Jack Daniels: How a world famous whisky has welsh roots
Jack Daniels, a very American drink, with the taste of Tennesse.
You’ve probably ordered it. Drunk it. At the very least, you know of it.
What not many know, however, is that this very American drink didn’t originate in Tennesse, or North America, but South Wales.
Or did it?
Let’s delve into the history of the iconic beverage to unravel its Welsh roots.
It is indeed quite a tangled mess.
As you may have read about a few years ago, a recipe identical to the world’s best-selling whiskey was discovered in a dusty old book in Llanelli in 2012.
Businessman Mark Evans, 54, was researching his family history when he discovered the recipe in a book of herbal remedies. It was written in 1853 by his great-great grandmother who was called Daniels and was a local herbalist in Llanelli, South Wales.
Mr Evans says the ingredients in his great-great grandmother’s recipe match what goes into the best selling whiskey in the world.
He said: “I’m pretty sure I’ve discovered the original recipe in great-great grannie’s book.”
Her husband, called Daniel, had emigrated to Tennessee in 1853. It was here, three years later, claimed Mr Evans, that he went on to found the whiskey company.
Jack Daniel, the company said, was the youngest son of 10 children born to Calaway and Lucinda Daniel who had emigrated to the USA in the final years of the 18th century.
They did, however, acknowledge that Jack came from Celtic stock. His grandfather was certainly Welsh and his grandmother Scottish – so maybe whiskey distilling was in his blood.
Unfortunately, the early records of the Jack Daniel’s distillery at Lynchburg in Tennessee were destroyed when a fire swept through the court house where they were being stored.
It is therefore difficult to come to a clear decision on the origins of the man and his whiskey.
What is probable, however, was that the whiskey was not originally brewed in Llanelli.
Quite where Jack’s forefathers came from in Wales remains unclear. Some sources say that the original man, Jasper Newton Daniel, was from Swansea – hence the coining of the name Jack – others, that he came from Ceredigion.
Even his date of birth is unclear. All that is known is that he died from blood poisoning in 1911.
Jack Daniel was not the only producer of bourbon whiskey, however. And he was certainly not the only one with Welsh connections.
Evan Williams Bourbon – considered by many connoisseurs to be the finest of all bourbons – and Matthews Southern Comfort were both first produced by Welsh distillers.
These were men who had left Wales during the early 19th century, a time of strong temperance belief in their mother country – although whether or not that had any bearing on their decision to find a new life in the USA remains unknown.
Evan Williams’ family certainly came from Dale in Pembrokeshire so, perhaps, this is where the confusion with Jack Daniel first began. He left Wales towards the end of the 18th century and began producing his whiskey in 1783.
Back to Mr Evans, he continued to comment on his find: “I was doing some family research, looking at photographs and things, and I wanted to look at the family bible. At the bottom of the bookcase was this book.
“My great, great-grandmother wrote in the book in 1853, and Jack Daniel’s is dated 1866, so it predates it.
“There is a link, because my grandmother’s grandfather’s brother – my great, great uncle – left for America and nobody ever heard from him after a couple of letters.
“That was during the time that Jack Daniel’s was set up, but more important than that, he was called John ‘Jack the Lad’ Daniel’s.
“We know he went to Lynchburg, Tennessee, and I’m pretty sure he used great-great grannie’s recipe to start off the whiskey business.”
However, Jack Daniel’s master distiller Jeff Arnett has since said it isn’t the original recipe book.
“It’s a good story, but one based in fancy rather than fact – the people and dates just don’t match up.
“Jack Daniel’s family was living in America for two generations prior to the 1853 date Mr. Evans suggests his relative came to the United States.
“His John ‘Jack the Lad’ Daniel is not our Jasper Newton ‘Jack’ Daniel.
“We also know that Jack Daniel learned to make whiskey from a local Lutheran minister here in Lynchburg and not a herbal remedies book.
“Jack Daniel’s has always benefited from the fact that people liked to talk about it.
“Its remarkable, small-town founder and the fact it’s made in a dry county intrigues people and gets them talking.
“And so, through the years, it’s drawn all kinds of legend and lore to it. Mr Evans’ story falls into the category of lore.”
So is the iconic Whiskey brewed from Welsh origins? The jury’s still out, and will likely remain out forever, but it’s interesting to think that a Welshman may have travelled halfway across the world from our country before creating the world-famous drink we have today.
I’ll drink to that.
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