Jack Daniel's - Lem Motlow, proprietor

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Jack Daniel's - Lem Motlow, proprietor

Unread postby Strayed » Mon Nov 29, 2004 1:04 am

Is there anyone here lucky enough to have an example of pre-Brown/Forman Jack Daniel? I mean, not just to look at but open so you've been able to compare with today's. Or even yesterday's -- we have some of the old 90-proof, but it's from the '80s; still way too recent. B/F bought the company in 1955 or 56, so I guess the sample should be pre-1960 (assuming 4 or 5 years from still to store). I've been reading Peter Krass' "Blood and Whiskey" book about Uncle Jack and the times he lived in. Good book. Not completely accurate, but there's really no such thing with whiskey history and the author seems to expect you'll understand that. More than one could say about some other authors of recent whiskey histories. I especially enjoyed the "real story" of the famous "No. 7 Brand", which makes the most sense of any I've heard so far. Personally, I've always felt that although there really was a Jack Daniel who owned the Old Time Distillery, the image we have of him was pretty much the creation of his nephew Lem Motlow, who took the business from a regional to an international scope and who was the real marketing genius behind that brand.

Anyway, old bourbon or rye is pretty easy to come by. Old Tennessee seems much rarer. Those of us who've done side-by-sides with current vs (for example) National Distillers' Old Crow, or Old Dant from the fifties know how much brands can change over the years. Remember, unlike wine, whiskey doesn't change in the bottle; so the flavor differences are the result of evolving production styles. And I can only imagine what the REAL Jack Daniel's might have tasted like. Anyone out there had a chance to do that?
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Unread postby bunghole » Tue Nov 30, 2004 5:17 pm

John I just can't believe that you don't have any Jack Daniel's whiskey that wasn't distilled by Jack Daniel's himself. I'm just mortified by the whole ordeal to the point that I've become very verklempft.

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Unread postby bourbonv » Sat Dec 04, 2004 11:22 am

John,
I have not ever seen a full bottle of pre-Brown-Forman Jack Daniel's. I too wonder if the taste changed with the owners, but I doubt it. The reason for doubt is that there is a lag time of at least 4 years before the taste can change when dealing with whiskey in the United States. I would think that sales were not that great to force the change until the late 60's. That was when I would start looking for change in taste. What we need to find is an early 60's bottle of Jack to see what the Motlows were making after prohibition.

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Unread postby Strayed » Sat Dec 04, 2004 12:14 pm

Mike, I agree with you about the practical time limit. Any changes that came about from the sale to B-F probably wouldn't show up until the late sixties, as you said. But, by looking for early sixties (or before) I'm leaving a margin for changes Motlow & Co. may have made in the years immediately prior to its sale.

Stitzel-Weller is a similar example: Although the distillery left the Van Winkle family in 1972, we (or at least I) generally think of the "Golden Era of S/W" as ending in '68 or '69, even though I know nothing really changed for many years after that.

While there are certainly plenty of examples of sudden changes, mostly the nature of a brand of bourbon seems to flow gently from one profile to another. By establishing an arbitrary time gap of several years I was only hoping to isolate the "old" JD from the "B-F", the same way we do the old S/W from the Norton/Simon-Guiness-UnitedDistillers-Diageo-HH ownership. I think any dramatic differences would need a comparison with pre-1960 Jack Daniels (and the earlier the better), despite your very correct point that it probably didn't change much (if at all) for several years after the mid-fifties.
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Unread postby bourbonv » Sat Dec 04, 2004 12:26 pm

Well, John, I am sure you are not surprised that I understand your points, but don't qite agree with you (what fun would that be). I really don't think that the Stitzel-Weller whiskey changed until the early 80's. The Henry Clay you love so well was bourbon made after 1969. I don't think the drastic changes happened until the accountant started looking for cheaper ways to do things.

The accountants are the reason I think we would see change in Jack Daniel's as well. Not so much for cheaper production but to meet the growing demand. I don't think the Motlow's would have made any changes before selling the company. I agree, the older the better when looking for early No.7, but I think the 60's would satisfy the test.

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Unread postby Strayed » Mon Feb 14, 2005 5:18 am

I found an outstanding collection of Jack Daniel's whiskeys and paraphenalia on the web. The site is run by Jean-Paul Schuurbiers of The Netherlands and both his collection and the page is awesome.

