Crazy, Geek, General, Strange

The Men Behind Your Favorite Liquors

The great minds over at mental_floss have written what I consider to be an essential history lesson on the men behind your favorite liquors. This is key information, and should be part of any worthwhile curriculum.

1. Captain Morgan

captain-morgan.jpgThe Captain wasn’t always just the choice of sorority girls looking to blend spiced rum with Diet Coke; in the 17th century he was a feared privateer.

Not only did the Welsh pirate marry his own cousin, he ran risky missions for the governor of Jamaica, including capturing some Spanish prisoners in Cuba and sacking Port-au-Prince in Haiti. He then plundered the Cuban coast before holding for ransom the entire city of Portobelo, Panama. He later looted and burned Panama City, but his pillaging career came to an end when Spain and England signed a peace treaty in 1671.

Instead of getting in trouble for his high-seas antics, Morgan received knighthood and became the lieutenant governor of Jamaica.

2. Johnnie Walker

johnnie-walker.jpgWalker, the name behind the world’s most popular brand of Scotch whisky, was born in 1805 in Ayrshire, Scotland. When his father died in 1819, Johnnie inherited a trust of a little over 400 pounds, which the trustees invested in a grocery store. Walker grew to become a very successful grocer in the town of Kilmarnock and even sold a whisky, Walker’s Kilmarnock Whisky. Johnnie’s son Alexander was the one who actually turned the family into famous whisky men, though. Alexander had spent time in Glasgow learning how to blend teas, but he eventually returned to Kilmarnock to take over the grocery from his father.

Alexander turned his blending expertise to whisky, and came up with “Old Highland Whisky,” which later became Johnnie Walker Black Label.

3. Jack Daniel

jack-daniel.jpgJasper Newton “Jack” Daniel of Tennessee whiskey fame was the descendant of Welsh settlers who came to the United States in the early 19th century. He was born in 1846 or 1850 and was one of 13 children. By 1866 he was distilling whiskey in Lynchburg, Tennessee. Unfortunately for the distiller, he had a bit of a temper.

One morning in 1911 Daniel showed up for work early and couldn’t get his safe open. He flew off the handle and kicked the offending strongbox. The kick was so ferocious that Daniel injured his toe, which then became infected. The infection soon became the blood poisoning that killed the whiskey mogul.

Curious about why your bottle of J.D. also has Lem Motlow listed as the distillery’s proprietor? Daniel’s own busy life of distilling and safe-kicking kept him from ever finding a wife and siring an heir, so in 1907 he gave the distillery to his beloved nephew Lem Motlow, who had come to work for him as a bookkeeper.

Read more about The Men Behind Your Favorite Liquors at mental_floss.