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Entries in Rolling Stones (1)

Wednesday
Jan182012

Where "Old No. 7" Came From

No. 5 is a size of gunpowder shot that was used to "prove" the purity of a cooked batch of "white dog"—unmellowed, moonshine whiskey.

As author Peter Krass explains in his biography "Blood and Whiskey: The Life and Times of Jack Daniel":

"An old method for testing if the alcohol content was correct involved mixing equal amounts of gunpoweder and whiskey, a seemingly volatile concoction. If the powder wouldn't burn when a flame was put to it, the whiskey was too weak. If it burned brightly, it was too strong. A slow even burn with a blue flame signified perfection; it was 100 percent proof.

"In another method to test the strength of this homespun whiskey, the stiller studied the bead. He'd shake the whiskey in a glass, and if the bubbles were about the size of No. 5 shot, the proof was good. If the bubbles were big and loose—known as "rabbit eyes" or "frog eyes"—then it was too weak" (54).


Image from drinkstuff.com

Smaller Means Better Story

In shot sizes, 7 is smaller than 5, which would suggest stronger whiskey according to the bead-size method of proof. Jack Daniel was a master marketer. He probably called his whiskey "No. 7" to differentiate his product from other No. 5-proved whiskeys. Perhaps on a scale of 1 to 5, Jack's whiskey was a 7.

Later in his life, Jack gave control of his distillery to a nephew, Lem Motlow, who instituted some changes (not all of them successful), including Lem's introduction of a Jack Daniel's No. 5 line of whiskey, "called that simply because it was a younger whiskey than No. 7" (196).

Truer Than True

Many divergent legends about No. 7 exist, including that it was the seventh trial batch, that Jack had seven girlfriends, that his signature J looked like the number 7, and so on. The distillery loves these storied myths. Maintaining a mystery has been part of Jack's recipe since 1866.

Image from theselvedgeyard.wordpress.com