He has a bottle of JD from 1947, which would be right in that area I'm interested in knowing more about. The bottle is round, not square, but JP indicates that was unusual then, too. The label appears to be very similar to the classic black label, except that the words "Sour Mash" are printed much larger. Even larger than "Tennessee".

The other interesting difference is that there's an age statement. In 1947 anyway, Jack Daniel's was 8 years old.
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Unread postby TNbourbon » Mon Feb 14, 2005 9:50 am

There is a store -- Joe's Liquors -- in Shelbyville, TN which has a pretty extensive 'collection' of JD bottlings circling the top shelf of his store, out of reach of 'accidents'. The store originated with the current owner's father, Joe. He has the 'Lem Motlow' and other early JD bottlings, but while they are 'for sale', the prices on them is another reason they are 'out of reach'.
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Unread postby TNbourbon » Mon Feb 14, 2005 10:01 am

Regarding Stitzel-Weller, I don't think I've ever had any from the Pappy era, but I do still occasionally find pre-divestiture Louisville-distilled bottlings of Weller and Old Fitz from the late-'80s, early-'90s and eagerly snatch them up. They are certainly different than the current Frankfort (Weller) and Heaven Hill (Old Fitz) bottlings -- which, I think, were distilled at Bernheim -- and, I believe, richer in flavor.
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Unread postby Strayed » Mon Feb 14, 2005 11:45 am

I need to revise the information about that old Jack Daniel's example.

The website offers better photographs than the one I originally saw, and a closer shot of the label clearly shows its age as five years, not eight. Sorry 'bout that.

There is also a photo of the bottom of the bottle, and I believe it was bottled in 1954, not 1947 as JP believes. Interpreting the various numbers and codes on the bottoms of bottles is not very reliable, though, so I could easily be wrong about that. Either way, it's still pre-Brown/Forman. And it's still an outstanding site.
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Unread postby bunghole » Mon Feb 14, 2005 12:19 pm

I took another look at that bottle if you look at the interactive photo the close up of the bottom of the bottle reads;

64
D925
47

If it is true that this was the only year of round bottled Jack Daniel's it should be easy to confirm.

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Unread postby Strayed » Mon Feb 14, 2005 12:55 pm

I think it's a "5" but it's hard to see clearly. If it IS 64, then I'd have to go with JP's 1947 statement, since it's obviously earlier than that.
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Unread postby bunghole » Mon Feb 14, 2005 1:06 pm

Strayed wrote:I think it's a "5" but it's hard to see clearly. If it IS 64, then I'd have to go with JP's 1947 statement, since it's obviously earlier than that.


John Look at the inter-active photo to the left of the somewhat fuzzy bottom pic. When you run your cursor over it it will show various items close up. If you put it at the bottom of the bottle and play around with it a bit it will show you a clearer photo, but you have to be quick as it filp-flops bewteen the bottom and 4/5 Quart on the side of the bottom of the bottle. Wheeeee!

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Unread postby Strayed » Mon Feb 14, 2005 2:38 pm

Yup. That photo is much clearer than the other one.
I doubt that it was bottled in 1964, though, so I'll have to go with his original 1947.

Problem is, that would make the distillation year 1942. How long after Pearl Harbor was it before all the distilleries shut down for the war?

Mike?
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Unread postby bourbonv » Mon Feb 14, 2005 8:15 pm

John,
The government required the conversion early in 1942. There are several possibilities here:
1) It is some rare 1942 whiskey in this bottle.

2) The whiskey is older than 5 years old.

3) The number on the bottle does not represent the date - this is often the case, but not always. I have seen nubers that had nothing to do with the date. I have also seen glassware that was several years old used in bottling.

4) The bottle is a clever fake sold on the black market. This was quite common where they would reproduce labels and put them on empty whiskey bottles and put their own whiskey or a cheaper product in the bottle, then sell in dry counties or states.

I have seen that as well. I would have to see the bottle in person to form an opinion on which case it is, but would lean toward 3 at this point. I am not sure if Jack Daniel's ever used a round bottle, but irf they did the war era, when it was hard to get glassware period, would be the time I suspect it would happen. If that is the case the bottle may be earlier from the early 40's.

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