Instead of dying she shall merely fall into a profound slumber that will last a hundred years.
- Charles Perrault, The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood (1697)
“Sorry to interrupt, but what does this have to do with whiskey?”
“I’m going to compare a state’s whiskey history to Perrault’s Sleeping Beauty.”
“Sounds like a lot of work to me. Why can’t we just do whiskey reviews like everyone else?”
Once upon a time, there was a king and queen who desperately wanted a child. One day, their wishes came true. The queen gave birth to a daughter. A grand christening was held, and all the fairies in the kingdom were asked to be godmothers to the little princess. The fairies bestowed upon the child tokens of perfection.
Tennessee is a very religious state. In a recent poll, over 70% of respondents categorized themselves as “highly religious.” Even before entering statehood, Tennessee was known for its religious fervour. Methodist “circuit riders” would spread the gospel from town to town on horseback. Baptist preachers also combed the countryside, looking for souls to save. Methodists and Baptists formed the backbone of what became known as Evangelicalism, a deeply passionate offshoot of the Protestant faith. Evangelicals place a great deal of emphasis on virtue and purity. They are born again in God’s image. For them, the Bible, as written, is the ultimate authority.
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
- Matthew 5:48
The king and queen forgot to invite a fairy to the christening. She was an old fairy who hadn’t been seen for quite some time. Being snubbed made the old fairy angry. Instead of giving the child yet another perfect attribute, she put a curse on her. One day, the princess would prick her finger on a spindle and die.
Evangelicals in the 1800s, as you might’ve guessed, abstained from drinking alcohol. It was a sin, an evil that blackened the lives of all who fell under its spell. The world was a much different place back then, especially for women. They couldn’t own property or vote. Their lot in life, for the most part, was to serve (whether they wanted to or not). They served their children. They served their husband. Now, throw alcohol into the mix. Divorce was a non-starter. Prohibition, for those who supported it, would free so many from the shackles of despair. It would save those who couldn’t save themselves. If Dr. Jekyll can’t drink the potion, he can’t become Mr. Hyde.
So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.
- James 4:17
The king, in an attempt to avoid his daughter’s unfortunate end, forbade all subjects, under penalty of death, from using a spindle.
As the Evangelical population grew, so did their influence on power. In 1838, Tennessee prohibited the sale of alcohol in stores and taverns. It was the first such law in US history. A decade or so later, they took it a step further. Alcohol could no longer be sold within a 4-mile radius of any country school. A few years after that, alcohol was banned in towns with less than 5 thousand people. Lastly, in 1909, all distilleries (unless they were making alcohol for baking or medicinal purposes) were ordered closed. The state, on paper at least, had gone dry. National Prohibition was still a decade away.
Despite the king’s best efforts, the princess found a way to prick her finger.
Countries that don’t devolve into chaos are minor miracles in my opinion. We all have varying degrees of tolerance when it comes to government involvement in our lives. If a country wants to succeed, it must endeavour to find “the middle way.” Prohibition wasn’t the middle way. For every person who loved Prohibition, another person hated it, especially in urban centres. People like alcohol. You can put up all the roadblocks you want, if someone wants something badly enough, they’re going to get it. When the distilleries closed, moonshiners and crime syndicates gladly filled the void. Once the government stopped regulating liquor, it went from something that was potentially harmful, to something that was potentially deadly.
The princess didn’t die though. She fell asleep for 100 years. Another fairy cancelled out the last part of the old fairy’s curse.
In 1939, Tennessee handed control over to the counties. Many chose to stay dry. Moore County, where Jack Daniel’s is located, is still dry. (You can drink at the distillery.) After 1909, Tennessee whiskey, the legal kind, no longer existed. Once the state banned distilling, everyone either moved or quit. Jack Daniel’s went to St. Louis and Birmingham (Alabama). George Dickel (Cascade) had their whisky made at Stitzel distillery in Louisville. Jack came back in 1937 (the year Tennessee repealed Prohibition). Dickel returned in 1958. For 60 years, the Tennessee whiskey industry consisted of Jack Daniel’s and George Dickel. That’s it. Pritchard’s, a Lincoln County distillery that doesn’t use the Lincoln County Process, joined them in 1997.
After 100 years had passed, a handsome prince knelt beside the sleeping princess. She awoke.
Prior to 2009, distilling in Tennessee could only take place in Lincoln (Pritchard’s), Moore (Jack Daniel’s), and Coffee (Dickel) County. In 2009, after 100 years of slumber, Tennessee opened its doors to distilling (kinda). Counties that sold liquor could now make whiskey. And they all lived happily ever after. The road to hell, as the saying goes, is paved with good intentions. Time has shown us, over and over again, you can’t legislate morality. If you do, someone will always pick an apple off the tree and take a bite.