07/19/2014 01:46 pm ET Updated Sep 18, 2014

Johnnie Walker, Jose Cuervo and Other Men Behind the Booze


"I want it wall to wall with John Daniel's," says Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman, to which the hapless kid responds, "Don't you mean Jack Daniel's?" Cue the setup.

Click Here to See The Complete List of the Men Behind the Booze

"He may be Jack to you, son, but when you've known him as long as I have -- that's a joke." Cue the rimshot.

  • 1 Johnnie Walker
    Originally called Walker’s Kilmarnock Whisky, what we now know as Johnnie Walker Black didn’t come into being until Johnnie’s son, Alexander, took over the distillery. He’d trained in Glasgow as a tea merchant, and took his blending techniques to his father’s still in 1865. Interestingly, Johnnie himself was a teetotaler. Click Here to More of the Men Behind the BoozePhoto Credit: Sir-Alexander-Walker-Diageo
  • 2 Jose Cuervo
    Don Jose Antonio de Cuervo first started producing liquor on his blue agave farm in the town of Tequila, Jalisco in 1795. Their first Vino Mezcal de Tequila de Jose Cuervo was bottled that year, and it began the commercial tequila business as we know it today. Photo Credit: Jose Cuervo
  • 3 Gaspare Campari
    The spiced, bitter liqueur we all enjoy in a Negroni was first invented by Gaspare Campari during the 1840s when he was only 14-years-old. The original recipe, still in use today, has remained a trade secret all these years, though it claims to contain more than 60 ingredients including fruit, spices, herbs, and tree bark. Photo Credit: Campari Click Here to More of the Men Behind the Booze
  • 4 Pyotr Smirnov
    Originally sold as PA Smirnoff vodka in Moscow during the 1860s, Pyotr Smirnov’s eponymous vodka was a pioneer in the art of charcoal filtration. By the time of Smirnov’s death in 1898, Smirnoff was Russia’s best-selling brand, and was apparently Tsar Alexander III’s favorite vodka. Photo Credit: Smirnov
  • 5 Alexander Gordon
    Alexander Gordon’s recipe for Special London Dry Gin is a great example of why you shouldn’t mess with perfection. The recipe hasn’t changed since he conceived it in London in 1769. It was so popular with the British Royal Navy during the Imperial days that the gin spread around the world as a popular spirit. Click Here to More of the Men Behind the BoozePhoto Credit: Gordon's London Dry Gin

I've got to admit to having lamely made that joke at a bar or two when ordering my favorite Old No. 7, eliciting an eye-roll from the bartender, and maybe a guffaw from the drunk guy two seats down. The thing is, I kind of mean it. Jack and I go way back. We have a relationship with each other that, like any relationship, is mutually beneficial most of the time. Sure, sometimes he hurts me, but I always forgive him. He's a very smooth talker. But who was this guy, really? Who was the man behind the sour mash?

For one, given that his name was actually Jasper, he'd probably never let you call him John. Also, you wouldn't want to call him short -- he was only five feet two inches tall, and he had something of a temper. According to legend, it's that temper that ultimately killed him. When he couldn't remember his safe's combination, he got mad and kicked it so hard he broke his toe. Infection took over and cost him his leg, and finally, his life.

As a very young man -- 11-years-old -- Daniel learned the art of distilling, and the characteristic "Lincoln County process," from a Lutheran minister. Rev. Dan Call ran Lynchburg, Tennessee's general store before and during the Civil War where he employed young Jasper Daniel. Rev. Call's congregation pressured him into quitting the booze business to save his immortal soul, so he sold his still to a then-13-year-old "Jack" Daniel.

The War Between the States was raging, but Jack's age kept him from serving. Instead, he ran his distillery as a one-boy enterprise for several years. He'd moved his operation from the general store to a tract of land in Lynchburg that hosted a natural spring. It is that spring water combined with Jack Daniel's' distinctive distilling process that came together to make the distinguished whiskey we know today.

Over the years as the distillery grew, Jack Daniel pioneered some of the smartest marketing methods yet seen in those days, using the homespun feel of his product and its modest origins to the advantage of the brand. This was authentic whiskey made by authentic people. In 1904, Jack Daniel's Whiskey won the Gold Medal at the St. Louis World's Fair, earning the title of the Best Whiskey in the World. Jack Daniel never married or had any children of his own, but kept the business in the family by deeding the distillery to his nephew, Lem Motlow, as his own health faded.

Click Here to see the Original Story on The Daily Meal

Tracking down this history got me thinking -- there's a lot of booze out there named for a lot of people, but what do we really know about them? Did John Jameson really show up at his own funeral? Is Sailor Jerry actually a sailor? Is Campari someone's name? Check out the slideshow for a glimpse at the actual men behind your favorite firewater.

-Adam Boles, The Daily Meal

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