This is not a corporate history. Peter Krass is a journalist, not a historian. The book takes a good look at the history of Jack Daniel and his distilling career. He does give due credit to Nearis* Green who as the Master Distiller for Dan Call, who remained with the distillery when Jack Daniel purchased it. Krass also writes extensively on the scandals involving Lem Motlow in 1924. The book is a good read but the reader should keep an open mind about some of the information found in the book.
Blood and Whiskey: The Life and Times of Jack Daniel by Peter Krass. Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 2004. Contents, Acknowledgements, Notes, Bibliography, Index, Illustrations.
This book is not a book published to sell more Jack Daniel’s whiskey. The contents of the book did more than raise a few eyebrows at the Brown-Forman Headquarters and in Lynchburg. Peter Krass is a newspaper reporter and not a historian so his approach to the story was to look for controversy and he found it.
Blood and Whiskey tells the story of Jack Daniel and Krass has done a very good job looking through old newspapers and courthouse records finding information about Jack Daniel’s early life and career. He does a decent job of finding out when he first became a landowner and distillery owner. He points out that Jack Daniel’s Distillery was not the first registered distillery. This is no real secret to anyone who ever studied the history of the industry. Distillery registration was part of the tax laws passed to pay for the American Civil War. There is no way a distillery in Tennessee was going to be the first to register when, at that time, the state did not even recognize the Federal Government, let alone its right to tax the distillery.
As if this first controversy was not enough, Krass decides to add another with his description of the George Dickel Company making them sound like whoremongers and saloon keepers of the worst type. With that done he then questions the claim of Jack Daniel’s World’s Fair gold medal and then Lem Motlow’s involvement in a shooting. It makes for some very juicy reading and he provides footnotes for the information.
The problem with the book is how he uses his sources. He does a very good job of searching for land titles and court cases in which Jack Daniel was involved. The strong point of the book is the early history of Jack Daniel, the person. His other choices of sources are not nearly so strong. He used the Green biography of Jack Daniel as a revered source in one place and trash it in another. His claims on the World’s Fair medal are flimsy at best and he should have spent more time researching that subject. He relies heavily upon newspapers when the newspapers of the time were not known for the truth – it was the age of “yellow journalism” after all. It would have been nice to find some other sources to back up some of his claims.
This book is worthy of being in a whiskey library, but it should be taken with some reservations. It is not a marketing piece like the earlier Green biography but it seems the writer might have a bigger goal of selling books than finding all of the facts.
*This is the spelling used by Krass in the book. The brand spells it “Nearest”.
Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller