajamas and drinking more wine than I should have for several days during a boycott against life (meaning the lousy New England weather).

The reporter asked me, "Do you feel some redemption?"

I was like for what? Did I do something good, 'cause I don't feel good?

Apparently the Jack Daniel's Distillery had decided to change the iconic black label on their bottle. They were planning to remove certain statements such as JD being the oldest registered distillery in the U.S., the year it was founded (1866) and other marketing hooha. The JD folks were claiming that they were doing it to "clean up" a cluttered label. But how curious that they should be eliminating a couple "facts" that they built their marketing message around.

Why should I care? Because when researching my book, Blood & Whiskey: The Life and Times of Jack Daniel, I had discovered documents that offered irrefutable evidence that Jack hadn't started his own business (in partnership with local church deacon Dan Call) until 1875 and hadn't struck out on his own until 1877, and that there dozens upon dozens of distilleries founded prior, among other erroneous facts the corporate suits at JD parent company Brown-Forman had spun into their story.

Well, when I had brought this to the attention of the JD/Brown-Forman folks, they didn't want to hear any of it and I became a person non grata. Me posting fliers all around their corporate headquarters probably didn't help! Nor did my phone call to the Associated Press that resulted in a nice story stating my case. So what gives now? Why the label change? That's what the WSJ reporter wanted to know and was about to embark on a little gumshoe work deep in the woods of Tennessee.

Check out this article and you'll see the JD folks and Brown-Forman have been pretty cagey and evasive about why they're making the changes. We'll see if our WSJ gumshoe, who recently returned from the backwoods of TN, can get to the truth and whether I should indeed feel a sense of redemption.

photos: top is Jack with his men circa early 1890s and bottom is the man himself.