The Hidden Black History Behind How Whiskey Was Created

Iconic whiskey brands like Jack Daniel’s can trace their history back to Black men at distilleries, but their names aren’t as well known.

February 16, 2023 | Source: Scripps News | by Scripps News Staff

Both bourbon — a type of whiskey — and Tennessee whiskey can trace their origins to the 18th and 19th centuries in the American South.

One common story ties bourbon’s creation to the white Baptist preacher Elijah Craig, whose name still graces the bottles of a namesake bourbon brand to this day. But evidence shows that it was actually Black hands that took on much of the work that went into it making the now classic spirits — long before it was bottled.

“There’s the obvious tremendous physical labor that went into it,” said Che Ramos, owner of The Black Bourbon Guy. “You had to move large quantities of grain and other such non-glamorous jobs. And when we look at a lot of the old-timey white gentlemen who were on the bottles, right… I don’t imagine Elijah Craig was out here rolling around barrels himself because in 1789, if you had enough money, why would you do that?”