Prohbition & Jack Daniels Hidden History

There's a lot of history and 'lore' behind bourbon so discuss both here.

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Prohbition & Jack Daniels Hidden History

Unread postby caroline1939 » Sat Dec 06, 2008 6:57 am

Having many Kelso TN relatives in "them thar hills" - one or two of them became familiar with government agents during prohibition because it was rumored that they were keeping the famous distillery in business by running their stills overtime to keep up with the demand. Jack Daniels was supplying the bottles and my kin were supplying the booze. I still have a living relative who, at the age of 8, remembers the agents bursting into the house and catching her mother pouring the stuff down the kitchen sink. She remembers an agent saying - in a thick Southern drawl - "I wouldn't do that m'am, if I was you." I know my father used to stop off at the distillery when he would go back to Kelso to visit. He was always taken to the "back room" for a little snort of the "good stuff." This would have been during the 1940s and 1950s. Does anyone else out there have similar knowledge of this. I'm sure my grandfathr couldn't produce enough to satisfy the distillery alone!
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Re: Prohbition & Jack Daniels Hidden History

Unread postby shoshani » Sun Dec 07, 2008 4:47 pm

caroline1939 wrote:Having many Kelso TN relatives in "them thar hills" - one or two of them became familiar with government agents during prohibition because it was rumored that they were keeping the famous distillery in business by running their stills overtime to keep up with the demand. Jack Daniels was supplying the bottles and my kin were supplying the booze.


Well....since no one else has stepped up to rain on your parade, I suppose it's my unfortunate duty to do so. Someone in your family is spinning a yarn...an engaging yarn, but a good old Southern tall-tale nonetheless.

In the first place, Jack Daniel's Distillery did not have a license to distill during Prohibition, so there would be no way for them to incorporate home-distilled product into theirs.

In the second place, Tennessee Prohibition forced the Jack Daniel Distillery to leave Tennessee in 1910. The distillery activity was moved first to St. Louis, MO and later to Birmingham, AL. Jack Daniel's did not resume production in Tennessee until Lem Motlow got the legislature to pass a bill permitting distilling activity again in Tennessee in 1937.

In the third through tenth places, there is no way any commercial distillery would be relying on a network of home distillers to augment their stocks. Because of the taxes involved (among other things), all distillery production is under US government supervision from the moment the grain is received until the moment the bottles are shipped out. If they're shipping out more bottles than the grain mash receipts account for, someone's going to jail.

Also, if a distillery were to supply bottles to home brewers to fill with booze, this implies that the home brewers would have been running a full-scale commercial operation - complete with the famous charcoal leaching apparatus to drip the raw spirit through ten feet of sugar maple charcoal and a wool blanket before going into barrels to age, aging the barrels for four years or more, mingling different barrels to obtain the desired flavor profile, and then diluting the final product to bottling proof and bottling it. The logistics against a home operation being able to accomplish this even WITH attracting government attention are astounding.

Plus, no reputable distiller with a name to protect is going to entrust their trade secrets to a network of home distillers, nor are they about to permit home distillers to bottle the product with the distillery's name. The distillery has to know what's inside, and whether the home distiller is competent enough to remove the very beginning and end of the distillate. Ragu makes quite a bit of spaghetti sauce, but never in their history would they have contacted a bunch of Italian Mammas to cook sauce for them in their homes and put it into company supplied jars. There are issues of sanitation, taxation, and other legal requirements that would prevent this from happening in a distillery just as with any other product sold for human consumption.
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Re: Prohbition & Jack Daniels Hidden History

Unread postby bourbonv » Sun Dec 07, 2008 8:14 pm

Actually, I have heard a story similar to this one. It was suppose to have taken place in the 1890's and the distillery would leech the whiskey they acquired from the moonshiner. I had my doubts about the story for the same reasons mentioned. The biggest one is that before 1984 the United States Internal Revenue Gauger was always around to supervise the production. The only way this could happen is if Jack Daniel bribed the government man. Not likely to happen.
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Re: Prohbition & Jack Daniels Hidden History

Unread postby caroline1939 » Sun Dec 07, 2008 10:54 pm

I'm not really surprised to hear these comments. Having said that, I'm sure there are some parts of the story that are true. I'm thinking that since the Jck Daniels bourbon was not available during prohibition, my grandfather set up a still to service the thirsty hillbillies. Maybe some one he knew from the distillery had a stash of bottles. I just don't know. What IS TRUE is that my grandfather was producing liquor and an agent DID SHOW UP AT HIS HOUSE to stop the illegal activities. Also, my father did always get his little snort when he stopped at the distillery.

Incidently, there was a large container of the liqour stored in the attic and it was "plumbed" into the diningroom for convenience. The apparatus is still in place as the home place is still in the family and I have seen it.

Current TN family took us to the Pritchard rum distillety, a small family run operation but with an elite clientel. I have pictures of us huddled around one of two copper stills and was given a complimentary bottle of rum. Evidently, the locals have pretty good contacts. The output at this rum distillery was, relatively speaking, quite small. Labels were being placed on the bottles by a young man, one by one, and the bottles were put into carboard boxes to await filling. It was an owner, his wife and this young man. That's all. I don't know how rum is made, but I think I was told that a box car of molasses would be brought in each year as a part of the "recipe" for the rum.

