The Untold Truth Of The Inventor Of The Jack Daniel's Recipe

June 2020 saw national and international protests against systemic racism and the murders of Black people at the hands of police, among them George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks (via The New York Times). In a moment in history where so much of how we look at our own past is under justified scrutiny, it can be helpful to look at companies who were making efforts to correct these narratives ahead of the curve, like Jack Daniel's. According to a piece written by The New York Times back in 2016, the story behind Jack Daniel's whiskey was whitewashed for generations.

What you would have heard touring the distillery in Tennessee a decade ago is that Jasper Newton "Jack" Daniel got a job working for a preacher and distiller named Dan Call, learned distilling from him, and then bought the distillery for the hefty price of $25 (via Business Insider). But since the 150th anniversary of the distillery in 2016, they've been telling a more complicated version; wherein Jack learns to make whiskey from a man named Nearis Green, who was one of Call's slaves.

The truth about whiskey and slavery

Jack Daniel's story is an example of an under-told narrative regarding slavery and distilleries in the United States, which the Times called "inextricably entwined." In fact, enslaved men didn't just make up the majority of the labor force, they often held skilled jobs at distilleries in the U.S. Even George Washington had slaves working at his distillery — one of the largest in the country at the time (via Mount Vernon).

In Jack Daniel's case, it's not only the distilling that was likely learned from a slave. Even the "Lincoln County process" of passing the alcohol through several feet of maple charcoal to filter it, which was also attributed to a white man, might "just as likely" have been lifted from slave distilling traditions, according to Nelson Eddy, Jack Daniel's historian. The truth is, we won't ever know the extent to which Black distilling knowledge, traditions, and innovations were attributed to white distillery owners. So, the next time you're hankering for some Jack Daniel's whiskey, raise a toast to all of the Black distillers who made it possible.