This article originally appeared in The Atlantic in 2011, but I think it deserves to be told again.....
When was the last time you sat down and focused your eyes on the fine print of a Jack Daniel's label? All of those little details--"Lynchburg (Pop. 361)," "Lem Motlow, Proprietor," "Est. & Reg. in 1866"--are the center of a minor shake-up in Tennessee. The Wall Street Journal reports that "The Oldest Registered Distillery in the United States" is confronting some of the half-truths the company has been perpetuating with a "refinement" to the whiskey's label.
Chief amongst them is that first detail above about Lynchburg, Tennessee's population. One resident jokes that when she moved to town and married a Jack Daniel barrel roller 30 years ago, their four children boosted the population from the advertised 361 to 365. In fact, when the town was consolidated into Metropolitan Lynchburg in Moore County the number jumped drastically, hitting 6,362 in the 2010 consensus. And business is booming:
Jack Daniel's history is so storied, and the updated label will omit some of the other less accurate claims. A company historian showed Journal reporter Barry Newman a photograph with the only existing proof of the label's claim of the establishment date "one old photograph showing "Est. 1866" scrawled in runny paint on Jack's office wall, since painted over." The new label will hold on to the 1866 assertion, but since there are no tax records showing the company's registration the "oldest" and "est. & reg." claims are gone.
Also gone is the name of Lem Motlow, the inherited the distillery when Jack, his uncle, died in 1911. Though the Journal reports that the company believes foreign buyers could care less about Americana, it's also careful to point out that it was Motlow's sons who sold the distillery to a Kentucky corporation for $20 million in 1956. That doesn't make Jack Daniel's a bourbon by any stretch of the definition, but the two states have always had a bit of a rivalry when it comes to spirits. This most recent reminder of who's winning must sting.