The stories about my ancestors in and around Kelso are quite colorful and some are backed up by newspaper articles out of Nashville - but this is not about bourbon so I'll stop rambling. Thanks for the responses.
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Re: Prohbition & Jack Daniels Hidden History

Unread postby bourbonv » Mon Dec 08, 2008 9:02 am

Thank you for the interesting family history. I have no doubt that your grandfather was a moonshiner. There were and still are quite a few out there. Could the family lore be slightly off and your grandfather learned his trade from working in the distillery? It would seem he had some connection there.
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Re: Prohbition & Jack Daniels Hidden History

Unread postby caroline1939 » Wed Dec 10, 2008 8:00 am

No, they had many irons in the fire, but a regular job? Nope. Everybody in that neck of the woods had "connections" and my grandfather in particular. He "ruled" his kingdom for most of his life - resting on the imagined laurels of HIS father who carried the honorary title of Major despite no military history. I regret that much of his life - most, I guess - has been lost for lack of recording. Some stories were passed down but now all the players have died.

Incidently, I didn't mean to imply that my relatives were using, or even trying to imitate, the Jack Daniels label or formula. Just that there was some colusion between someone who worked there and my grandfather to take advantage of the lack of available legal booze during prohibition. They simply stepped up their "business" to meet the demand. I'm sure it was very lucrative.

This has been FUN! Thanks for your responses.
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Re: Prohbition & Jack Daniels Hidden History

Unread postby shoshani » Thu Dec 11, 2008 2:47 pm

caroline1939 wrote:Incidently, I didn't mean to imply that my relatives were using, or even trying to imitate, the Jack Daniels label or formula. Just that there was some colusion between someone who worked there and my grandfather to take advantage of the lack of available legal booze during prohibition.


Well, as stated previously, the Jack Daniel Distillery ceased all Tennessee operations in 1910 when Tennessee invoked a state prohibition ten years before Federal Prohibition took effect. The distillery was unable to reopen in Tennessee until 1938.

For twenty-eight years, ten before Prohibition, thirteen during Prohibition, and five afterward, there was no Jack Daniel's whiskey being made in, or sold from, the state of Tennessee. JD was made in Birmingham, Alabama from 1910 until state prohibition there in 1915, then in St. Louis, Missouri from 1915 until 1918. Lem Motlow did not distill again after the end of Prohibition because Tennessee still had state laws othat prevented the distillation of alcoholic spirits; it took him four years of lobbying before a special resolution was passed permitting legal distillation in 1937, and Motlow restarted the distillery in Lynchburg in 1938.

If people were putting home-distilled whiskey into empty Jack Daniel's bottles and selling it during Prohibition, it would not have been with the collusion of a distillery employee - because at that time there was no distillery in existence in the entire state of Tennessee, and thus no employees. (However, as you say, it was probably quite lucrative :drunken: )

(Edited to correct a simple error in arithmetic)
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Re: Prohbition & Jack Daniels Hidden History

Unread postby cowdery » Fri Dec 12, 2008 9:19 pm

caroline1939 wrote:I'm sure there are some parts of the story that are true. I'm thinking that since the Jck Daniels bourbon was not available during prohibition, my grandfather set up a still to service the thirsty hillbillies. Maybe some one he knew from the distillery had a stash of bottles.


All of those things are very likely. I'm sure every moonshiner within 100 miles of Lynchburg during the drought claimed some connection to Jack Daniel's. JD-like bottles floating around, also very likely.

One additional fact about Prohibition, though, that makes the full story unlikely, is that no illicit producers were aging anything. They might have simulated aging with flavoring and coloring, but illicit spirit rarely ever touches wood and that was doubly true during prohibition. So whatever was made and sold around Kelso during Prohibition, it bore little resemblance to Jack Daniel's whiskey.
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Re: Prohbition & Jack Daniels Hidden History

Unread postby Mike » Sat Dec 13, 2008 4:25 pm

caroline1939 wrote:Incidently, I didn't mean to imply that my relatives were using, or even trying to imitate, the Jack Daniels label or formula. Just that there was some colusion between someone who worked there and my grandfather to take advantage of the lack of available legal booze during prohibition. They simply stepped up their "business" to meet the demand. I'm sure it was very lucrative.

This has been FUN! Thanks for your responses.


There are a couple of books ('Mountain Spirits' and 'More Mountain Spirits') I have been reading by a man named Joseph Earl Dabney. They were published in the 1970s and offer some interesting stories and information (including recipes) on moonshining as it existed in the mountains of Appalachia from its beginnings. Both books are available from Bright Mountain Books for about $12 or so in paperbook. You would enjoy reading them and may even find a relative mentioned because the author interviwed many old moonshineers and revenoors about their colorful (and no doubt exaggerated) experiences.
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. - Dylan Thomas
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Re: Prohbition & Jack Daniels Hidden History

Unread postby bourbonv » Sat Dec 13, 2008 7:44 pm

It is also possible that your grandfather was charcoal filtering the product. There has been a tradition of filtering through sugar maple since the early 1800's and that could be what he meant as making "Jack daniels whiskey".
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Re: Prohbition & Jack Daniels Hidden History

Unread postby cowdery » Tue Dec 16, 2008 4:33 pm

A somewhat related point. Whenever I talk to anyone with a bootlegging history or intimate contact with bootleggers, I always ask their most popular product. Invariably it is Jack Black.
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