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In Vino Veritas: Jack Daniel’s Whiskey Bottle Label Gets an Honest Makeover

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By HVculture on June 6, 2011

The Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey bottle has undergone a few changes since the distillery began selling it’s famous libation, but the label has remained largely unchanged until now.

The company is giving the black and white label a “refinement,” the Wall Street Journal reported.

The label currently reads: “Jack Daniel’s Old Time, Old No. 7 Brand, Quality Tennessee Sour Mash Whiskey, Distilled and Bottled by Jack Daniel Distillery, Lem Motlow, Proprietor, Lynchburg (Pop. 361), Tenn. U.S.A., Est. & Reg. in 1866.”

The truth is, however, that a lot of those claims are inaccurate, and so the company is updating the label to reflect the new realities.

But for the population of Lynchburg, what’s off the label is a real eye-opener—starting with the population. “Pop. 361” is gone.

Hollie Embling moved here 30 years ago, married a Jack Daniel barrel roller and had four kids. “That made it 366,” she joshed one day. Jack Daniel’s label stuck to 361, regardless.

The 1920 census came close to that: 365. But back in 1988, Lynchburg and its county consolidated into Metropolitan Lynchburg, Moore County. The population as of 2010 is 6,362, and it isn’t “naturally separated from the outside world,” as a Jack Daniel’s calendar put it a couple of years ago.

The absence of Lynchburg’s famous population number is perhaps the biggest change. But gone, also, is the notion that Jack Daniel’s is the oldest distillery in America. Sure, maybe Jack was making his famous since 1866, but there is no record of there officially being a Jack Daniel’s company until about 1875. So, the “1866” will remain on the label as a side note, but they are removing the “Est. & Reg.” claim.

Further, the company has also removed the name of Lem Mortlow, who inherited the distillery when his Uncle Jack died in 1911. Mortlow promptly put his name on the bottle and kept the company alive throughout the dark days of prohibition and through the controversy arising after he drunkenly shot a man dead while riding aboard a train in 1924.

“I can understand taking that 1866 off—and the population, too. Because they’re wrong,” said Joel Pitts, a member of the International Society of Jack Daniel’s Collectors and Motlow family descendant, reports the WSJ. “But taking the Motlow name off the bottle? I disagree. If it wasn’t for Lem, there’d be no Jack Daniel’s.”

In the interest of accuracy, the new label also adds one forthright amendment to the new label: Below a portrait on the side panel of Mr. Jack in his full whiskers and rakish planter’s hat, it confesses that his given name was Jasper.

Certain details, however, rarely do make it onto liquor bottles, and the new Jack Daniel’s bottle is no exception. In 1956, Lem Motlow’s sons sold the distillery for $20 million, a fact the actual owner tends not to emphasize. On the label of a sour mash whiskey mellowed through sugar maple charcoal in the rolling hills of middle Tennessee, here’s a line you won’t find:

Proprietor, Brown-Forman Corp. (sales $3.2 billion), Louisville, Ky., U.S.A.

One thing that hasn’t changed? Lynchburg is still a dry county. You can distill the town’s famous product but you still can’t get a shot of it anywhere.

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