It may be the vengeful ghost of Carrie Nation or some vodka-crazed Marxian dialectic preying on the alleged contradictions of the capitalist system, but whatever it is, a specter haunts Jack Daniels' top-of-the-line sipping whiskey.
The plain fact from this carefully promoted plain town of 361 people is that the locally headquartered Jack Daniels Distillery is running 15-20 short in meeting the demand for its charcoal filtered Tennessee sour mash. The management claims the shortage, which they say is worst in California, Florida and Tennessee, has created international concern.
It appears Jack Daniels has fallen victim to the same successful advertising campaign that has made squeezing Charmin' and having Big Mac attacks national past times.
Before a story in a 1954 True magazine, few people nationally had ever heard of Jack Daniels. Since then the distillery's ads saluting the virtues of its limestone springs, the whiskey's smoothness, and the promotions that bring more than 100,000 tourists a year to the town, have increased sales dramatically. For the past decade, sales have increased 10 per cent a year, while productivity has increased only 50 per cent in that time.
Distillery executive Roger Brashers, who seems to drink more Alka-Seltzer than whiskey, said he first learned of the acute shortage about three months ago when he began getting angry calls from around the country from people who said they couldn't get the whiskey, especially "Black Label," the 5-year-old whiskey, only one year older and a different color than "Green Label." But Green Label is now in short supply, too. That leaves only the Lem Motlow brand, 1-year-old, but it is sold only in Georgia and Tennessee.
"What it boils down to," says advertising director Arthur Hancock, "is that we're over a barrel." It's bad enough for loyal fans to call up cussing, but some have started rumors that the entire stock has been bought up by a thirsty sheik from Abu Dhabi or that the mash is being consumed by a horde of alcoholic rates.
A random survey of bars and Jack Daniels drinkers, as scientific as can be made from a roadside pay telephone booth somewhere in south Tennessee, turned up Daniels drought in some cities and normalcy in others. The imbiber's reaction to the shortage was mixed.
In New York the manager of the Macy's branch of P. J. Clark's Irish Saloon, Roger Hudson, said he had plenty of the shelves, but that he could not find any to drink for his home stock. Hudson said he had switched to Jim Beam bourbon.
In Los Angeles, Bob Cote, manager of Joe Allen's Restaurant and Bar, said he had not heard of any shortage and that he had plenty on the shelves. "I haven't heard from our other places in London, Paris and New York that they're short either," he said.
As might be expected, Washington's Class Reunion Bar on H Street, frequented by the press corps, is bone dry. "We are out and haven't had any for three weeks," says bartender Mitch Steinberg. Steinberg says some of the customers have been "raising hell," but he has gently weaned them on to George Dickel, a competitive Tennessee sour mash. "Dickel seems to go over just as well," he says. The Class Reunion "never even considered" trying to get customers to drink Green Label Jack, Steinberg says.
Nashville, the undisputed world capital of Jack Daniels sipping, is Prohibition dry, and beseiged local distributor. Lipman Brothers Co., says its bar and liquor store customers from country music strasse and Printers Alley to the Cumberland riverside slums are singing the blues. Company executive Mary Marrs says her warehouses don't have a single bottle of Jack left. Suppliers are 50 per cent shorter than last year, she says, and liquor stores that have a few bottles "are keeping it off the shelves for their better customers will will accept no substitutes." Marrs says the siege of Country Music City may last four months.
Exactly what class of people drink Jack Daniels, especially high-price Black, is difficult to figure out. Among the celebrities who belong to the exclusive Tennessee Squire Ash., a distillery promotion that has given a certificate and a few inches of company property to about 1,200 people, are the late Sen. Everett Dirksen, John Wayne, Frank Sinatra dn Elizabeth Taylor. But Daniels still sells best in the South, where the famous still do not drink, or claim not to.
At P. J. Clark's, bartender Don Carey, son of New York Gov. Hugh Carey, thought for a while but couldn't think of the name of a single famous person who drink Jack Daniels. In Los Angeles, Bob Cote classes Jack Daniels drinkers as "some guy who're spending their last quarter drinking it and some who could buy the distillery."
One person who has no affection for Jack Daniels' Black or Green is Miss Mary Bobo, the 96-year-old matron who runs the boarding house where distillery officials take celebrities and a sampling of tourists for a 10-course lunch. Miss Mary says she has never allowed whiskey in her house and doesn't think Jack Daniels "tastes too good." More than that, she remembers Jack Daniels, the founder, as a "lday's man, who never did much work the time I knew him." She adds, however, "I've heard he was a good bookkeeper."
No officials rushed to defend Daniels' name against Miss Bobo's charges, figuring apparently that what allowed the 5-feet-6 "Dandy" to survive the simple age when every man was his own distiller was his limstone cave water, his charcoal filtering, and the resulting "mellow whiskey."
Imbibers disagree on exactly how Jack Daniels tastes, but several claim they can even tell the difference between Black and Green. Roger Brashears, the distillery executive, claims he call tell the difference between the two for at least three drinks. The fact that jack Daniels continues to sell, while other "traditional" whiskey-like bourbons have lost out in top place to vodka, apparently means it either has a distinctive taste or that Gardner Advertising, the St. Louis firm that promotes both Jack Daniels and Purina Dog Chow, is particularly ingenious.
On Thursday, Gardner Advertising staff people were at the distillery dreaming up still more ways to promote the whiskey as distillery officials pleaded with angry callers to be patient until next year when they hope to end the shortage. About the only thing Brashears figures the agency can do to help the crisis is to wait for the whiskey in the warehouses to age. But as a personal sacrifice, he says he has adopted a policy of drinking Jack Daniels only every other day.