A few days ago, on December 12th, Frank Sinatra (if he were still alive) would have turned 100 years old. Sinatra was an icon. He was a man that broke through stereotypes and changed how Americans viewed musical performances. He also changed the whiskey industry as we know it.
It may seem like a stretch to say that Frank Sinatra kicked off the whiskey boom, but it is not far from the truth! It’s hard to imagine today, but the behemoth that is Jack Daniels was only producing about 150,000 cases in 1955. (In comparison Beam was producing about that amount of Knob Creek in 2011) That is no small amount of whiskey, but by the following year, that number doubled. Today, Jack Daniels is ranked fourth globally in wine and spirit sales, but that had to start somewhere.
The nation’s palate in the late 50’s was not for bourbon, let alone Tennessee whiskey. People had moved to lighter spirits after Prohibition and the shortages that arose after WWII. Canadian light whiskies were being mixed into cocktails and martinis were being sipped at bars and nightclubs. In 1955, the crooner went onstage, raised a glass of Jack Daniels black label on the rocks and said, “Ladies and gentlemen, this is Jack Daniel’s, and it’s the nectar of the gods.” He had been drinking Jack Daniels since 1947, or so the story goes, when he was introduced to it by Jackie Gleason. Jack Daniels had their first brand ambassador in Frank Sinatra and the Brown Forman company would see to it that he would never go without a bottle again (or a case, for that matter!) for the rest of his life. The company’s forst salesman, Angelo Lucchesi, was tasked with always keeping Sinatra well stocked. Jeff Arnet, the master distiller for Jack Daniels said, “[Sinatra] literally took Jack Daniel’s from being a small, regional brand to being a household name — made us a pop-culture icon in a way.”
The most famous owner of the Jack Daniels brand (besides Jack himself, of course), Lem Motlow, passed away the same year that Sinatra began drinking his whiskey-1947. 9 years later, in 1956, the company was sold to Brown Forman. The late 50’s and early 60’s were the most successful years of Frank Sinatra’s career and Jack Daniels was along for the ride. The recipe of Jack Daniels is described as being a bit heavier and more oaky at that time. Sinatra was known to add 3 rocks (ice cubes) to his 2 fingers of jack and then add a splash of water. The new release by Jack Daniels to honor Frank Sinatra’s legacy and contribution to the brand (Jack Daniel’s Sinatra Century) is meant to mimic this older style of their whiskey. The barrels that the whiskey was aged in were grooved on the inside to allow for more interaction with the wood. 100 barrels were hand- picked and bottled at 100 proof for Sinatra’s 100th birthday.